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As Cubs gear up for stretch run, Yu Darvish beats Cardinals

Darvish retired the first 15 he faced, and the Cubs started the five-game series with a win over the Cardinals.

Yu Darvish delivers during Friday night’s game.
AP Photos

Jason Heyward described the feeling before the Cubs’ 4-1 win over the Cardinals on Friday. The game was the first of a five-game series, and came in the middle of a long stretch of against NL Central opponents.

“It feels like September,” Heyward said. “That’s what it feels like to me. That’s something I say with excitement.”

Over the past two seasons, September hasn’t been something to be excited about for the Cubs. This year’s Yu Darvish, however, looks like something the Cubs should be thrilled about and will be a major factor if this September is different.

Darvish, the July-August NL pitcher of the month, retired the first 15 Cardinals he faced before Matt Carpenter started the sixth with a home run. Though his perfect game bid didn’t survive, Darvish’s Cy Young chances are alive and well.

Not that he’s fixated on that.

“If I start thinking that, I will fail,” Darvish said.

Carpenter was the only baserunner Darvish allowed on a night when he went seven innings and struck out 11, winning his career-best seventh straight start and lowering his NL-best ERA to 1.44.

“The way he commands the strike zone with his secondary pitches is some of the best I’ve ever seen. He can really do it,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “And you’ve got to respect the 95, the 97 he’s got in his back pocket.”

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense dispatched Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty after 2 2/3 innings. Willson Contreras had a two-run single in the first, an RBI single in the third, and also a solo home run in the sixth.

The Cubs did that despite another of their most important pieces not playing.

A day after a foul ball bounced off the ground and hit him in the right eye, Ian Happ was not in the lineup. Happ, having a breakout season with 10 home runs and .421 on-base percentage, was replaced at the top of the lineup by Kyle Schwarber.

Ross said Happ is day to day. He saw doctors Friday morning and a lot of tests were run. The eye, Ross said is still coming back and that the swelling wasn’t as bad as Thursday night.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” Ross said. “I just, with everything he’s gone through today, I just don’t think it’s smart to start him.”

Assuming the issue isn’t a long-term problem, Happ figures to be a part of the Cubs’ efforts to win the Central. Between now and the end of the season, the Cubs will have found out more about their group.

“September’s been a big month, and it’s a lot of things that you learn about your teammates, a lot about your club, and you get to see where things are going to stand and shake out heading into October,” Heyward said.

The five-game series with St. Louis is just the next obstacle in this shortened and bizarre season. Like many teams, the Cubs have had their share of injuries but also got help before the deadline that should at least provide depth down the stretch.

“I just look forward to having a chance to jell this month,” Heyward said. “Let’s, once again, test ourselves in another situation where we’ve got five games in four days. I’m just looking forward to it. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a lot. But it’s going to be a lot of fun and that’s what we have to continue to do, is have fun as a group.”

Darvish is making things fun when he pitches.

“That was really fun to watch,” Ross said.