SAN DIEGO – All it took was a slumping Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot and Javy Baez pulling another El Mago trick on the bases.
And just like that the Cubs beat the Padres 5-4 in 10 innings Friday night in San Diego to overtake the Brewers for first place in the National League Central by percentage points.
Rizzo – who snapped a 0-for-21 skid in his first game leading off since May 1 – drove in the game-tying run with a two-out double in the ninth. And Baez turned a slow-rolling infield single into the game-winner in the 10th by stealing second – and continuing all the way around the bases on a pair of errors.
“Javy did his Javy thing,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the National League’s starting second baseman for Tuesday’s All-Star game.
It was the third extra-inning game just four games into a West Coast trip for the Cubs – with losses in San Francisco in the two others.
It also was the Cubs’ 10th victory in 13 games overall, allowing the two-time defending division champs to close a 2½-game gap on the Brewers in that span.
The Brewers, who led the Cubs by 5½ games at last year’s All-Star break, lost to the Pirates on Friday night.
“We’re in much better position this year than we were last year at the same time,” Maddon said. “We’ve done better overall, [improving] our hitting approach. Our starting pitching still has to ascend. There’s still things we’ve got to work through. But we’re in a good spot.
“It’s good to have caught them,” he said. “They’ve been playing really well. They’re tough. I like the way we’re trending.”
He liked the way Rizzo trended after grounding out in his first two at-bats that he’s putting the first baseman back in the leadoff spot Saturday.
“Book it,” Maddon said.
“I’ll take it,” said Rizzo, who delivered a single and opposite-field doubles in his last three at-bats Friday, all against different pitchers.
The last, in the ninth, came against All-Star closer Brad Hand.
“Hand is one of the best in the business. I was lucky enough he left a slider up a tick,” Rizzo said.
Friday marked the second time this season Rizzo batted leadoff. The other time, May 1, he homered and then went on a two-month tear after struggling throughout April.
The Cubs have Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester on the mound for their final two games of the series, trying to head to the All-Star break on top.
“I don’t think it really means much at the half, but we want to be in first place every single day,” Rizzo said. “We want to win every game. It’s important we win games when the Brewers and Cardinals lose, and then go on a streak hopefully and keep winning.”