The Cubs defeated the Padres 5-4 on a picture-perfect Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field and I wish that were the end of the story.
But they had to survive a high-wire closing act from Pedro Strop before he struck out Austin Hedges to end the game and even up the series.
The game began much like Thursday night’s, with the Padres getting hits in the first two innings but Jose Quintana getting out of jams, and the Cubs retired easily in the first by Tyson Ross.
Javier Baez took care of that “retired easily” leading off the second [VIDEO].
The homer was Javy’s 23rd of the season, which matched his career high set last year, with nearly a third of the 2018 season remaining. Also:
58 extra-base hits for Javier Báez takes sole possession of the NL lead#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2018
Javy would add to that total later on. The homer was hit to the opposite field into the face of a pretty strong wind off Lake Michigan.
The Cubs made it 2-0 in the third. Tommy La Stella walked with one out, was singled to third by Anthony Rizzo and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ben Zobrist.
The Padres cut into that lead in the fourth on a solo homer by former Cubs minor leaguer Christian Villanueva. That might have been a two-run homer except for this overturned call [VIDEO].
That one looked like first-base umpire CB Bucknor got it wrong (gee, what a surprise) even before the video was shown on the Wrigley video boards, which clearly showed Quintana’s foot on first base before Hunter Renfroe’s.
The Cubs extended the lead to 3-1 in the fifth. La Stella singled with one out, Rizzo again singled him to third and then... [VIDEO]
Ben Zobrist grounded to first, Eric Hosmer threw home but TLS slid under the tag. Then there was some confusion as Rizzo tried to take third, but the umpires apparently said time had been called. In the end it didn’t matter as the Cubs didn’t score any further runs in the inning.
Quintana finished the sixth, striking out four of the last seven batters he faced, and had a solid outing of 94 pitches (63 strikes), allowing four hits and just the one run on Villanueva’s homer, with four strikeouts and no walks. That’s the sort of thing we need to see from all the Cubs starters.
Rizzo made the score 4-1 with one out in the seventh [VIDEO]. His 16th home run of the season landed in the basket just inside the right-field foul line... and stayed there:
The ball was still there at game’s end. Fun fact about Rizzo’s homer:
#Cubs career Home Run List— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2018
10. Hack Wilson 190
11. Anthony Rizzo 181
Alfonso Soriano 181
13. Derrek Lee 179
14. Andre Dawson 174
Carl Edwards Jr., who had thrown a 1-2-3 seventh on only eight pitches, was left in to start the eighth and that was trouble. Two singles brought in Steve Cishek, who induced a double-play grounder... and threw it away. A run scored and runners remained on first and second. A sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third, and that brought up Renfroe [VIDEO]. Renfroe hit a sharp grounder right to Javy, who threw out Travis Jankowski at the plate.
Randy Rosario then entered to pitch to Eric Hosmer and walked him. The third pitching change of the inning then brought Brandon Kintzler into the game to make his Wrigley Cubs debut.
This is exactly the kind of situation that Kintzler was acquired to fix. Late innings, runners on, close game. And he got Villanueva to hit a line drive — right at David Bote, who had replaced La Stella for defense in the sixth.
So it’s 4-2 Cubs heading to the last of the eighth, and Javy led off with a line drive to deep right that wound up as a triple. Fun fact:
Javier Báez: 2nd career game with HR & Triple. Other one was 5/2/17#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2018
Baez scored on a sacrifice fly by Ian Happ, and that run would prove to be very, very important.
Strop, who’s been very, very good filling in for Brandon Morrow as closer, entered the game with a three-run lead.
He gave up a leadoff single, then issued a walk. A double by Cory Spangenberg made it 5-3 and put runners on second and third with nobody out. A ground ball to Rizzo scored a second run to make it 5-4 and advanced Spangenberg to third.
That brought up Manuel Margot, who hit a sharp grounder to Bote [VIDEO] with the infield pulled in.
Bote’s throw was accurate and Victor Caratini put on the tag to keep the Cubs in the lead. Finally, Strop, who had trouble getting swings and misses the entire inning, struck out pinch-hitter Hedges on a slider and the Cubs had a win that survived nervous time in the ninth. It was Strop’s sixth save of the season, but the first time he had allowed multiple runs in an appearance since June 24.
So it wasn’t pretty (although the weather was, probably the nicest day of the whole summer so far), but the Cubs again evened up their post-All-Star record, now 8-8. And now, entering tonight’s action where the Brewers will host the Rockies at Miller Park, Milwaukee trails the Cubs by 1½ games. This would be a good weekend to see that number get larger. Despite all the injuries, all the poor play, all the things that have gone wrong, the Cubs still have the best record in the National League. Imagine if they start playing like we know they’re capable of playing.
Hopefully, that starts Saturday when game 3 of this four-game set will be played. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Joey Lucchesi will go for the Padres. Game time again is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Saturday afternoon is via NBC Sports Chicago.