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Cubs 7, Pirates 6: Four

The Cubs won in a walkoff, but not before making everyone very, very nervous.

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Cubs’ 7-6, 10-inning win over the Pirates Wednesday night at Wrigley Field was a reminder of how thrilling... and infuriating... September baseball can be.

They came from behind... again. Built up a big lead, only to blow it, then walked it off on a single by Albert Almora Jr., who wasn’t even in the game until the eighth inning.

The win clinched at least a spot in the wild-card game for the Cubs. So... yay? Yes, I know, first time in franchise history for four straight postseason appearances, but... You’ll pardon me if I’m a bit less than excited about that, considering the Cubs have been in first place since July 13, and alone in first since August 1, and a division title should be the goal.

That, of course, is still reachable, and the Cubs’ magic number to win that title dropped to four with the victory, thus the title to this recap.

Let’s unpack this crazy game, because there was a fair amount of crazy in it.

Jose Quintana got touched up for a run in the first inning, a home run by Jose Osuna. Anthony Rizzo singled with two out in the bottom of the inning, and Jason Heyward, hitting cleanup for just the fifth time all year, batted next [VIDEO].

Heyward’s home run to the opposite field was his first since July 24 and his first with a runner on base since June 29. His timing couldn’t be better; he’s been in a bit of a slump (4-for-26 entering Wednesday’s game) and if he can start hitting like he did back in June, the Cubs will have an important bat back.

Quintana settled down. After Osuna’s home run he allowed just one hit over the next three innings. Meanwhile, the Cubs were forging a bigger lead. Two runs scored in the third, helped in part by an error by Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier that loaded the bases. Rizzo drove in one run with a sacrifice fly, and one out later Ian Happ walked to re-load the bases. Ivan Nova then walked Kyle Schwarber to force in another run and it was 4-1 Cubs.

In the fourth, the first two Cubs were routine ground outs, but then four straight singles scored two runs. On the last of those hits, an RBI single by Heyward, Rizzo took a needless chance to go to third and was thrown out easily.

Would the Cubs have scored more in that inning? We’ll never know, but that might have been important later on.

It was 6-1 Cubs heading to the fifth. What could possibly go wrong?

You should know the answer to that question by now, at least for the 2018 Cubs.

A solo homer by Corey Dickerson made it 6-2. In the bottom of the fifth, with runners on second and third with one out, Joe Maddon sent Tommy La Stella up to bat for Q.

Some might have questioned this, but it was the right call. You just can’t ever have enough runs, and there was a chance for more. Plus, lifting Q after 74 pitches and not overextending him gives him good rest for his next start. (Which we hope will NOT be on Monday against the Brewers.)

TLS ran the count to 2-1 and then the Pirates intentionally passed him to load the bases. That might have turned out well, but David Bote hit into a double play.

Jesse Chavez threw two strong innings in relief, allowing one hit and striking out two.

But the Cubs could not do much, either. They had just one baserunner, a one-out single by Happ in the seventh, from the sixth through the ninth inning.

And disaster was striking when the Pirates were batting. Carl Edwards Jr. entered to throw the eighth. He struck out pinch-hitter Colin Moran, then issued back-to-back walks. Joe lifted him in favor of Steve Cishek.

Before we talk about the rest of that inning, I’m going to say something that you will likely disagree with. There is a case to be made to leave CJ off the postseason roster. If Joe can’t count on CJ in situations like this, how can he count on him in an even higher-leverage playoff situation? In nine appearances covering 5⅓ innings in September, Edwards has walked 10 hitters. Put another way: He’s faced 31 hitters in September and walked 10 (and allowed five hits, so nearly half the hitters he’s faced have reached base). That just wouldn’t cut it in the postseason. Sara Sanchez, who was with us in the bleachers Wednesday night, strongly disagreed with my take on this. I’ll let you all take up the discussion.

I’ll give CJ some slack for this pitch:

Come on, Sam Holbrook. That’s a strike.

Anyway, Cishek recorded the second out of the inning, but during that at-bat a passed ball put the runners on second and third, where they scored on a single by Elias Diaz, making it 6-4. Cishek did finally get out of the inning, and the game went to the ninth with a two-run Cubs lead.

Justin Wilson — who along with seemingly all the rest of the relievers now has his own entry video — came in to close. He retired the first hitter on a popup, then allowed a single.

And then the Pirates sent Francisco Cervelli up to pinch hit, and ... [VIDEO]

Hey, Cubs fan in the front row in the Club 1914 seats. Didn’t we learn this lesson a long time ago? Stay clear of players on your team when they’re trying to make catches like that! There is a small gap in the net that otherwise goes from the far end of the third-base dugout to the far end of the first-base dugout. You can see Rizzo’s frustration in not being able to make what should have been a catch. The ball was in the stands, so fan interference couldn’t be called. After the game Rizzo was more magnanimous:

Naturally, this caused trouble. Cervelli doubled, and though Wilson got the second out on another popup, Starling Marte hit a screaming line drive that glanced off Rizzo’s glove and instead wound up as a double down the right-field line and the game was tied. Jaime Garcia was summoned to face Josh Bell. One pitch, one ground out. So that was good.

Sigh. The Cubs aren’t really going to blow a 6-1 lead and lose, are they? (Hint: No. But read on.)

The bottom of the ninth went by 1-2-3 and we headed to extras, the Cubs’ 19th extra-inning game of 2018. Oddly, 14 of those have been on the road; this was just the fifth time a game went to “free baseball” at Wrigley Field this year.

Garcia allowed a leadoff single in the 10th, then retired Dickerson on a fly ball. Joe summoned Brandon Kintzler, whose performance since he was acquired has not filled any of us with confidence. Kintzler was in the game because he supposedly induces ground balls. And this time, he did just that. Pablo Reyes hit into a double play, ending the inning.

Happ walked leading off the bottom of the 10th and was immediately replaced by Terrance Gore. Gore, though, didn’t do his usual stolen-base trick. Instead, Mike Freeman, playing in his first big-league game of the year, sacrificed Gore to second. Gore didn’t take off for third, either; instead, he advanced there on a ground out by Victor Caratini.

That brought up Almora, who fouled off the first pitch and then took a called strike. And then... [VIDEO]

It was the Cubs’ eighth walkoff win of 2018, but first since the suspended game August 28-29 against the Mets. The Cubs celebrated their win on the field, as any team would for a walkoff, but likely didn’t “celebrate” the clinching of a postseason spot. There’s still work to be done, and the Cubs obviously don’t want to be in the one-and-done game next week.

The really good news about this win is that the offense broke out, scoring runs in a number of different ways. Keep that up and good things will happen for the rest of the week.

The Brewers wound up sweeping the Cardinals, so they kept pace with the Cubs and remained half a game out of first place. That Milwaukee win clinched a postseason spot for them. The Cubs’ magic number dropped to four, so they still control their own destiny. Win the remaining four games and the Brewers cannot catch them for the division title. The Cardinals remain alive for the second wild-card spot but were eliminated from the division race. Currently, that second wild-card spot is held by the Dodgers, who dropped out of first place in the N.L. West Wednesday evening when they lost and the Rockies won.

Got all that? It’s still somewhat complicated, but again... if the Cubs win their remaining four games, they will be N.L. Central champions.

They will wrap their series against the Pirates Thursday night. Jon Lester, who has thrown so many important pennant-race and postseason games, will be on the mound for the Cubs, and Trevor Williams, who’s been one of the best pitchers in the National League in the season’s second half, will go for the Bucs. Game time again is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage is via NBC Sports Chicago.

This is what we all signed up for, right? Meaningful baseball in late September. Fasten your seat belts.