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Former Cub LeMahieu helps finish off former team

Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu emerged from the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field, taking in the fresh air before batting practice.

Inside, the smell of stale champagne and beer was lingering, about 24 hours after the Milwaukee Brewers popped corks to celebrate their victory over the Cubs in the NL Central tiebreaker.

“Yeah, you can smell it in there,” LeMahieu said as he began to prepare for one of the biggest games of his career, knowing it could be his last as a Rockie.

About seven hours later, the Rockies would turn it into another messy place.

DJ LeMahieu of the Colorado Rockies hits a double in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

LeMathieu had a big hand in making it so in a 2-1 victory that would finally end after midnight, helping to stake Colorado to a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Jon Lester.  LeMathieu doubled Charlie Blackmon to third on hard-hit liner over shortstop Javy Baez that skidded into and stuck in the ivy on the left field wall.

Blackmon had to go back to third on the ground-rule double but scored on Nolan Arenado’s sacrifice fly, the Rockies’ only run until Tony Wolters’ single against Kyle Hendricks scored Trevor Story with the go ahead run in the 13th.  After righty Scott Oberg finished off the Cubs in the bottom of the inning, a second celebration by a visiting team in as many days on Wrigley Field soil was on.

“Are you kidding me?” Wolters said when asked if that was his biggest moment in baseball. “Yeah, that was probably the biggest hit I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.”

Until they strung together three two-out singles in the 13th, the Rockies were hitless with runners in scoring position, 1-for-19 with men on base and 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

LeMahieu made five outs in a row after his first-inning double. But without his hit against Lester before Lester got in a groove, there would have been no extra innings.

“When the game starts, he plays the game to win,’’ manager Bud Black said, “and how his skill set helps us do that, whatever that might be, whether that’s defensively, whether it’s with the bat, moving a runner, getting a bunt down, hit and run, knocking in a big run, hitting a homer, whatever it might be. He’s about a W.”

Which is all LeMathieu was thinking about before this one. His impending free agent status was the last thing on his mind.

“Yeah,’’ he said. “No, I’m not thinking about that right now. Just focused on finishing out strong here.’’

Viewed as a good one who got away after Theo Epstein traded him in December, 2011, two months after taking over to run the Cubs – third baseman Ian Stewart came in return for LeMahieu and Tyler Colvin — LeMahieu is a .299/.352./462 hitter in 36 career games against the team that drafted him in the second round in 2009. It was a deal that never really sat well with him, but he wasn’t going there Tuesday, not before a game of this magnitude.

“No, no,’’ he said. “We’ve worked really hard to be here. Excited to go out and get a win.

“Halfway through the year, we weren’t supposed to be here. The way we played the second half, we’re excited to be here, for sure.’’

As nice as his career blossomed with the Rockies, LeMahieu, 30, passed 1,000 hits in this his seventh season in Colorado, the achievement kind of quietly went unnoticed. Only 15 of those hits came with the Cubs in 2009, his first major league season in which he batted .250/.262/.283 in 62 plate appearances over 37 games.

“I don’t know, it’s a cool milestone,’’ LeMahieu said. “I think I’m far from over. Hopefully there are a lot more to come.’’