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Cubs 8, Cardinals 4: Two

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The Professor taught the Cardinals a lesson on a damp day at Wrigley Field.

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

I hereby rescind any and all gloom and doom you might have heard from me, because as I should have realized all along: This team never quits.

Just when you think the offense has vanished and they won’t score another run evereverever, they perk right back up and play like they have the last three days, in games where it really mattered.

The Cubs reduced their magic number to clinch the N.L. Central title to two in a soggy 8-4 win over the Cardinals, and once again it was Kyle Hendricks showing the way.

But first, the Cubs scored first. That’s something that hasn’t happened all that often this season, not with the Cubs leading the major leagues with 46 come-from-behind wins. But this time, they teed off on our old friend Adam Wainwright, who was making his 36th career start against the Cubs.

Daniel Murphy led off with a single and Ben Zobrist walked to put two runners on in the bottom of the first. Anthony Rizzo was next [VIDEO].

Rizzo put the Cubs up 1-0 with his 98th RBI of the season, and one out later Jason Heyward hit a ground ball to second base that could have been a double-play ball, except that Kolten Wong fumbled it around, allowing Zobrist to score, making it 2-0.

Meanwhile, The Professor was holding class. He gave up a handful of hits early and wasn’t striking out a lot of hitters — mainly due to what appeared to be an inconsistent strike zone from plate umpire Adam Hamari — but he got the weak contact he was looking for and recorded nine ground-ball outs in the first five innings... and he finished off that fifth inning with one of his favorite things to do, a pickoff, this one of Harrison Bader [VIDEO].

Hendricks is as good as any right-hander in baseball at pickoffs. Beware, Brewers, if you are the Cubs’ division series opponent.

While all that was going on, Kris Bryant, after looking miserable during his first at-bat against Wainwright, launched a ball off the batter’s eye suite in the fourth [VIDEO].

Holy moly, that ball was absolutely crushed!

KB, as usual, was modest:

The Cubs picked up another run in the fifth to make it 4-0. Murphy doubled with one out and Zobrist laid down a beautiful drag bunt for a hit... we’ve seen Zobrist do this before, in the 2016 NLCS against the Dodgers. That advanced Murphy to third and Rizzo posted RBI number 99 with a sacrifice fly.

That’s just about the point at which off-and-on drizzle became a steady rainshower. It wasn’t windy, no severe weather, just one of those late-season rains that reminds you that autumn is here. The baseball got kind of sloppy after that, as you might imagine from players having to play in those conditions. No excuses, both teams have to play in it, but it was clear that nothing short of a torrential downpour was going to stop this game. At one point a groundskeeper came onto the field between innings and talked to crew chief Tom Hallion, and it looked like... he was showing him radar on his phone.

The Cardinals played a couple of runs in the sixth after Hendricks hit Matt Carpenter, and that made the score a little tight at 4-2. But the Cubs extended the lead to 5-2 in the seventh. Hendricks, whose pitch count was low enough that Joe let him bat, led off with a walk, just the second walk he had drawn this year in 66 plate appearances. Fun fact:

There aren’t too many starting pitchers in baseball anymore who do that sort of thing.

David Bote then singled and Jedd Gyorko threw the ball away, putting runners on second and third. Murphy hit a deep enough fly ball to left to score Hendricks and give the Cubs a bit more of a cushion.

With rain falling harder in the eighth, the Cubs put the game away. Heyward singled and Bryant was hit by a pitch. Willson Contreras hit a ball to third, where Gyorko forced Heyward, then threw the ball into the dugout. There was a delay for another review, asked for by Joe Maddon to see if the runners were far enough along to allow Bryant to score. Nope, said the review crew, call confirmed.

Tommy La Stella batted for Hendricks and walked to load the bases, the ninth pinch-walk he’s drawn this year to go along with his 24 pinch hits. Bote then walked on four pitches to make it 6-2, and that brought up Albert Almora Jr., who had entered the game in the top of the inning for defense. AA came through with his bat [VIDEO].

That made it 8-2, and how nice it was to see the Cubs offense be really productive, taking advantage of Cardinals errors, hitting all over the field and drawing walks.

Justin Wilson had been warming up for a potential save, but when the Cubs took a six-run lead Jorge De La Rosa entered. A couple of errors helped the Cardinals score a couple of unearned runs off De La Rosa, and we’ll forgive the errors because of the wet conditions that must have made it very difficult to field the baseball.

And so, after the Cubs’ lead had dwindled to a mere half game over the Brewers, a three-game winning streak has put them on the cusp of another division title. The magic number is two, so the Cubs can win it simply by defeating the Cardinals twice more, or if the Cubs get some help from the Tigers Friday night in Milwaukee, perhaps a clincher will happen Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

More Hendricks:

Between that and what Jon Lester has done recently, the Cubs should be well set for a playoff rotation.

More Hendricks:

He is indeed. He’s proof that you don’t have to throw 95 miles per hour to win if you can locate your pitches and change speeds, and Hendricks might be the best in the game at doing that. I’ve always been a big fan of his, and down the stretch he has produced as well as anyone in the major leagues. I’m not sure exactly what his final WAR number will be for 2018, but he entered with 3.2 bWAR, and he set a career high this year in innings, with the eight thrown in this game giving him 199 for the season.

And so now we all become big Tigers fans this evening. Jordan Zimmermann starts for Detroit and Zach Davies goes for the Brewers. Zimmermann hasn’t had a great year but he did shut the Cubs down on just one run in six innings August 21 in Detroit, and had a good outing in his last start vs. the Royals (seven innings, two runs). Game time in Milwaukee is 7:10 p.m. CT.

As for the Cubs, they’ll go at the Cardinals again Saturday at 12:05 p.m. CT. Cole Hamels will start for the Cubs and Miles Mikolas will go for St. Louis. TV coverage Saturday is via Fox-TV with Len Kasper and John Smoltz.

The division title nearly belongs to the Cubs, but just in case, MLB announced late Friday information about possible tiebreaker games:

Here’s hoping that information becomes moot by tomorrow. #LetsGo