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Cubs 2, Dodgers 1: Anthony Rizzo saves the day

The Cubs first baseman won this game with a ninth-inning homer.

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

I’m going to start this recap of Saturday night’s 2-1 Cubs win over the Dodgers at the end, because that’s when the important stuff happened.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen hit Kris Bryant with his first pitch. Then he threw two pitches to Anthony Rizzo that were well out of the strike zone. Just then, I thought, “Jansen’s going to have to throw a ‘get-me-over’ pitch and Anthony ought to be ready for that.”

Man, was he ready. [VIDEO]

When the story of the 2019 Cubs season is written, that’s going to have to be one of the key highlights. Rizzo’s home run gave the Cubs their first lead of the evening, and not only were the Cubs fans at Dodger Stadium really loud at that point, take a look at the Cubs dugout as Rizzo circles the bases. They knew how big that hit was. Fun facts:

Check out the launch angle on that towering home run:

Now let’s rewind to the beginning of this game, which was a fantastic pitchers’ duel between Yu Darvish and Walker Buehler.

Yes, Yu Darvish, who has had his struggles, saved his best game of the year — perhaps the best game of his Cubs career — for his former Dodger mates in their home ballpark.

Darvish really was outstanding. He allowed just two hits and one walk in seven excellent innings, striking out 10. He threw 68 strikes in 109 pitches and was totally fooling Dodgers hitters — seven of those 10 strikeouts were looking.

He made just one real mistake, leaving a fastball up and out over the plate to Alex Verdugo leading off the fourth inning, and Verdugo put it into the seats for a 1-0 Dodgers lead. The only other Dodgers baserunners off Darvish were on a second-inning single by Max Muncy and a one-out walk to Cody Bellinger in the fourth.

The Cubs, though, could not do a thing with Buehler. He retired the first 10 Cubs hitters before Bryant reached on an error in the fourth. Len and JD at first thought it would be called a hit, but in general official scorers like the first hit of the game to be a clean one, and that ball was bobbled by shortstop Kiké Hernandez, thus ruled an error.

Addison Russell finally broke through off Buehler for the Cubs’ first hit, a single with one out in the sixth, and Kyle Schwarber followed with another single. But Bryant hit a fly to right and Rizzo hit a comebacker, and the inning was over.

Both starting pitchers were lifted after the seventh inning. In fact, Darvish got another inning because Carlos Gonzalez struck out with Victor Caratini on base (via another Dodgers error) in the top of the seventh. Had CarGo reached base, Albert Almora Jr. was going to bat for Darvish. Instead, Darvish threw the seventh, striking out the last two hitters he faced, Muncy and Matt Beaty, Beaty on a 96 mile per hour fastball.

Darvish, last four starts: 2.96 ERA, 0.863 WHIP, 24 strikeouts in 24⅓ innings. Now that’s the guy the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him before the 2018 season. If he can continue this way... the Cubs have a very, very strong starting rotation. Also:

Here are all 10 of Darvish’s K’s [VIDEO].

The Cubs could not score off Pedro Baez in the eighth, despite a leadoff walk drawn by David Bote, batting for Darvish. In the bottom of the inning, Hernandez led off with a single, and one out later, Brandon Kintzler picked him off [VIDEO].

That’s one of the better pickoffs you will ever see. Note where Kintzler is looking as Hernandez dances off first base — toward the plate. To pick that up in his peripheral vision and fire accurately to Rizzo for the tag, that’s an outstanding defensive play.

That was very, very important, too, as the hitter at bat during the pickoff, pinch-hitter David Freese, singled. Joe Maddon removed Kintzler for lefty Kyle Ryan to face Joc Pederson, and Dave Roberts countered with Chris Taylor. Taylor also singled, but Ryan got Verdugo to hit a weak comebacker to end the inning.

And that set up the heroics by Rizzo in the top of the ninth, and that’s where we came in. Pedro Strop entered to throw the bottom of the ninth, got Justin Turner on one pitch, struck out Cody Bellinger, then issued a walk before striking out Beaty for his eighth save.

In the 162-game process of a baseball season, this win counts the same as any other. But it feels more important, defeating the best team in the National League in its home park, where L.A. had lost just seven games all year before Saturday. This game showed the Cubs can win in a playoff-style atmosphere. It was just the third time all season that the Dodgers had scored one or fewer runs in a game at Dodger Stadium. It evens up the season series between the two teams at three wins each.

The Cubs hit home runs in the first inning of each of the first two games of the series and lost... then hit a home run in the last inning of this one, and won, a much better result. It was the second time this season the Cubs had won a game when trailing entering the ninth inning. The other: a 3-2 win over the Phillies at Wrigley May 21, when Javier Baez, who didn’t start the game due to the heel injury suffered two days earlier, pinch-hit in the ninth and drove in the winning run in a game the Cubs trailed 2-1 entering that inning.

And, with the Brewers losing their second straight game in San Francisco, blowing a 5-1 lead and losing 8-7 (thank you Giants!), the Cubs and Brewers enter Sunday’s action tied for first place in the N.L. Central at 39-31.

Incidentally, if you have not seen it, check out the catch that ended the Brewers/Giants game [VIDEO].

That is one of the better game-ending catches you will ever see. You’ll hear the name “Yastrzemski” in the call of the out — that’s Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.

The Cubs will go for the series split Sunday evening at Dodger Stadium, and for the second straight week (and fifth time in the last seven Sundays) they’ll be the featured ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game at 6:05 p.m. CT. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has had a Cy Young-quality season so far, goes for the Dodgers.