SAN FRANCISCO -- Nothing’s coming easily for the Cubs these days. Not even victory.
The Cubs avoided being swept in their three-game series against the Giants by winning Wednesday’s finale, 4-1. Home runs by Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora Jr. accounted for Chicago’s scoring, which proved to be enough as Cubs pitchers limited the Giants, who batted .313 (21-for-67) in the series’ first two games, to seven hits.
But the Cubs had to weather considerable adversity to outlast the Giants.
Former starting shortstop Addison Russell was optioned to Triple-A Iowa before the game, creating a possible distraction. Right knee soreness forced Bryant to leave the game in the fifth inning. Almost simultaneously, first baseman and cleanup hitter Anthony Rizzo was ejected from the game. Jon Lester, the Cubs’ scheduled starter, was scratched after enduring a fever. And with two outs and nobody on base in the ninth, the Giants managed to bring the potential tying run to the plate against Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, who coaxed a medium-deep drive to left field from Brandon Belt for the final out.
“With everything that had been going on -- sending Addison out, Jonny being ill, Rizzo getting kicked out, K.B. having to come out of the game -- you get on an airplane and not winning that game, that’s where the dialogue becomes fabricated in a negative way,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s very difficult to control that. You try to but it is. Now we can get on the airplane, get on back home, have a day off, and regroup a bit.”
Geography allows the Cubs to return to Chicago for Thursday’s scheduled off-day before they open a three-game National League Central showdown at Milwaukee. The Brewers occupy third place in the division, two games behind the first-place Cubs. Second-place St. Louis trailed Chicago by one game pending the result of its game at Pittsburgh later Wednesday.
“It’ll be fun,” Rizzo said of the upcoming Brewers series. “It’s always fun in Milwaukee. You have the Brewers fans, a lot of Cubs fans, and the place [Miller Park] is loud.”
Rizzo’s ejection remained a lingering mystery. He insisted that he said nothing excessively vulgar to plate umpire Jordan Baker to warrant an ejection. Rizzo indicated that he differed with Baker’s decision to call a 3-1 pitch a strike, then shared a joke with Giants catcher Stephen Vogt before he struck out swinging. Suddenly he was tossed.
Said Rizzo, who received his second career ejection, “If that was the magic word, I probably would have been ejected [more often].”
Maddon was stunned to learn of Rizzo’s ejection.
“I had no idea Rizzo was kicked out of the game,” Maddon said. “I had no clue. I’m going up there to make a double-switch and all of a sudden I hear Rizz behind me [saying], ‘Jordan, what are you doing?’ I asked, ‘You kicked him out?’ He said yeah. I said, ‘I didn’t see anything.’ So that happened. ... I don’t think he used ‘the pronoun.’“
The Cubs established control immediately as Baez launched his 25th homer of the season with one out in the first inning. Two innings later, Bryant followed Baez’s ground-rule double with a drive to center for his 21st homer of the season.
Almora cleared the left-center-field barrier with two outs in the fourth inning for his 10th homer, marking his first double-digit season in this category.
The outcome produced Maddon’s 442nd regular-season managerial victory with the Cubs, tying him for fifth in franchise history with Joe McCarthy (1926-30).