Cubs beat Rays 2-1 for 7th win in row, start working on Hangover II

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The hangover seems to finally, officially be gone.

With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Cubs look ready to party again, if their 2-1 victory Tuesday against the Rays in manager Joe Maddon’s Tampa-area homecoming means anything.

And if this season-high seven-game winning streak, Kyle Schwarber’s home run against Rays starter Chris Archer and super-utility lefty Mike Montgomery’s no-hit pitching into the sixth inning are any indication?

Could the hangover this season have a sequel in the works?

Montgomery wards off Rays base runners.

‘‘Their mental energy is probably at an all-season high right now, and it’s fun to watch,’’ said Maddon, who held a pregame news conference dedicated to a nine-year memory lane from his time as the Rays’ manager — and who was treated to a video-board tribute and standing ovation early in the game.

But this night was all about what’s next for Maddon and his Cubs team than anything that came before.

With the victory, they maintained their 3½-game National League Central lead — with 12 games to play — over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers, who beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0. Four big games in Milwaukee loom starting Thursday.

‘‘We’re playing really good baseball right now, and it’s really good to see, especially this time of year,’’ said Schwarber, who — 2½ months after a minor-league demotion — suddenly is two home runs short of a 30-homer season.

‘‘It’s getting to crunch time,” he added, downplaying the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel effect on the team’s recent surge. ‘‘It’s just more of as a group wanting to go out there and keep trying to prove something. We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball.’’

The best friends that anyone could have. #ThatsCub

Montgomery, whose previous start was one of his worst two of the season and preceded a return to the bullpen that looked long-term, rebounded with nearly flawless pitching until Brad Miller’s one-out homer in the sixth.

‘‘Wow, that’s the best I’ve seen him since he’s been here,’’ Maddon said.

Montgomery hit the first batter he faced in the game (he was erased on a stolen-base attempt), and Steven Souza Jr. reached on a one-out throwing error by shortstop Addison Russell in the fourth.

That was it for the Rays all night, with the exception of Miller’s shot — with Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and closer Wade Davis retiring the final nine batters, including five strikeouts.

#MentalEnergy

‘‘They told me to be ready just in case for this series,’’ said Montgomery (7-8), who was a former Rays prospect. ‘‘So I was ready mentally.’’

For a no-hit bid?

‘‘I know if I go out there and execute, good things can happen,’’ said Montgomery, who goes back into his utility role having emphasized his value in another potential deep playoff run.

‘‘I’m just going to be ready to pitch in big games, big innings,’’ said Montgomery, who has made 13 starts and 28 relief appearances this season. ‘‘Whether it’s starting or relieving, doesn’t matter. Mentally, whether it’s late in the game, I’m ready to go in there and get some big outs.

‘‘Anything, really. It’s been an interesting year, for sure. I feel ready for anything after how this year has gone.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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