ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was a sweet homecoming for Cubs manager Joe Maddon.Kyle Schwarber hit a monster home run and substitute starter Mike Montgomery gave up one hit -- a solo homer by Brad Miller -- over six innings to spark the Cubs to a 2-1 Interleague victory over
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was a sweet homecoming for Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Kyle Schwarber hit a monster home run and substitute starter Mike Montgomery gave up one hit -- a solo homer by Brad Miller -- over six innings to spark the Cubs to a 2-1 Interleague victory over the Rays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
"It was such a hectic pregame -- it was playoff-esque," said Maddon, who was doing interviews before he arrived at the ballpark. "You have to learn to slow it down, and at some point, I was able to do that on the field."
With the win, the Cubs have won seven straight games and are 18 games over .500, both season highs. Chicago maintained a 3 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee in the National League Central. The loss moved the Rays to within seven games of being eliminated from the American League's second Wild Card spot.
This is the Cubs' second trip to the Rays' ballpark, and first since 2008. The series provided Maddon a chance to check on his offseason home after Hurricane Irma charged through the state as well as catch up with some old friends. It marked his first trip to the Trop since he managed the Rays for nine seasons from 2006-14, compiling a 754-705 record (.517). Tampa Bay went from 101 losses in his first season to the World Series two years later.
The Rays thanked Maddon with a video tribute during the game.
"You forget all the goofy stuff you did, but you can see how much fun everybody had," Maddon said of the video. "It's absolutely a great memory, and I appreciate them doing that. … They showed all my pertinent highlights. There's none as a player, they're primarily as a zookeeper. I appreciate [the Rays], and I thank them."
Then it was down to business. Montgomery, making his 13th start, struck out six and did not walk a batter. Rays starter Chris Archer also struck out six over six innings but gave up four hits, including Schwarber's homer.
"[Montgomery] was locating his fastball pretty well," Steven Souza Jr. said. "He was throwing his fastball in hitter's counts where he needed to. Any time you can throw your changeup when you want to in a hitter's count, and you mix up that cutter to lefties pretty good today, you have to tip your cap to him. He was on."
Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier made the catch of the game, a leaping grab at the center field wall of Addison Russell's fly ball to end the seventh.
"Addison thought he got that one," Maddon said.
The Rays have lost eight of their last 11 games, and have scored 29 runs during that stretch.
"We need a lot of things to go our way," manager Kevin Cash said when asked about the Rays' dwindling postseason chances. "And some other teams need some things to go really, really sour, quickly, for them. It's long odds, there's no doubt."
Wade Davis finished the game, getting the final three outs for his 32nd save in as many chances.
Maddon said he can sense a change in approach this past week.
"When they come back and don't get [the job] done, it's not like they're angry, but you can see they're disappointed in themselves," Maddon said. "The mental energy is at a season high now, and it's fun to watch."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Ka-boom: With one out in the Chicago second, Schwarber launched a 3-2 fastball from Archer 446 feet to right for his 28th home run and a 1-0 lead. Schwarber's blast had an exit velocity of 114.3 mph, the hardest-hit homer by a Cubs player since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015. The previous high was 114.2 mph by Schwarber against the Giants' Johnny Cueto on May 23 at Wrigley Field.
"I feel we're playing really good baseball now," Schwarber said. "The way our guys are going out there and competing, it's really good to see, especially this time of year. It's getting to crunch time. We just have to keep the same pace that we're going at and not worry about how many games we've won or whatever it is and just take it a day at a time."
A hit and a strange catch: The Rays had two baserunners over five innings -- Kiermaier, who was hit by a pitch in the first, and Souza, who reached on an error in the fourth. Miller collected the first hit when he launched his eighth homer to center field off a 3-2 pitch from Montgomery. The second baseman was an unlikely home run source. He entered the game batting .192. The inning ended oddly as Cubs catcher Willson Contreras caught a foul tip by Souza with his chest protector, not his mitt.
"I thought it was a foul ball, so I'm running back to the dugout," Montgomery said of Contreras' play. "He was pretty confident he caught it." More >
"You know what? We appreciate the fans for coming in. It's a passionate fan base that the Chicago Cubs have, especially after winning a World Series. And I think a lot of fans were here to show support to Joe, rightfully so. Ben Zobrist, those guys, they were here through some really special times in the Rays' organization. We appreciate the guys coming out and cheering on their team. That's part of it." -- Cash, on his thoughts about the crowd of 25,046 at Tropicana Field, most of which seemed pro Cubs
"The more I use Wade, the better he throws." -- Maddon on Davis, who has pitched in four consecutive games
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Miller's home run gave him 61 hits on the season, matching his number of walks. No player has finished a season with as many walks as hits (with a minimum of 300 plate appearances) since Adam Dunn did it in 2011 while playing for the White Sox. No players in Rays franchise history has done that.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Ian Happ singled to right to open the Cubs' seventh, but he was called out at second when right fielder Souza's throw to second baseman Miller beat him. The Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call stood.
Cubs:Jonathan Lester will make his 30th start of the season and the 30th of his career against the Rays at 6:10 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. The lefty is 13-10 against Tampa Bay with a 4.22 ERA. He is coming off a win over the Mets.
Rays:Blake Snell (3-6, 4.25 ERA) will try to continue to turn around his season as the Rays finish up a two-game Interleague set with the Cubs at 7:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. Snell, who was sent down sporting a 4.98 ERA, has a 3.00 ERA over seven starts since being recalled from the Minors.
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Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.