Cubs continue to roll on road, defeat Diamondbacks
PHOENIX — Kyle Schwarber was good-naturedly congratulated by winning pitcher John Lackey after the Chicago Cubs’ latest victory, and it wasn’t for his pivotal home run. Rather, it was for making it through the game.
A good night for Schwarber, indeed, in a ballpark where he has very unpleasant memories.
Schwarber homered in his first game in Chase Field since being badly injured there last season, Alex Avila followed with another homer and Kris Bryant reached base five straight times to lead the Cubs past the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-3 on Friday night.
With the Cubs up 3-2 in the sixth inning, Schwarber hit a deep drive to center field — not that far from where his 2016 regular season ended with two torn knee ligaments — for his 19th homer. Avila, filling in for injured Willson Contreras, then chased Arizona starter Taijuan Walker (6-6) with another homer to center, his second since being traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Cubs on July 31.
Schwarber sustained multiple injuries, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament, during a dreadful collision with Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler as both chased a fly ball in left-center field on April 7, 2016. He was expected to miss the rest of the season but surprisingly returned in October to get seven hits in the World Series.
Getting a homer Friday night pushed that bad moment further into his memory bank.
“The funny thing is Lackey was pitching when that happened, too, so he gave me the congrats after the game,” Schwarber said. “It (the collision) ran through my head when I got here, but when I stepped on the field it was another game.”
And another win for the Cubs, who’ve won 13th of their last 16 on the road and are 17-9 overall since the All-Star break.
Chicago broke the game open with three runs in the eighth against reliever T.J. McFarland — highlighted by Javier Baez frantically scoring from first base on Ian Happ’s single to right field. Baez broke on the play and didn’t stop running, not even looking into right field as he rounded third.
“The fact that he didn’t hesitate at all (allowed him to score) ... he never hesitated at all,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Sometimes he does things we’ve got to talk to him about, and sometimes he does ... that.”
Schwarber was hitting below .200 when he was sent down to the minors at midseason — he’s still at .195 — but Maddon likes his swing now. A lot.
“That was a 96 mph elevated (fastball), two-strike homer, and that’s a good sign,” Maddon said.
Lackey (10-9) gave up solo homers to David Peralta, his 11th, in the fifth and Paul Goldschmidt, his 27th and fourth in two games against the Cubs, before being lifted in the sixth but got the victory. Lackey gave up only two other hits in 5 1/3 innings. He is 5-0 in his career against the Diamondbacks, 3-0 the last two seasons, and is 5-0 in six starts since July 5.
Lackey didn’t want to come out, but Maddon is trying to keep his pitch count down so he’s strong if the Cubs play October baseball again.
“I’ve been throwing pretty good, we’ve scored some runs, too, and that helps,” the 38-year-old Lackey said. “I’m not getting any younger, and (I’m) trying to be strong towards the end.”
Bryant singled in each of the first two innings as the Cubs scored three times against Walker, and finished 3-for-3 with a walk and a hit by pitch. Avila, hitting .182, drove in two runs.
Walker, winless in his last eight starts, was allowed to bat in the fifth despite already throwing 100 pitches to that point — he struck out — and then gave up the successive homers to Schwarber and Avila to start the sixth.
The Diamondbacks went on to lose their third in a row and fifth in six games.
“Playing uphill baseball today was something we couldn’t overcome,” manager Torey Lovullo said.
The Cubs, playing at Chase Field for the first time since taking three of four there during their first road series in 2016, opened a 2-0 lead in the first with a lot of help from Walker’s wildness.
Bryant singled into the hole at shortstop and, one batter later, Ben Zobrist singled to center. Schwarber walked to load the bases.
Avila then drew a walk to force in a run. With Jason Heyward at the plate, the second run of the inning scored as Chris Herrmann got crossed up with Walker on a breaking ball that bounced away from the catcher for a passed ball.
“The first inning I was off mechanically, I didn’t feel right, spiking a lot of balls — it just didn’t feel right in that inning,” Walker said.
Walker’s wildness continued an inning later when he hit Jon Jay with a pitch with two outs, and Jay then stole second ahead of Bryant’s run-scoring single.
Lackey, 2-0 against Arizona in 2016, allowed four runners in the first two innings by walking three and giving up Herrmann’s two-out single in the second. But he got Goldschmidt to ground into an inning-ending double play in the first and struck out Walker with runners on first and second to end the second.
“He gets better when he’s backed into a corner,” Lovullo said.
Arizona finally got to Lackey in the fifth when Herrmann singled for the second time and Peralta drove an 0-1 pitch into the right-field seats for his 11th homer, making it 3-2 Cubs.
NOTES: The attendance was 39,131. ... Cubs C Willson Contreras, second on the team with 70 RBIs, will be out an estimated four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring. C Victor Caratini was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to take his place. ... Cubs manager Joe Maddon hasn’t decided whether Caratini or C Alex Avila will get the majority of starts. ... Arizona All-Star LHP Robbie Ray, out since taking a line drive to the head July 28 at St. Louis, will pitch a simulated game Saturday at the Diamondbacks’ spring training complex. He’ll likely make a minor league rehabilitation start after that.