But the suspense was lifted in a manner that brought relief and amusement to a Cubs team that felt frustration until the ninth inning Saturday, when it rallied for four runs to steal a 5-2 victory from the rival Brewers before a sellout crowd of 43,331 at Miller Park.
“We always fight,” said manager Joe Maddon, whose bag of ninth-inning tricks included using ace Jon Lester for a squeeze bunt that scored an insurance run. “We’ve just been unable to get the big hit.”
It didn’t hurt that the Brewers committed two errors in the ninth to set up Ben Zobrist’s game-tying infield hit, on which they were late covering the bag after first baseman Eric Thames made a diving stop.
That snapped a 0-for-6 performance with runners in scoring position. Happ, who had struck out three times to raise his total to 17 in 27 at-bats, poked a two-run single into left-center field and vigorously slapped his hands while trotting into second as the throw went to third base.
“Yeah, I guess,” Happ said in his delayed response to whether he was frustrated with his high strikeout total before the hit off Jacob Barnes. “Do you think so?
“It’s early. Everything is going to work out. A lot of swing and miss is not what you want, especially with a couple of guys hitting behind you who have a chance to drive you in, (but) I just have to keep working.
“It’s the reason we play this many games. It’s a game of averages — there will be some ups and downs. Hopefully this is the biggest of the downs and I’ll get going on a normal pace.”
With a short bench created by first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s second straight absence because of lower-back stiffness, Maddon summoned Lester to pinch hit for reliever Pedro Strop with the bases loaded and one out.
On a 1-1 count, Lester placed a bunt near the first-base line that scored Zobrist.
“There was no play,” Lester said. “I literally ran on the field as (Kris Bryant) was being walked. I just looked at signs and paid attention to (third-base coach Brian Butterfield).
“I’m just trying not to screw up (there). I don’t know about that other stuff.”
The rally allowed the Cubs to avoid a second consecutive one-run loss to the Brewers, who took the lead in the eighth when pinch hitter Eric Sogard snapped a 0-for-12 start with a double that set up slumping Lorenzo Cain’s sacrifice fly.
Any questions about Yu Darvish raised by his subpar first start were allayed somewhat as he pitched six innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts. Morrow, pitching for the first time since March 30, showed no rust as he threw 13 of 17 pitches for strikes in notching the save.
But the biggest sigh of relief surrounded Happ and his clutch hit.
“That speaks to his ability to put the past in the rearview mirror and move on,” Maddon said. “Whatever he’s going to have dinner-wise is going to taste better. Sleep is going to be much more tranquil.
“And if he had a dog with him on the road, he’s going to love his puppy even more.”