NEW YORK — Reeling from being swept at home over the weekend and seeing their chances of winning the National League dwindle slightly, the Chicago Cubs were reeling. The situation looked even worse after the first four innings in Tuesday’s game against one of the teams in direct competition with Chicago for one of the few playoff spots available in the National League.
Two swings from Javier Báez changed all of that, at least for the time being.
Báez clubbed three extra base hits, including an opposite field two-run home run in the top of the sixth which proved to be the game winning hit, as the Cubs defeated the New York Mets 5-2 in the first game of a crucial three-game series between two teams battling for a National League Wild Card spot.
Báez’s funk looked to be a thing of the past with his first swing, a double to centerfield to start the second inning. However, he was thrown out trying to stretch the base hit into a triple.
The bad luck was only temporary, as his two-run home run off Mets starter Marcus Stroman in the sixth game Chicago a 4-1 lead, then his RBI double in the eighth gave the Cubs some insurance.
The Cubs, who have held the lead in the National League Central for most of the season, were just 6-9 in their last 15 games, now finding themselves three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the division race with a month left. Báez struggled more than any other Cub during the team’s inconsistent play, hitting just .163 with a .452 OPS in his last 14 games.
New York took the game’s first lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when Mets first baseman Pete Alonso set a new Mets’ single-season record with his 42nd home run off of Cubs starter Yu Darvish for a 1-0 lead. Alonso, the odds-on favorite to win National League rookie of the year,broke a tie that he was in with Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran for the home run record.
Alonso’s home run ended up being the only big mistake that Darvish allowed all game, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out seven in eight innings of work.
Chicago responded immediately after Alonso’s home run, with Addison Russell smacking a two-run home run to straightaway center for a 2-1 Cubs’ advantage. Russell, a mainstay for the team either at shortstop or second base, was sent down to Triple-A Iowa on July 25 due to struggles at the plate and on the field and recently was recalled back to the parent club. Like Báez, Russell also had three hits on the night.
Stroman took the loss for New York as he went six innings and allowed four earned runs — coming on those two 2-run home runs — and striking out seven while walking two.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Arturo Holmes. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are currently 36 pictures in total.