Four-game winning streak buoys interest in Cubs

Written By BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media Posted: 07/08/2014, 06:16am

While the amateur draft creates an intriguing subplot regarding their future, the no-longer-slumbering Cubs are trying to create a present that has some value as well.

They were one out away from a season-best fourth consecutive victory on a postcard-perfect Friday at Wrigley Field when old friend Reed Johnson — now a Miami Marlin but a popular, useful Cub for four of his 12 big-league seasons —flicked a pinch-hit single into right-center field to score two runs, tying the game at 3 and forcing extra innings.

A month ago, or at any time in the last two-plus seasons, such a turn of events might have signaled a Cubs’ collapse. But this is a group that is acquiring resilience. They played on into the 13th, with Brian Schlitter and Carlos Villanueva absolving Hector Rondon of his ninth-inning pitching sins with four innings of shutout relief.

And in the 13th, after a single by Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo tucked a fly ball around the right-field foul pole for a two-run home run and a 5-3 victory, giving the Cubs their first four-game winning streak since last July.

“We’ve had games like this that we didn’t survive, but they’re starting to feel and know that they can do this,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Things lighten up when you win. We’re gaining some ­confidence.”

Jason Hammel and the Marlins’ Nathan Eovaldi matched zeroes for four-plus innings, with Eovaldi using a high-velocity heater and a late-breaking slider to retire the first 14 batters he faced. Hammel had baserunners in each of the first five innings, but he helped himself out with five strikeouts and two nice fielding plays on comebackers, turning one into a double play.

“I left a few sliders up and they had some baserunners, but we were well-positioned and played good defense,” Hammel said. “It was a good team win, but we got away with one. Nathan was really on his game.”

The Cubs broke through against Eovaldi with two outs in the fifth when Nate Schierholtz singled and ex-Marlin Chris Coghlan pulled a sharp double into the right-field corner. It remained a 1-0 game until the eighth, when Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich got a bad break on Rizzo’s liner and watched it sail over his head for a two-run double, scoring Lake and pinch-hitter ­Justin Ruggiano, who led off with a double.

Hammel (6-3, 2.53 ERA) left after seven scoreless innings and was in line for his seventh victory, which would have matched last season’s total.

“He had really good command and he attacked the strike zone,” Renteria said. “He knows what he’s doing and he goes out and does it.”

After Wesley Wright and Neil Ramirez pitched a clean eighth, Rondon was touched for three ninth-inning runs on four singles, all of them softies.

“It happens with closers,” Renteria said. “Rondon got chinked up a little bit, but Schlitter and Carlos picked him up and we kept playing, kept battling through the whole situation. And I’m glad Rizzo’s on our side.”

Rizzo connected off right-hander Kevin Slowey, the last of six Marlins pitchers. The homer was his second in two games, his team-high 12th and his first walk-off piece since July 29, 2012.

“I’m always confident on those situations,” Rizzo said. “You put some good swings on the ball and things happen. It was a breaking ball and I hit it pretty high, and with the wind blowing you never know. That’s baseball.”

Rizzo is hitting .330 (31-for-94) at home, with five homers and 14 RBI.

“I’d say he’s putting together a pretty nice year,” Renteria said.

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