Brewers one pitch away — twice — but Cubs teach newbies a lesson

MILWAUKEE — The Brewers were one strike away from victory. But that’s when Javy Baez said, “Not tonight, fellas,” and snuck a ninth-inning single through the middle of the diamond, scoring Ian Happ to tie the game.

The Brewers were one ball away from victory. But that’s when Cubs closer Wade Davis — pitching in the bottom of the ninth in a rare non-save situation — said, “Maybe next year,” and battled back from a 3-1 count on Orlando Arcia with the bases loaded to record his biggest out of the year.

On to the 10th Thursday’s opener of this crucial four-game series went, and that’s when the Cubs pounced on an opponent that just hasn’t wanted to die in the National League Central race. Kris Bryant crushed a two-run homer to center off reliever Oliver Drake, the decisive blow in a 5-3 game both teams will remember for a long time.

“That was awesome,” manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant’s blast, his 28th of the season and the Cubs’ 212th, tied for second-most in franchise history. “He had a really good night.”

Cubs fans at Miller Park celebrate after Kris Bryant connected on the 10th-inning homer that beat the Brewers last Thursday. (AP/Morry Gash)

For nearly four hours, it felt like a playoff game at Miller Park. By the end, though, it felt more like a playoff-tested team teaching a harsh lesson to a bunch of newbies.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” said Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who was back in action for the first time since Sept. 4 and threw a solid five innings of one-run ball. “I’m sure you guys thought it felt like a playoff game, just like we did. Two teams battling for a division, a four-game series. This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind.”

The loss was a gut punch and then some to the Brewers, who were dealt a walk-off defeat in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and now trail the Cubs by 4½ games in the division. If both endings had been different, the gap between the teams would be a paper-thin 1½ games — scary stuff for the Cubs, who have a long way to go in this series.

But now? Fans of both teams had to walk out of the ballpark thinking the race is essentially over. The players themselves might be experiencing similar inklings. The Cubs have a magic number of six with 10 games to play. Scary? No. Quite comfortable, thank you very much.

The Brewers can take solace in remaining squarely in the hunt for the NL’s second wild-card spot, but the thought of overtaking the Cubs must be pretty difficult to conjure. A look across the field at the Cubs’ dugout — a party scene straight out of the 2016 postseason — had to be intimidating.

Playoff intensity has taken over.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said.

Buckle up, folks.

Contributing: Gordon Wittenmyer

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Jake Arrieta provides an answer for Cubs rotation full of questions

Is Kyle Schwarber getting ready to pull another Kyle Schwarber?