Reliever Mark Leiter Jr. shifted momentum in Cubs’ 3-2 victory against Dodgers

Leiter struck out left-handers Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy in a pivotal inning Sunday.

SHARE Reliever Mark Leiter Jr. shifted momentum in Cubs’ 3-2 victory against Dodgers
Cubs right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. has a 0.00 ERA this season though seven outings.

Cubs right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. has a 0.00 ERA this season though seven outings.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The seventh inning of the Cubs’ 3-2 victory Sunday was threatening to spiral out of control. Then reliever Mark Leiter Jr. struck out left-handed hitters Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy to maintain the Cubs’ lead and end the Dodgers’ strongest push for a comeback.

‘‘That split-finger is a legit weapon,’’ Cubs starter Drew Smyly said. ‘‘And he trusts in it. . . . Hitters don’t see it. It’s a wipeout pitch.’’

The Cubs’ pitching staff had a strong series overall, limiting the Dodgers to two runs in each game. On Sunday, Smyly allowed one run in 5⅔ innings. Michael Fulmer bounced back from giving up the walk-off single Saturday to retire the side in order in the eighth, then Brad Boxberger struck out three batters in the ninth to secure the save and the series victory.

Leiter entered the game at its most precarious point. The Dodgers had just pulled to 3-2 in the seventh on a freak play. With one out, Mookie Betts had hit a fly ball to right fielder Seiya Suzuki. But as Suzuki tried to camp under it, he appeared to lose the ball in the sun. It dropped for a single.

The Dodgers would have scored on the play regardless — Chris Taylor was on third base and ready to tag up if the ball had been caught — but now the Dodgers had runners on first and second with one out.

Leiter, whose splitter has been successful against left-handers as well as right-handers, came in to face Freeman. He started Freeman off with a cutter, then threw three consecutive splitters to strike him out swinging.

‘‘The at-bats gave me the opportunity to attack with it, and it worked out where they were set up for it,’’ Leiter said. ‘‘Just executing is really what it was about.’’

Leiter then got J.D. Martinez to hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield. Shortstop Dansby Swanson took an angle into the hole to backhand it, but the hop at the grass line got the best of him, enabling the Dodgers to load the bases.

So up came Muncy. Leiter again leaned on his splitter, getting a whiff for strike three to end the inning. He punctuated the moment with a shout toward the Cubs’ dugout.

‘‘He’s got that energy, that fight in him when he’s on the mound,’’ third baseman Patrick Wisdom said. ‘‘It’s a lot of fun to play behind him.’’

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Wisdom homered for the third consecutive game, bringing his season total to six.

‘‘I wish I could just bottle it up and keep it in my locker,’’ Wisdom said of feeling so locked in. ‘‘But it’s just going out there and swinging at my pitches and putting controlled swings on it.’’

Center fielder Cody Bellinger followed Wisdom’s blast in the sixth with a homer of his own, capping a return to Dodger Stadium that already had featured a homer-robbing play Saturday.

‘‘You only come back for the first time one time,’’ Bellinger said. ‘‘And I really just wanted to soak in the moment and have a fun time with the fans.’’

Bellinger’s homer had an exit velocity of 108.1 mph, the hardest contact he had made on a ball in play since 2020, according to Statcast.

Bellinger, who is expecting the birth of his second child any day now, is expected to go on paternity leave soon.

‘‘We need to keep that [bun] in the oven and let that settle in while he’s rolling,’’ manager David Ross joked.

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