MILWAUKEE – There are few “must-win” games during baseball’s regular season.
But Wednesday night’s series finale at Miller Park had all the look and feel of at least a “pivotal” game for the Cubs.
Of course, you need a pivot point on which to turn, and the Cubs have just that in Javy Baez.
Baez sparked a four-run fourth inning to break a scoreless tie and propel the Cubs to a 6-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs took a 6-1 lead in the sixth and had to hold on against a determined Brewers bunch.
With the victory, the Cubs (82-57) salvaged the final game of this three-game series after dropping the first two. They left town and headed for Washington with a four-game lead over the Brewers (79-62). A series sweep by the Brewers would have cut the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central to two games.
“Yes, to be able to hold on to that thing here in really a loud environment towards the end, just good stuff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We wanted to win. They wanted to win. We had a chance to go two out of three, and I’m pretty pleased with that. We gave up the one, but we played well enough to win two out of three, and I’ll take it.”
Now for Baez. Daniel Murphy already had given the Cubs a 1-0 lead when he led off the fourth with an opposite-field home run to left-center against Jhoulys Chacin. Baez singled to left-center.
Anthony Rizzo, back in the lineup after bruising his right foot Tuesday, lined a single to center field with the infield pulled toward the right. Baez never hesitated rounding second and heading to third. That drew a high throw from Lorenzo Cain, and Baez sprinted home to score.
That forced another throwing error, by shortstop Orlando Arcia, putting Rizzo on third base.
It’s the kind of play – whether on the basepaths or in the field – that has been the hallmark of Baez’s season.
“I knew there was nobody at third,” Baez said. “The shortstop had to beat me to the bag, to third base. Plus, he had to catch the ball. As I was getting closer to the bag, I saw him not even try for the ball and just saw his eyes going up. The pitcher was backing up, and I saw him, too. I just kept going.”
A double by Ben Zobrist scored Rizzo, and Willson Contreras later added an RBI single.
Jose Quintana tossed his second straight quality start for the Cubs, working 6 2/3 innings and giving up five hits and two runs.
He worked quickly through the first three innings before laboring in the fourth, when the Brewers sent seven men to the plate, scoring one run. The Brewers got another run in the sixth. Quintana retired the first two batters in the seventh before Maddon turned to reliever Jesse Chavez.
Cain hit a single to deep short before pinch hitter Curtis Granderson homered to right-center. Pedro Strop worked out of trouble in the ninth, stranding two for his 12th save.