SAN DIEGO -- The Cubs on Tuesday night did not get what they need most -- a win. But they did get something they’ve needed pretty badly -- Kris Bryant.
Oh, sure, Bryant has been around all season. But the real Kris Bryant -- the All-Star, the guy the Cubs need knocking balls out of the yard if their postseason push is to prove fruitful -- has been essentially absent for weeks because of a balky right knee.
That Bryant was back on Tuesday at Petco Park. That Bryant showed the benefits of a cortisone shot and two days of rest by cracking two home runs in the Cubs’ 9-8, 10-inning loss to the Padres. Center fielder Jason Heyward matched Bryant with two homers of own, including a game-tying shot in the eighth inning as the Cubs rallied from an early four-run deficit.
The Cubs, however, did not score last. So they find themselves clinging to a one-game lead over the Brewers for the second National League Wild Card spot. The Cubs missed a chance to pick up a game on the Nationals for the top NL Wild Card spot and the Cardinals for the NL Central lead, remaining 2 1/2 and four games back, respectively.
The Padres won it on a walk-off walk by Manuel Margot. Right-hander Steve Cishek allowed an infield single by Luis Urias with one out in the 10th and then walked three straight batters to push Urias across with the winning run.
“Tough loss,” manager Joe Maddon said, “but a lot of good things did occur.”
Foremost among those was Bryant’s return to form. He has battled soreness in his right knee since late June, and his numbers have tailed off. He had a .287/.398/.537 slash line through June 30, but he was at .267/.351/.470 since then, entering Tuesday.
Bryant’s first homer wasn’t a Statcast marvel. It traveled 381 feet to left field and was measured with a 94.5 mph exit velocity. But it was Bryant’s first homer since Aug. 21 and came in encouraging fashion.
Bryant stayed back on a 2-2 curveball from Padres rookie right-hander Ronald Bolanos and connected for a two-run shot in the fifth inning that pulled the Cubs within 6-5.
The third baseman said soreness in his right knee -- his back leg in the batter’s box -- has caused the leg to give way at times, which resulted in him swinging under pitches he normally would drive. This time, Bryant had a 31-degree launch angle, smack dab in the middle of the sweet spot for home run hitters.
In the eighth inning, Bryant belted his second homer of the night and 28th of the season. He handled right-hander Andres Munoz’s 99.6 mph, first-pitch fastball and sent it 403 feet to center field to get the Cubs within a run once again, 8-7.
“I’m very happy with how [the knee] responded,” Bryant said. “I”m not putting any of the performance to getting a shot, but it’s just nice going up there and not have to think about it, to just go about your normal routine.”
Bryant’s second homer matched the fastest pitch a Cubs player has hit for a homer during the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Two batters later, however, Bryant was dropped down to a tie for second.
Heyward is now No. 1. He got hold of a 99.9 mph fastball from Munoz and powered it 417 feet to center to tie the game, 8-8.
“My goodness, that second home run was absolutely tonked -- dead central,” Maddon said.
That was Heyward’s 21st homer of 2019. When he connected for No. 20 off Bolanos in the second inning, he became the sixth player to hit 20 home runs for the Cubs this season. The Cubs had six 20-homer hitters in one other season, 2017.
One of the six sluggers of 2019, Javier Baez, is out with a left thumb fracture. That makes a productive Bryant all the more crucial for the Cubs down the stretch.
“I thought he looked good,” Maddon said. “Overall, a very nice night for him.”
If Bryant starts hitting homers at his usual pace again, the Cubs have a better chance to hold off the Wild Card horde and perhaps do some damage in the seven games they have left against the Cardinals.
“I feel like I’m due,” Bryant said.
Back on April 3, Cishek completely lost the strike zone. With the Cubs holding a lead at Atlanta, he entered in the eighth inning and walked all three batters he faced, throwing only three strikes among 15 pitches before he got the hook. The Cubs wound up losing, 6-4.
Tuesday's loss was not quite like that. Cishek was pitching with purpose as he walked Austin Hedges on five pitches, Travis Jankowski on a full count and, finally, Margot on four pitches. The last walk came with the Cubs deploying a five-man infield in the hope of getting a double play.
“I was trying to get the ground ball there,” Cishek said. “My best chance of that is a sinker in, hoping he’d offer at it. He did a good job laying off.”
Cishek said he thought he threw a few borderline pitches that could have been called strikes. Maddon stuck with Cishek even after the bases were full.
“Even after he walked a couple guys, I believed he was going to right himself,” Maddon said. “He’s a ground-ball guy. He’s the best guy for us, under those circumstances, to throw a ball into the five-man infield. It just didn’t happen. It was one of those nights.”
Tough night for Zobrist
Second baseman Ben Zobrist made a throwing error for the second straight game. With the bases loaded in the second inning, he fielded a ground ball but threw wide as shortstop Nico Hoerner covered second base. Three runs scored, and the Padres had a five-run inning en route to building a 6-2 lead.
Two innings later, Zobrist fouled a ball off his right leg and left the game after that at-bat. He is iffy to play Wednesday, Maddon said.
“It’s pretty sore,” Maddon said.