DENVER -- The Cubs wasted no time establishing momentum in Sunday's rubber match with the Rockies, riding a four-hit, three-run rally in the first inning to a 9-7 victory and a series win.
They ended up needing every advantage they could get in a game that started with an early hit batsman, ended with a game-ending overturned replay review and featured dives, somersaults and wall-crashes in between.
"There's West Texas baseball and Rocky Mountain High baseball, and you've got to just fasten your seatbelt and hopefully kick the last field goal," manager Joe Maddon said, perfectly capturing the flavor of the day.
Rockies starter German Marquez was cruising through the first inning, retiring the first two batters he faced, before a 96-mph fastball got away from him and hit Kristopher Bryant in the brim of his helmet. Bryant left the game, and preliminary tests showed no signs of concussion.
As the teams regrouped, the Cubs proved less rattled than Marquez, who went on to allow base hits to the next four batters in the Cubs' three-run rally that put the Rockies in a hole they couldn't escape.
But as big as the Cubs offense was, it was defense that saved the day, with Albert Almora Jr. making three standout plays in center, saving at least two critical runs by robbing Nolan Arenado in the first, Noel Cuevas in the second and Charlie Blackmon in the ninth of extra-base hits.
"I'm just trying to prevent some runs from scoring," Almora said. "In this kind of field, you have a lot of room to run. I was just trying to be in the right spot at the right time. I just wanted to go get it. I was going to give it all I had. Even if I didn't think I had a great chance, I was giving to give it my shot, and it just fell in the glove."
Nothing "just fell" into Almora's glove without a sprint, a dive or a crash; he did a back somersault after diving in the first inning, a face-plant in the second, and he hit the wall after catching Blackmon's deep fly in the ninth,
"Albert had a day for the ages in center field," Maddon said.
Said Rockies manager Bud Black: "Their center fielder probably made two of the greatest plays I've seen in my career."
The game ended on another great defensive play as Brandon Morrow closed the game with a nail-biter of a save. The Rockies loaded the bases on two hits and a two-out walk before a Morrow pitch got away from catcher Willson Contreras with Ian Desmond batting. Contreras, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth -- the last player on the Cubs' bench -- scampered to get the ball and made a beautiful throw to Morrow, who put the tag on Arenado. The initial call was safe by home-plate umpire Cory Blaser, but after a replay review, the call was overturned, ending the game.
"That's something we practiced in Spring Training," Morrow said. "Willson made a great throw. Without the throw, you can't make the tag. I just had to drop my glove in front of the [plate] and he slid into it. I knew he was out. It was almost like in slow motion. I set my glove right in front of the [plate] and watched him slide right into it. It was a great play by [Contreras] to get to the ball and get it back to me."
Cubs starter Jose Quintana got the job done on the mound, holding the Rockies to four runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out seven in 5 1/3 innings.
YOU GOTTA SEE THESE
Almora appears poised to launch his own cable channel, filled with his mounting collection of outstanding defensive plays in center field. On Saturday, he made an outstanding basket catch after ranging 87 feet. And on Sunday, Almora reprised his web wonders, making an outstretched leap as he ran back and to his right to snare Arenado's drive to the left-center gap while extended in the air. He landed and did a back somersault. Almora received a visit from the trainer, who checked on his neck, but he was able to stay in the game.
He gave an encore performance in the second inning, making a nearly identical leap for Cuevas' drive to left-center, though he completed a face-plant after landing that time.
Almora had one more gem up his sleeve, catching a 410-foot Blackmon drive to the warning track in deep center while running full-steam. He completed the catch then slammed into the wall, staying on the ground for a few moments. Once again, Almora was able to stay in the game.
"I'm glad we got the win," Almora said. "This win makes me feel a lot better. If we would have lost, I probably would have been a little more hurt."
The Cubs scored six of their nine runs with two outs. They put eight men on base with two outs, and six of those players either drove in or scored a run. Javier Baez continued his hot streak with his seventh homer of the season, a two-out solo shot into the trees beyond Coors Field's center-field wall, and Jason Heyward plated two in the third with a two-out single to center.
Quintana recorded his 1,000th career strikeout when he fanned David Dahl in the second for his third of seven K's on the day.
At the other end of the spectrum, reliever Steve Cishek, making his 432nd career appearance, recorded his first big league hit with a bunt single in the seventh to fuel the decisive three-run rally.
HE SAID IT
"It was one of those days when you get to see almost everything baseball has. We came in here like we'd been in a [fight]. Bumps and bruises. We basically played our heart out. We just played Cubbie baseball." -- C.J. Edwards, on the wild game Sunday
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The overturned play at the plate with two out in the bottom of the ninth was as critical as they come, a game-changing -- and game-ending -- play. After Morrow's pitch got away from Contreras with the bases loaded and the Cubs clinging to a two-run lead with two outs, Arenado was initially called safe after sliding into home. But after viewing all the relevant angles, the replay official determined Morrow had gotten the tag in prior to Arenado touching home. The call was overturned, ending the game and saving the Cubs from pitching to Ian Desmond, who was 2-for-3, with runners on second and third in a one-run game.
The Cubs return to Cleveland on Tuesday for the first time since Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Much of the team that won the World Series will be back to relive the memories and perhaps create new ones Among the new team members will be starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood, who couldn't be happier about dodging a start at his old home park, Coors Field, where his ERA was nearly double his ERA outside the ballpark. He is 0-1 with a save and a 3.21 ERA in three career games (two starts) against the Indians. First pitch is at 5:10 p.m. CT., and Josh Tomlin is expected to start for the Tribe.