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Cubs 2, Padres 1: At last, the bullpen comes through

And so the Cubs won their third one-run game this week.

Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

You, the reader of this recap, are a Cubs fan. And you have seen this year’s Cubs bullpen blow lead after lead after lead.

Thus, like me, you were watching the last few innings of Friday night’s game wondering: In what spectacular yet entertaining fashion were the Cubs going to do that in this one?

And then... that didn’t happen. Instead, Brandon Hughes, Julian Merryweather, Adbert Alzolay and Mark Leiter Jr. combined for 3⅓ innings of scoreless relief, striking out seven, as the Cubs opened their California road trip with a 2-1 win over the Padres.

Perhaps even better was Jameson Taillon, at last, looking like the guy the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal this past offseason. Taillon breezed through the first few innings, allowing just three hits and a run, with no walks. You could tell he was starting to get hit hard in the sixth, when David Ross lifted him for Hughes, but that was an excellent outing — hopefully there will be many more. Taillon’s ERA is still an unsightly 7.05, but it dropped by a full run with this start.

The Cubs opened the scoring in the third inning. With one out, Nico Hoerner singled and Dansby Swanson singled him to third.

Ian Happ then hit this ground ball [VIDEO].

Happ beat a double-play relay to first and Hoerner scored to make it 1-0 Cubs.

Swanson made it 2-0 in the fifth with this line drive home run [VIDEO].

That didn’t go very far — but it was far enough [VIDEO].

A few more details:

As noted earlier, Taillon started tiring in the sixth and was lifted for Hughes, who issued a walk but then ended the inning with a ground ball force play. Hughes then began the seventh by striking out Jake Cronenworth, after which Merryweather entered and struck out the two hitters he faced.

In the eighth, the first two Padres reached off Merryweather, after which Alzolay was summoned. He got Xander Bogaerts to hit into a double play and then struck out Fernando Tatis Jr. to end the inning [VIDEO].

In the ninth, with two lefthanded hitters due up, David Ross went to Mark Leiter Jr. The righthander, who served up two home runs to the Rays Wednesday, had his strikeout slider working Friday night, getting Juan Soto and Manny Machado, and then finishing the game with a strikeout of Cronenworth. Here are all three K’s:

That was especially nice to see after Leiter’s bad outing against the Rays — he bounced right back and retired three good hitters to end this game with a win.

Here’s the breakdown of Taillon’s start [VIDEO].

This was what Jack Brickhouse used to call a “nail-biter,” but in the end a very satisfying win and a positive way to start a 10-game road trip. The Cubs remain 4½ games out of first place, and they leapfrogged ahead of the Cardinals, who blew an eighth-inning lead in Pittsburgh and fell into last place.

Here is an interesting take on Taillon’s troubles thus far from Swanson:

You might remember that something similar happened to Jon Lester when he first came to the Cubs. Lester struggled for the first month or so of 2015 (and had a 4.25 ERA as late as June 9, then settled in, had a very good season and wound up his Cubs career as perhaps their best free-agent signing ever. Taillon, I think, will be fine, as long as he’s now healthy. His next start should be Wednesday against the Angels in Anaheim.

One last good thing about this game: With the pitch timer, it ran 2:44, which is about league average for 2023. Last year a game like this, with 282 total pitches thrown, likely runs about 3:10. This is MUCH better for those of us in the Central time zone!

The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Padres Saturday evening in Petco Park. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs and old friend Yu Darvish will go for San Diego. Game time is 9:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network and also on FS1 (no blackouts).