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Cubs 10, Cardinals 3: Six in a row, along with some extracurricular activity

The first inning of this game was... interesting.

Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

The tone for the Cubs’ 10-3 win over the Cardinals Thursday, their sixth straight victory, was set just three batters into the game.

The first two hitters, Mike Tauchman and Nico Hoerner, went down quietly.

Then this happened [VIDEO].

Ian Happ’s backswing hit Willson Contreras in the mask. Part of the metal mask must have cut into Willson’s head, because blood was drawn. Contreras had to leave the game and likely needed stitches. It was obviously unintentional, and the two men shared hugs as Willson was leaving.

Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas, though, then did something that was absolutely intentional — he hit Happ with his next pitch. The umpires conferred and Mikolas was ejected. He played the innocent, “Who? Me?” game with the umpires, to no avail. This might have had something to do with it:

After the game, Happ talked about the incident:

Happ got booed the rest of the game — for something unintentional. Nice work, “best fans in baseball.” And their broadcasters couldn’t let the Mikolas ejection go:

So. We’re 14 pitches into the game and the Cardinals have lost their starting pitcher. That seemed to wake up the Cubs bats. Remember, there are two out here. Dakota Hudson replaced Mikolas, and Cody Bellinger singled and Seiya Suzuki walked to load the bases.

Hudson then walked Dansby Swanson to make it 1-0 Cubs [VIDEO].

Christopher Morel followed with this ground-rule double and it’s 3-0 [VIDEO].

All those runs scored after two out, nobody on base.

Justin Steele breezed through the first two innings and the Cubs added to their lead in the third. Again, the first two Cubs were routine outs.

Swanson and Morel singled to put runners on first and second, and Yan Gomes drove Swanson in [VIDEO].

Morel took third on that hit and scored on this little infield bouncer by Miles Mastrobuoni [VIDEO].

The Cubs added one more in the fourth. Hoerner led off with a double, and one out later went to third on a single by Bellinger.

Seiya Suzuki beat a double-play relay and Hoerner scored to make it 6-0 [VIDEO].

That’s a 6-0 lead with all six runs scoring after two out, an impressive performance.

The Cardinals scored a run off Steele in the fourth on a solo home run by Andrew Knizner, but the Cubs added to their lead in the sixth, also on a solo homer, this one by Mike Tauchman, his fifth [VIDEO].

Steele completed the sixth inning, allowing just the one run on five hits, striking out four. That’s a really impressive performance in 99-degree heat. He was helped out defensively, including this slick double play started by Bellinger that ended the sixth [VIDEO].

The Cubs plated two more in the seventh. With one out, Swanson walked and went to second on a passed ball. Morel also walked, and Yan Gomes doubled them both in [VIDEO].

Daniel Palencia threw a 1-2-3 seventh with a pair of strikeouts, and this was a really good game for him to get some low-pressure MLB experience. The Cardinals scored a pair off Anthony Kay in the eighth, a two-run homer by Knizner, and the Cubs completed the scoring in the top of the ninth. Morel singled and Miguel Amaya was hit by a pitch — that’s 10 HBP for Amaya in just 94 plate appearances. He ranks tied for fifth in the NL in that category.

Tauchman’s perfectly placed grounder down the third-base line scored Morel to make it 10-3 [VIDEO].

That was Tauchman’s third hit of the game:

Michael Rucker finished things up uneventfully. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].

The Cubs reached .500 for the first time since May 12 and are now 25-15 (.625) since they were swept out of Anaheim on June 8. Also:

This team is finally playing at its talent level, in my view, something I thought they had in them all along. Win two of the three remaining in St. Louis and that probably makes the Cubs at least mild buyers at the trade deadline, perhaps adding some relief help and maybe a power bat.

Starting to believe in this team now?

Who’s starting for the Cubs tonight? We don’t know!

Well, let’s see. It’s probably not Palencia or Rucker, who both pitched Thursday. It’s likely not Mark Leiter Jr. or Adbert Alzolay, who would be held back for late-inning high-leverage work. It can’t be Anthony Kay, because he’s lefthanded. That leaves Javier Assad, Michael Fulmer and Julian Merryweather. Fulmer was the “opener” last Saturday and last pitched Tuesday, 16 pitches against the White Sox. Assad threw 24 pitches Wednesday against the Sox, and Merryweather threw 18 against the Sox, also on Wednesday.

I’d guess it’d be Fulmer again, though he was one of the guys warming up Thursday. If Assad goes, he could conceivably give the Cubs some length, as he threw 56 pitches against the Cardinals July 20 at Wrigley Field.

Repeat after me: “As always, we await developments.”

The Cardinals starter will be lefthander Jordan Montgomery. Game time Friday is 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.