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Cubs 3, Braves 2: Addison Russell saves the day

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That was one heck of a comeback win.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Just when I was getting all ready to write up the recap of another tough loss, Addison Russell had an absolutely terrific at-bat, drove in the tying run with a double and scored the winning run on a single in a two-run Cubs ninth-inning rally that led to a 3-2 win over the Braves in what’s either the first of a three-game series or second of a four-game series, depending on how you want to look at it.

First, look at this:

That is one heck of an at-bat in that situation, down a run, one out in the ninth, tying run in scoring position. He fouled off two really good pitches and then took ball three on a very, very close pitch before sending that fastball into deep center field, scoring Albert Almora Jr. with the tying run:

Credit, too, to Almora for his double off Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino.

That hit, though, just tied the game, and Tommy La Stella followed with a groundout. That brought up 2016 World Series hero Ben Zobrist, who drove in Russell with the eventual game-winner:

That, of course, didn’t have the impact that a World Series-winning hit does, but Zobrist seems to have the knack for this sort of thing. Zobrist, who turns 37 in 10 days, is having himself a nice little season, hitting .290/.362/.387 in 104 plate appearances that were interrupted by a short DL stint. Zobrist can’t play every day anymore, but spotting him the way Joe Maddon is (and Maddon’s been his manager for 12 of his 13 big-league seasons) seems to be bringing out the best in him.

Brandon Morrow finished up uneventfully, throwing 10 pitches for his 10th save of the season, and the Cubs had an exciting, hard-fought win over a Braves team that sure looks like a contender. Actually, they remind me a lot of last year’s Rockies, who got off to a similar good start with contributions from good young players, only to fall off as the league adjusted to them. They still wound up in the wild-card game, which is where the Braves could end up this year.

Oddly specific Morrow stat:

All of this happened after the game went rapidly through the first few innings without a lot of scoring, helped along by some excellent Cubs defense.

Yu Darvish looked pretty sharp in the first inning, until he issued a two-out walk to Freddie Freeman. With Nick Markakis batting, Freeman took off for second and...

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before. Willson Contreras’ throw hit Freeman in the left leg and bounced wildly into left field. Freeman never stopped running and neither did Kyle Schwarber chasing it, and Schwarber’s outstanding throw nailed Freeman trying to score.

That’s where things stayed until the fourth. Contreras led off with a double, and with two out, Almora walked. That brought up Russell, and...

Well, now I don’t think I’ve ever seen that befor, either. Russell struck out, the ball got away, Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki pushed plate umpire Jim Wolf out of the way (down went Wolf!) and then threw the ball in the general direction of ... I’m not even sure where. As Len Kasper said, “Why did Suzuki throw to first?” Russell was going to be safe, but if Suzuki had held the ball he might have been able to tag Contreras, who scored the Cubs’ first run.

That was given back by Darvish with two out in the fourth, when Ender Inciarte hit a solo homer to center.

Darvish’s outing was just fine. Four innings, three hits, two walks, five strikeouts, just the one run, 61 pitches. Baby steps back to respectability, and here’s why he left after that short an outing:

Also:

Mike Montgomery took over and the Cubs defense bailed him out of a couple of tough situations. Johan Camargo led off with a single, and an error by Javier Baez on a force attempt put Charlie Culberson on first and Camargo on third.

MiMo threw what would have been a wild pitch, except:

Contreras made a great play on that bounce and a perfect throw to Montgomery to get Camargo at the plate. Culberson took second on the throw, and several pitches later MiMo again threw a ball in the dirt. This time Contreras, after briefly not realizing where it was, picked it up and threw Culberson out at third [VIDEO].

This is where the challenge system helped the Cubs. With the Braves losing the challenge on the Camargo play, and the game being only in the fifth inning, Brian Snitker didn’t have a challenge to use on the Culberson play. So, Contreras had two assists on great throws in that inning, saving Montgomery from some not-so-great pitching. MiMo settled down and had a good sixth inning and Pedro Strop took care of the Braves 1-2-3 in the seventh.

The Cubs, though, couldn’t score either. 11 straight Cubs went down in order from the fifth through the eighth, and it seemed as if Carl Edwards Jr. would get through the eighth unscathed, but Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a two-out solo homer off CJ, just the second homer he’s allowed this year in 18⅔ innings, and the Braves had a 2-1 lead.

Acuna seems to be worth all the hype. He’s a keeper.

And then the Cubs offense pulled off their ninth-inning magic. That’s the second straight day they’ve had a ninth-inning rally off the Braves bullpen; it fell just short Monday afternoon at Wrigley, but this one gave them a hard-earned win.

It’s early in the season; we aren’t even 40 games in (that happens Wednesday), but this one feels important. Important not necessarily for its impact in early-season standings, though the Cubs did pick up a game on the Brewers and Cardinals, but for the team feeling confident in its ability to get key late-inning hits and come back even after giving the other guy the lead with just one inning to go.

The win evened up the Cubs’ road record at 9-9 and:

The Cubs still have not lost in SunTrust Park. They were 3-0 last year in the park’s first season, and won this game, their first there in 2018. They’ll go for their second straight win over the Braves Wednesday night, with Tyler Chatwood facing Brandon McCarthy. Game time again is 6:35 p.m. CT and TV coverage Wednesday is via WGN.