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Cubs 6, Reds 3: Kris Bryant saves the day

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The Cubs third baseman homered in Cincinnati for the first time in three years.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I had always had the impression, without looking up the numbers, that Kris Bryant had always hit well in Great American Ball Park.

In general terms, this was true: Coming into Sunday’s game, Bryant was hitting .294/.387/.472 in the home of the Reds. That’s good, though a bit below his career norms. And though he had 17 home runs against the Reds lifetime entering Sunday — his most against any team — just five of them had come in GABP. Three of those were in his record-setting three-homer, two-double game June 27, 2016, and the other two were in Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter April 21, 2016.

Thus it had been 27 games at GABP until KB had homered. Until Sunday. [VIDEO]

When the story of the 2019 Cubs season is written, that home run might wind up as one of the key turning points. It turned what looked like another frustrating loss into a 6-3 win for the Cubs over the Reds and earned them a badly-needed series split.

This game started out, as have so many recent Cubs games, with little offense from the ballclub. The game went to the bottom of the third scoreless, when Joey Votto hit an RBI double off Anthony Rizzo’s mitt. That’s a play Rizzo makes and turns into an out most of the time; if he makes it the inning is over. Instead, the Reds lead 1-0, and after a walk, a single by Aristides Aquino made it 2-0.

I suppose the Cubs should be happy they held Aquino to just an RBI single after his three-homer game Saturday night.

The Reds extended the lead to 3-0 on Eugenio Suarez’ 33rd homer off the Cubs this year.

Oh, wait. That was his 33rd homer of the year off all teams. It only seems as if he’s hit 33 homers against the Cubs this season.

Jon Lester allowed all those runs, but I didn’t think he pitched badly; he allowed just five hits (and three walks) in five innings, with seven strikeouts. It was a much better outing than his last one (low bar, I know).

The Cubs finally put one on the board in the sixth. Jason Heyward and Bryant singled sandwiched around a strikeout by Nicholas Castellanos. One out after Bryant’s single, Javier Baez came to bat [VIDEO].

That’s yet another great piece of 0-2 hitting by Baez, who golfed Luis Castillo’s slider to the warning track. Only one run scored, but you could tell the Cubs were starting to get to Castillo.

They got to him further in the seventh. Ian Happ hit a ball off the top of the wall in left, very close to a home run. It was ruled a double, reviewed, and left Happ on second base. Two infield outs later, he scored to make it 3-2. Heyward followed with an infield hit, and the Reds replaced Castillo with Michael Lorenzen.

That turned out to be a great choice for the Cubs. Castellanos singled and Bryant homered to give the Cubs the lead at 5-3, and that’s where we came in.

David Phelps had thrown a 1-2-3 sixth in relief of Lester, and Rowan Wick entered to throw the bottom of the seventh. He dispatched the Reds 1-2-3 in that inning, and Joe let him throw the eighth. All told, he struck out four and allowed one single in his two innings of work. Wick has been a revelation since his latest recall; in nine appearances since July 23 he’s thrown 8⅔ innings, allowed two hits and three walks and struck out 13. He’s starting to get used in more high-leverage situations, and he’s certainly earned the right to be in the mix to set up Craig Kimbrel when Kimbrel returns.

While Wick was throwing those two outstanding innings, Happ extended the Cubs’ lead to 6-3 [VIDEO].

The homer, Happ’s fourth of the season, was his second of the series, and he definitely likes hitting in GABP. It was his seventh home run in 57 career at-bats in Cincinnati, the city where he played his college ball.

Pedro Strop entered for his first save opportunity since his return from the injured list. He issued a one-out walk, but otherwise threw a solid inning (nine strikes in 15 pitches) and recorded his 10th save of the season.

And so, on an afternoon when it looked at first as if the Cubs would have yet another losing series on the road, they wound up with a hard-earned series split. Give this Reds team credit. They have some good hitters and have put together an underrated pitching staff. They will be a team to contend with in future seasons. The Cubs are 7-9 against them this year, with one series remaining in September at Wrigley Field.

One more note about this series: The ball-and-strike calls were pretty bad, almost every game, for both sides. Carlos Torres, Jordan Baker and especially Angel Hernandez are just bad ball-and-strike umpires. To end the seventh inning, Votto was called out on strikes on this sequence:

Pitch 9, clearly outside the strike zone, was called strike three. I mean... the Cubs will take it, but things like this point out the need for an automated strike zone. In any case, MLB really can’t put three bad ball-and-strike umpires like this on the same crew in future years.

The Cubs will head to their next series in Philadelphia no worse than 1½ games ahead of the Brewers and two ahead of the Cardinals, and possibly better. At this writing Milwaukee trails the Rangers in the eighth inning, and the Pirates lead St. Louis in the fifth. If those scores hold up the Cubs will gain a game in the standings over each team. All three teams have Monday off.

So far, then, it’s been a reasonably successful road trip. As noted, the Cubs will have an off day Monday, then open a three-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia Tuesday evening. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Jason Vargas will go for the Phillies. Tuesday’s game time is 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago (and on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Phillies market territories).

Nice work, Cubs. Keep it up.