CHICAGO — This wasn’t an oil painting, as former Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon used to say after an ugly performance.
But despite stranding eight runners Wednesday night, the Cubs persevered thanks to a solid performance from their bullpen to defeat the Cleveland Indians 3-2 in 10 innings and trim their magic number for clinching the National League Central to eight.
The Cubs (30-20) lead the Cincinnati Reds (25-26) and St. Louis Cardinals (22-23) by 5½ games.
Javier Baez flicked an 0-2 curve from Phil Maton into left field with two out and the bases loaded to score Ian Happ with the winning run after Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber struck out with the bases full.
Relievers Ryan Tepera, Rowan Wick, Craig Kimbrel, Jeremy Jeffress and Jason Adam combined for five scoreless innings.
The Cubs wasted several opportunities, and their biggest disappointment occurred in the the seventh after Cameron Maybin led off with a single and Nico Hoerner hit a line drive that sailed over the head of Orlando Mercado in left field for a double.
Interim Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. summoned James Karinchak, who struck out Happ and Kris Bryant.
Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked, and the Indians dugout cheered loudly after Contreras grounded to short.
The lack of clutch hitting overshadowed Baez’s latest daring baserunning feats.
He legged out what would have been an inning-ending double play in the fourth and speeded all the way to third after the throw from second baseman Yu Chang skipped past first base. Baez scored on a single by Maybin.
Baez contributed to a failed rally in the second, when he singled but was thrown out trying to advance to second after Schwarber held at third.
Jason Heyward’s infield hit scored Schwarber, and an error by third baseman Jose Ramirez advanced Heyward to second. But Hoerner grounded into a double play.
Jon Lester was pulled after only five innings and 62 pitches. After striking out a season-high eight in six scoreless innings Friday in Milwaukee, Lester tied his season low with one strikeout and needed exceptional defense to limit the damage.
Happ snagged a line drive by Austin Hedges to prevent Josh Luplow from scoring from second in the second inning.
Maybin made a diving catch in left to rob Francisco Lindor of an extra-base hit to open the third.
Luplow hit a line drive at Baez, who fired to first to nail Franmil Reyes and complete a double play to end the fourth.
Lester allowed a tying home run to Oscar Mercado to start the fifth.
Lester is lined up to make his next start Tuesday in Pittsburgh and then start the regular-season finale Sept. 27 against the White Sox.
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