PHOENIX – Who needs a day off? The road-weary Cubs –whose last day without a trip to the ballpark for a game was Aug. 20?
“I’m good,” second baseman Javy Baez said.
Baez’s 32nd home run of the year Monday against All-Star starter Patrick Corbin capped a three-run sixth inning for the Cubs in a 5-1 victory over the Diamondbacks in the opener of a three-game series at Chase Field.
For a team in the 28th day of a 30-games-in-30-days stretch on the schedule, the Cubs looked remarkably alert – even fresh.
Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks pitched at his Game 1-playoff-starter best, falling one out short of pitching the Cubs’ second complete game of the season – taking a one-hit shutout into the ninth before A.J. Pollock’s leadoff homer in the ninth.
By then he had a five-run lead, thanks to Baez’ two-run shot in the sixth and a two-run shot in the eighth by Kris Bryant – the first homer for the former MVP since July 21, following a lengthy stretch on the disabled list because of a sore shoulder.
“We all know what KB can do here,” Baez said of the impact Bryant can have down the stretch and into the postseason as he gets stronger and more accustomed to the two-hand follow-through he’s trying to master in his swing.
“Just having him in the lineup, it changes the way the other team pitches to us,” added Baez, who boosted his NL-leading RBI total to 105. “They’ve either got to pick him or Rizz. Or me, or Zo. Or whoever is in between. But if we play as a team, like I always say, nobody can beat us.”
Hendricks (12-11), who’s one start and 6 2/3 innings from tying career highs, retired the first 10 batters he faced and 11 in a row before Pollock’s homer. He retired the next two batters before Paul Goldschmidt singled to center and ended his night at 109 pitches.
After Justin Wilson took over, he needed just one pitch for the Cubs to fool Goldschmidt into thinking they were conceding second base (not holding him), only to have catcher Willson Contreras throw him out at second to end the game.
The Cubs improved to 17-10 during the marathon stretch without a day off, including rainouts, with their only remaining day off of the season just two days away.
“At this point it’s just kind of normal,” Hendricks said. “We just know we’re playing every day. Gaining a couple of hours coming here almost felt like half an off day. We’ll take that for what it’s worth.”
While the starting rotation has thrived in recent weeks to help keep the Cubs afloat during the adverse stretch, the five runs by the lineup marked its highest production for a game in the last 10 days – and matched its entire output for the three-game weekend series against the Reds.
It also gave them four victories in the last five games and kept their division lead at 2½ games over the second-place Brewers, who trounced the Reds 8-0 Monday.
“We’ve seen it the last few years,” Hendricks said of the team rallying when the stakes seem to rise. “When things get tough guys show up and really grind, focus a little more, focus a little harder, you could say. We just trust each other in here and know what we need to do to get the job done.”
Like Baez, the MVP candidate, against Corbin, the tough lefty? Corbin struck out Baez swinging at a 3-2 pitch in the first, then got him to roll over on a pitch and ground to short in the fourth.
“I was just talking to myself, honestly,” Baez said of the third at-bat. “I just said, `Hit that frickin’ pitch.’
“I was just really mad at myself that I wasn’t making adjustments.”