CINCINNATI (AP) — Elly De La Cruz hit a tying single and newcomer Hunter Renfroe beat out a double-play ball to drive in the winner as the Cincinnati Reds rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for the second straight night, defeating the Chicago Cubs 2-1 on Saturday.
In a matchup of National League playoff contenders, Javier Assad pitched a season-high eight shutout innings and Jeimer Candelario launched his career-best 20th homer to help Chicago take a 1-0 lead into the ninth.
Jake Fraley led off with a double against Mark Leiter Jr. (1-3), and pinch-runner Harrison Bader stole third. TJ Friedl walked and Spencer Steer was hit by a pitch before De La Cruz singled to right field.
“I knew it was an important at-bat,” De La Cruz said through a translator. “Just stayed focused on the task at hand. You just go out there with the same mentality every time.”
Nick Martini flied out, keeping the bases loaded, and José Cuas entered to face Renfroe — claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels earlier in the week.
He hit a grounder to shortstop, and the Cubs tried to turn an inning-ending double play. Renfroe barely beat the relay to first, allowing Friedl to score the winning run.
Sam Moll (1-3) worked a hitless inning for the win.
In the second game of Friday’s doubleheader, the Reds erased a 2-1 deficit in the ninth against Chicago closer Adbert Alzolay to win 3-2 and earn a split.
“We pitched well both games, giving up three and two, and coming away with losses is tough,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Leiter is running on fumes. Get a big home run and weren’t able to make it stick. We did a lot of things well, and just weren’t able to close it out again.”
Assad equaled a career high with seven strikeouts for the Cubs, who hold the second NL wild card by a slim margin. Cincinnati is in a tight race with the Giants, Diamondbacks and Marlins for the third and final slot.
“If you get eight shutout innings from your starter, you like your chances to win that game,” Chicago second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “A lot of guys in here think they could have changed the outcome of that game.”
The Reds lead the majors with 159 stolen bases. Assad did his part to control the running game by picking off a runner at first in each of the first two innings.
“These guys run a lot,” Assad said through a translator. “We wanted to slow them down a bit. We tried to make that adjustment.”
Cincinnati starter Andrew Abbott got help from his defense in the second when Friedl made a running catch on the center-field warning track to rob Yan Gomes of extra bases.
Assad, making his seventh start of the season, ran into trouble in the sixth, but with runners on first and second, Hoerner caught a pop fly with his back to the infield, then turned and doubled off Friedl at second to end the threat.
Cincinnati needed a strong outing from Abbott with two starters out with COVID-19 and another on the injured list. The Reds’ bullpen also is without Fernando Cruz and Ben Lively due to COVID-19.
“Guys just stepping up and doing what we need to win,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Andrew knew what he needed to do. He gave us everything tonight.”
Abbott had allowed only three hits when Candelario homered to snap an 0-for-15 skid, putting the Cubs ahead 1-0 with one out in the seventh.
Abbott permitted four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.
“We all knew it was a big series,” Abbott said. “For me, it was just going back to where I was in the beginning. Glad we got the win with everyone coming up clutch in the ninth.”
Cubs: LHP Brandon Hughes (left knee inflammation) and RHP Nick Burdi (right ulnar nerve irritation) are expected to begin rehab assignments with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday. … RHP Michael Fulmer (right forearm strain) played catch for the second straight day.
Reds: RHP Hunter Greene is recovering from COVID-19 in San Francisco, where he tested positive the day after his start Wednesday. Greene is expected to return when eligible on Sept. 7. … RHP Graham Ashcraft (right big toe stress reaction) was placed on the 15-day injured list. … LHP Brandon Williamson (COVID-19) will miss his scheduled start Sunday after testing positive for the virus.
Cubs RHP Jameson Taillon (7-9, 5.62 ERA) starts the finale of the four-game series Sunday. RHP Carson Spiers will make his major league debut for Cincinnati.