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Cubs 5, Marlins 2: Kris Bryant walks it off

KB’s been a hot hitter lately, and his homer won the game.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Now that’s more like it! Let’s start this recap at the end again, shall we? [VIDEO]

Kris Bryant’s three-run walkoff homer gave the Cubs a 5-2 win over the Marlins, evened up the four-game series, and with the Cardinals being crushed by the Phillies, put the Cubs back in first place in the N.L. Central.

Now let’s rewind to the beginning of this game, played on a raw, cold evening at Wrigley Field.

Again, as in the first game of the set, the Cubs took an early lead. Bryant tripled with one out in the first inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Javier Baez. Fun fact time!

You likely never expected to see the names “Kris Bryant” and “Larry Biiittner” in the same tweet. Incidentally, that Biittner walkoff came in the 1978 home opener in front of 45,777, and given current Wrigley Field capacities, you’ll never again see a crowd that large at Clark & Addison.

Coming back to the present day, the Marlins took a 2-1 lead in the third. With one out, Kyle Schwarber dropped a catchable fly ball for a two-base error. Another double and a single scored a pair of unearned runs off Jon Lester.

But the Cubs did not waste any time tying the game up, thanks to Albert Almora Jr. in the bottom of the third. First, though, Almora thought a 3-1 pitch was ball four [VIDEO].

Almora’s homer into the left-field basket, his second of the season, was a much better result than a walk. AA’s last 10 games (six starts): .364/.382/.636 (12-for-33), three doubles, two home runs.

Lester settled down after that and wound up completing six innings. He allowed no further runs, struck out six, and didn’t walk anyone. One of the outs he recorded to end the fifth, was this weird play:

Marlins starter Caleb Smith also wasn’t giving up much. He allowed just four baserunners after Almora’s home run before departing with two out in the seventh inning. After Lester was removed for a pinch-hitter, Brandon Kintzler and Brad Brach went through the seventh and eighth without allowing a baserunner. The Cubs put a runner on second with two out in the eighth, a double by Javier Baez, but could not score. Steve Cishek threw a scoreless top of the ninth, more outstanding bullpen work overall: three shutout innings, one hit, five strikeouts.

In the last of the ninth, the Marlins called on lefthander Adam Conley, who walked Jason Heyward and then hit Schwarber with a pitch, which was reviewed [VIDEO].

You can see, as Len Kasper notes, that it glanced off Schwarber’s left wrist. It was ruled “call confirmed” and the Cubs had the winning run on second base. Daniel Descalso batted for Cishek, and sacrificed the runners to second and third. Now all that’s needed is a sacrifice fly. But Almora bounced a ball to shortstop Miguel Rojas, who threw Heyward out at the plate.

Now came the mystifying non-decision by Marlins manager Don Mattingly. Conley’s obviously struggling and he’s thrown 16 pitches, only seven for strikes. Mattingly had righthander Tayron Guerrero warming up in the bullpen.

But he let Conley pitch to KB anyway. Conley ran the count to 1-2 before putting a 98 mile per hour fastball right in Bryant’s wheelhouse, and that’s where we came in. If you have been worried about Bryant, don’t be: Since April 17, he is hitting .283/.429/.667 (17-for-60) with six doubles, a triple, five home runs and 14 walks. His season slash line is now .250/.381/.508, with the .889 OPS pretty much in line with his career OPS of .899. His BA is a bit low, but the other numbers are right on track.

It was the Cubs’ second walkoff win of 2019 (also April 21 vs. Arizona) and their first walkoff homer since one by David Bote last year. No, not Bote’s slam against the Nationals — it was Bote who hit a solo walkoff homer off Raisel Iglesias of the Reds August 24, 2018. And, it was KB’s first walkoff homer since he hit two in 2015. (This game and this game, if you’re wondering.)

Despite Monday’s speed bump of a loss, the Cubs are now 18-6 since the awful 2-7 season-opening road trip. That’s the best record in baseball over that time frame, and these wins are starting to have a 2016 vibe about them. It’s difficult to compare seasons like that, as every year is different, but this is beginning to just feel “right,” as the 2016 season did. Long way to go, of course, but things are definitely trending in the right direction.

About 15,000 of the announced 35,274 showed up on a windy, cold evening that was once again host to a little rainshower in the third inning that wasn’t nearly hard enough to hold up play. Here’s a statement from KB that is undoubtedly true:

Tonight, unfortunately, more numerous showers and thunderstorms are expected. With the Marlins coming in only once, they will undoubtedly do everything they can to get this one in. The teams do have a suitable mutual off day (July 25) where they could make up a postponement, but with the Cubs having so few off days in the second half of the season, they will likely not want to give one up. So, pay attention to the forecast as today continues.

Weather permitting, Kyle Hendricks will make his first start since his 81-pitch “Maddux” Wednesday evening. He’ll face Miami righthander Jose Urena. Game time is again 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via WGN.