SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A whirlwind afternoon that included the demotion of struggling shortstop Addison Russell, a late change in starting pitchers, an ejection of Anthony Rizzo and an injury to All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant put the Chicago Cubs in a must-win situation as far as manager Joe Maddon was concerned.
“With everything that had been going on, you get on an airplane not winning that game, that’s where the dialogue becomes fabricated in a negative way,” Maddon said. “It’s very difficult to control that. You try to, but it is.”
Fortunately for Maddon, he won’t have to.
Javier Báez homered in the first inning, Bryant and Albert Almora Jr. also went deep, and the Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1 Wednesday after starter Jon Lester was scratched with an illness.
Báez hit his 25th homer and Bryant his 21st to help Chicago avoid a three-game sweep. The Cubs bounced back from a 5-4, 13-inning loss Tuesday night to give Maddon his 442nd win with Chicago, tying Joe McCarthy for fifth in franchise history.
“Everybody had ownership in that victory,” Maddon said.
It was certainly an eventful afternoon for the NL Central leaders.
Before the game the Cubs optioned Russell to Triple-A Iowa about two months after he completed a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. The move made room for catcher Willson Contreras to return from the injured list.
Lester was scratched from his start due to illness. Rizzo was ejected after striking out to end the fifth, and Bryant left a few moments later because of soreness in his right knee.
“It’s a good win for us,” said Tyler Chatwood, who started in place of Lester. “We probably should have won a couple of games before this one, but we won this one and avoided a sweep.”
Kyle Ryan (3-1), the second of six pitchers used by the Cubs, retired five batters. Craig Kimbrel allowed two singles in the ninth but got Brandon Belt to fly out for his seventh save.
Stephen Vogt doubled twice and had three hits for San Francisco. The Giants had won 17 of 20 games.
“They’ve got to be running on fumes,” Bochy said after his club played 14 games in 13 days. “They were doing all they could to get this one. We just came up short but the fight was there.”
The Cubs lead in the Central was down to a half-game before tagging San Francisco starter Tyler Beede (3-4) for three home runs in the first four innings.
Báez homered in the first and then scored on Bryant’s two-run blast in the third. Almora added his 10th home run in the fourth.
Beede had been unbeaten with a 1.66 ERA in three July starts but couldn’t keep the streak going against the Cubs. Beede allowed four runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings and matched his career-high with seven strikeouts.
Chicago second baseman Robel Garcia made a pair of diving stops to take away hits from Mike Yastrzemski and Joe Panik. Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber also made a tumbling catch on Belt’s sinking fly ball to end the seventh.
Cubs: Maddon had no update on Bryant after the game. “I was watching him walk up to the plate and you could see it was bothering him,” Maddon said. “That’s right before he hit the home run, too.” ... Contreras went 1 for 4. He had been out since July 14 with a right foot strain.
Giants: 3B Evan Longoria (left foot plantar fasciitis) will accompany the team on its upcoming nine-game road trip and could be activated off the injured list soon. Longoria is eligible to come off the IL on Friday. ... Buster Posey had the day off.
Cubs: LHP José Quintana (8-7, 4.42 ERA) takes a four-game winning streak into Friday’s game at Milwaukee. Quintana has six wins in 13 career starts against the Brewers.
Giants: RHP Jeff Samardzija (7-8, 4.08) faces San Diego on Friday night for the second time this season. Samardzija beat the Padres on July 1 when he allowed two runs in eight innings.