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Cubs 7, Brewers 2: Hello, first place

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The Cubs went into the top spot in the N.L. Central with a big extra-inning rally.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

First place! It’s been a while (April 30, to be exact). How have you been? We have missed you!

The Cubs came from behind against a reliever who’s been almost totally lockdown this year and then blew the game open with a five-run 11th inning to defeat the Brewers 7-2 and move into the top spot in the N.L. Central by half a game. Anthony Rizzo’s towering home run highlighted that big inning, the second time this month the Cubs have put up a five-spot in extras.

That left the Cubs with this wacky extra-inning record in 2018:

Jose Quintana’s scoreless streak against the Brewers, which had reached 26 innings, ended in the third Monday night, when Erik Kratz hit a solo homer. The Cubs tied the game in the fifth with some good baserunning. Javier Baez singled, stole second, went to third on a ground out by Quintana and scored on a single by Albert Almora Jr.

But Q gave the lead right back in the bottom of that inning, another solo homer, this one by Jonathan Villar.

The Cubs had their chances in the sixth when Kris Bryant led off with a single. Unfortunately, a sharp line drive hit by Rizzo was snared by Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia, who doubled Bryant off first.

Then Willson Contreras hit a long fly ball to left. I don’t often post great defensive plays by Cubs opponents here, let alone one by Ryan Braun, but this one’s worth watching [VIDEO].

Look at that catch carefully, though. The ball probably wasn’t a home run if not caught; it looks like it would have hit high off the wall if Braun doesn’t get there. Then Braun’s momentum takes his glove over the wall.

In any case, the Cubs were smacking baseballs hard, just right at fielders. And it wasn’t going to get any easier with Josh Hader coming into the game to begin the seventh. Famously, Craig Counsell hadn’t used Hader at all in a Cubs four-game sweep at Wrigley in April. Hader made it through a 1-2-3 seventh, but he walked Ben Zobrist leading off the eighth.

Almora then hit a fly ball to medium-deep center field and Zobrist tagged up. That wasn’t necessarily a great idea, and Lorenzo Cain’s throw beat Zobrist to second... but Villar dropped the ball.

That turned out to be really important, because the next hitter was Jason Heyward, and Heyward’s hot bat continued to produce [VIDEO].

J-Hey’s RBI single tied the game, and that was the first run scored off Hader since May 5. In the interim, he’d thrown 15x innings in nine appearances, allowed five hits and seven walks and struck out 27 (!). Credit here, I think, to a good scouting report on Hader.

So then it was up to the Cubs bullpen to keep the game tied. Justin Wilson had already thrown a scoreless seventh, and did nice work striking out the side after allowing a leadoff double. Pedro Strop threw a scoreless eighth, and when both teams went 1-2-3 in the ninth, the game headed to extras.

Randy Rosario, who had thrown the ninth for the Cubs, also threw a scoreless 10th after the Cubs failed to score in the top of the inning off Jeremy Jeffress, who entered the game wearing the wrong jersey [VIDEO].

Jeffress retired the Cubs 1-2-3 in the 10th, throwing only 15 pitches, but was replaced by Matt Albers for the 11th. Rizzo didn’t waste any time, smashing Albers’ first pitch into the seats in right [VIDEO] (and listen to Pat Hughes call the shot!).

Fun fact about Rizzo’s blast:

The Cubs were just getting started, though. After the next two hitters were retired, Javier Baez walked.

Let’s pause here for a moment to note that was Javy’s first walk this month (in 10 games), just his second walk since April 11, and only his third unintentional walk this season.

Anyway.

Addison Russell was hit by a pitch, and singles by Zobrist and Almora made it 5-2. That brought up Heyward again, and again he hit the ball with authority, a two-run double to score both runners and give the Cubs their five-run 11th.

That gave Heyward three hits on the night — his third three-hit game since May 29. Since that game, J-Hey is hitting .407/.418/.574 (22-for-54) with six doubles, a home run, nine RBI and just five strikeouts. For the season: .281/.339/.421, an OPS of .760. Those numbers are starting to approach his production before he came to the Cubs. He’s been just outstanding over the last few weeks.

Anthony Bass then made his Cubs debut. He allowed a leadoff single, induced a double-play ball, gave up another hit, then got Travis Shaw to ground to short to end it, a satisfying win, the eighth in nine games against the Brewers this year. Fun fact:

Even more fun facts about Cubs vs. Brewers in 2018:

Whatever is accomplishing this, keep it up. Cubs pitchers have simply dominated Brewers hitters all season, shutting them out five times and holding them to two runs three other times. Of the 11 runs the Brewers have scored against the Cubs in 2018, five of them came in one game, April 8 at Miller Park, the only loss the Cubs have to Milwaukee this year.

The win also elevated the Cubs to the best record in the National League at 38-25. The .603 winning percentage would translate to 98 wins in a full season, and the Cubs are now two ahead of the Brewers in the loss column.

The other good news from this one is that the Brewers overextended some of their relievers. Hader threw 35 pitches and likely isn’t available Tuesday. Closer Corey Knebel threw 25 pitches and might not be available either. Meanwhile, the Cubs bullpen threw five shutout innings Monday night, allowing four hits and no walks and striking out six.

Let’s wrap this with words of wisdom from Joe Maddon:

The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Brewers Tuesday night at Miller Park, with Tyler Chatwood on the mound. Chase Anderson goes for Milwaukee. Game time is 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage Tuesday is via NBC Sports Chicago.