CHICAGO (AP) — Cody Bellinger drove in the tiebreaking run with a ricochet infield single in the eighth inning and the Chicago Cubs beat Milwaukee 3-2 on Wednesday to pull within three games of the first-place Brewers in the NL Central.
Bellinger’s sharply hit ball up the middle glanced off the right ankle of reliever Joel Payamps and to third baseman Andruw Monasterio. Bellinger beat out Monasterio’s throw, allowing Mike Tauchman to score from third. It was Chicago’s third and final hit of the game.
“I saw it kind of bounce toward third base and I just tried to beat the throw,” said Bellinger. “I didn’t know if there would be a play or not, so I just kind of put my head down and ran as fast I could.”
After dropping the first game of the series Monday, the Cubs came back to take the next two with solid pitching and defense. At 71-62, Chicago is a season-high nine games above .500.
Bellinger, with 18 RBIs in his last 12 games and a major league-leading 54 since July, has helped lead Chicago’s climb back into the playoff picture.
The Cubs are squarely in the wild card mix. As for the NL Central title?
“Obviously we believe the division is reachable,” Bellinger said. “We got a whole month left though and some really good teams, so we’ve just got to continue playing our game.”
Chicago had ended Milwaukee’s nine-game winning streak Tuesday with a 1-0 win behind six solid innings from All-Star left-hander Justin Steele, followed by three innings of one-hit relief.
“We pitched, made plays when we had to and got a couple of key hits,” manager David Ross said.
Adbert Alzolay (2-4) got the final four outs for the win, despite hitting Mark Canha with bases loaded in the eighth to force in the tying run. Payamps (4-4) took the loss.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks pitched six crisp innings, allowing only an unearned run on four hits while striking out six and walking two.
Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff settled in after Chicago jumped ahead 2-0. The right-hander allowed two runs on two hits, struck out eight and walked one in six innings in a second straight strong outing.
The Brewers tied it 2-2 with two outs in the eighth, taking advantage of a rare Cubs bullpen meltdown. With Chicago ahead 2-1, Sal Frelick singled off Mark Leiter Jr., Chicago’s second reliever. Leiter walked the next two hitters to load the bases.
Alzolay entered and hit Canha with his second pitch. But the Brewers couldn’t build on it.
“The margins are small throughout the baseball season,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “There’s little stuff that happened, especially in the last five outs of the game certainly, that went their way, but that’s the way it goes.”
The Cubs defense, including by athletic second baseman Nico Hoerner, has been a key to their rise.
Hoerner made some nifty plays on Wednesday. He went to his right to field Carlos Santana’s grounder up the middle in the fifth with Chicago ahead 2-1. Hoerner couldn’t make a throw to get Santana at first, but he prevented William Contreras from scoring from second.
“Those are winning plays that aren’t going to show up in a box score,” Ross said.
Brewers: 1B Carlos Santana (right ankle) started after missing two games.
Cubs: RHP Marcus Stroman (rib cartilage fracture) threw long toss before Friday’s game. There’s no timetable for the All-Star’s return. … RHP Brad Boxberger (right forearm strain) is slated to make another rehab appearance with Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday. … RHP Nick Burdi (nerve irritation) is expected to resume throwing on Friday.
Brewers: RHP Freddy Peralta (11-8, 3.95 ERA) pitches at Philadelphia on Friday night. The Phillies had not yet named a starter.
Cubs: LHP Jordan Wicks (1-0, 1.80) faces Reds RHP Graham Ashcraft (7-8, 4.73) on Friday in Cincinnati.