MILWAUKEE -- Ian Happ began Saturday leading the National League in strikeouts, while Jonathan Lester is known more for his pitching abilities than his clutch hitting. But both came through in the ninth inning.Happ smacked a two-run single and Lester added a run-scoring sacrifice bunt to spark a four-run ninth
MILWAUKEE -- Ian Happ began Saturday leading the National League in strikeouts, while Jonathan Lester is known more for his pitching abilities than his clutch hitting. But both came through in the ninth inning.
Happ smacked a two-run single and Lester added a run-scoring sacrifice bunt to spark a four-run ninth and lift the Cubs to a 5-2 victory over the Brewers. Even Brandon Morrow, who had thrown two pitches in one outing in the Cubs' first seven games, got to pick up his first save with his new team.
"We always fight," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We've been unable to get the big hit. It was nice for 'Happy' to get off the schneid there. Big at-bat. Loved that it went to left center, that's a good sign as opposed to being pulled. That's a huge at-bat right there. And of course, Jonny Lester. That could not have been placed more perfectly. We're playing well. We're just not getting hits when we need it."
Chicago starter Yu Darvish served up Eric Thames' solo homer -- but also struck out nine over six innings -- and Kristopher Bryant had three hits, including a solo home run. The Brewers, who seem to thrive on late-inning heroics, had taken a 2-1 lead in the eighth on Lorenzo Cain's sacrifice fly.
Jacob Barnes, the first to audition for the Brewers' closer job, started the ninth and with one out, Victor Caratini ended up safe at first on an infield single that shortstop Orlando Arcia misplayed for an error. Jason Heyward walked and Javier Baez then hit a potential double-play ball to third baseman Travis Shaw, but Shaw couldn't get his glove on the ball and the bases were then loaded. Pinch-runner Addison Russell then scored on Benjamin Zobrist's infield single to tie the game at 2.
Happ, who had struck out three times already, singled to left center, driving in both Heyward and Baez.
Have the strikeouts been frustrating?
"Yes," Happ said after a pause. "It's early. Everything's going to work out. A lot of swing and misses, which is not what you want, especially with a couple guys hitting behind you who have a chance to drive you in all the time."
Maddon was encouraged by Happ's hit.
"That just speaks to his ability to put the past in the rearview mirror and move on," Maddon said of Happ. "That's got to make him feel good. Whatever he'll have tonight dinner-wise, it's going to taste better. His sleep will be much more tranquil. If he had a dog with him on the road, he'll love his puppy even more."
Bryant, who had singled in the fourth, homered in the sixth and tripled in the eighth, was then intentionally walked when Maddon called on Lester to pinch-hit. The Cubs were short-handed without Anthony Rizzo, and Lester laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to drive in Zobrist.
"I think Jon Lester has a great swing," Maddon said. "People are not believing me. Watch the guy hit a golf ball. It's incredible. Purely from a technical perspective, his swing is outstanding. I feel pretty good with him out there."
"If you see me with a bat, it's never a good thing," Lester said. "I was just trying not to screw up. At the end of the day, they still have to get an out. Hopefully, it's bunted in an area where they get me out or get another baserunner out and you're still able to score a run. We were able to do that. I just tried to make contact and get the ball on the ground."
Happ's hit was the only ball hit out of the infield in the inning.
"It's part of the game, unfortunately," Barnes said. "You execute pitches, and unfortunately sometimes it goes in the wrong spot. That's all you can do. I look back -- and obviously it's frustrating, no one wants to give up runs, but at least I executed pretty well for the most part. Unfortunately, they were able to find some holes and get some infield hits."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
On the board: The Brewers' only baserunner in the first three innings reached via Ryan Braun's two-out walk in the first, but Thames broke through leading off the fourth when he connected with a full-count slider from Darvish and lined a home run to the right-field seats. Thames, who also homered Thursday, has hit safely in all five of his starts with three home runs.
"I thought the location wasn't too bad," Darvish said. "He hit that well."
Bryant answers: Bryant connected on a low changeup from starter Zach Davies leading off the sixth, lifting a game-tying home run that traveled a Statcast-projected 407 feet and left his bat at 108.8 mph. He now has reached base safely in all eight games this season.
"He's getting good at-bat after good at-bat," Maddon said. "The home run was really properly struck. Ninety-five percent of his at-bats this season have been really good [at-bats]. He looks locked in."
"That's what we need to nail down. Most Major League managers will say the same thing. Most of the time after a close loss people will talk about leaving runners at third. If we can nail that play down, we'll be really, really good." -- Maddon, on the Cubs needing to improve on hitting with runners on third and one out
"Yeah, this is fun baseball. There's no reason to shake your head at it. It's fun baseball. You enjoy it. It was a great ballgame, an entertaining game. We didn't make a couple plays in the end and they didn't make a couple plays that almost cost them. We'll come back tomorrow." -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Davies danced his way out of trouble to briefly preserve a 1-0 lead in the fifth, when the Cubs put their first runners in scoring position with Thomas La Stella's single followed by Caratini's double to start the inning. The next batter was Heyward, who hit a bouncer to the first-base side of the mound. Davies chased it down, did a counterclockwise pirouette and fired a throw home to catcher Jett Bandy to retire La Stella. The Cubs challenged the call, but it stood upon review, as La Stella's lead leg appeared to be elevated over home plate. Davies went on to walk Baez to load the bases, but managed to escape without a run scoring.
Rizzo did not play Saturday, still sidelined by stiffness in his lower back. He is considered day to day.
Jose Quintana will close out the Cubs' series against the Brewers on Sunday. The lefty cruised through the first four innings in his last start, but then served up five runs in the fifth and took the loss. Quintana did last six innings to give the bullpen a little breather in that game. In his last start in Milwaukee on Sept. 24 of last year, Quintana threw his first complete game for the Cubs, a three-hit shutout. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT from Miller Park.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.