Cubs use clutch hit and rookie’s first career save to avoid sweep in San Francisco

Cubs use clutch hit and rookie’s first career save to avoid sweep in San Francisco

Cubs use clutch hit and rookie’s first career save to avoid sweep in San Francisco

It was only fitting that the Cubs snapped their losing streak with a clutch hit with runners in scoring position and a lockdown bullpen.

Ian Happ’s 2-run home run, coupled with Porter Hodge’s first career save, helped the Cubs to a 5-3, extra-innings win over the Giants on Thursday, snapping their 4-game skid and avoiding a sweep.

Tied at 3-3 in the 10th inning, with Cody Bellinger the runner on second to begin extra innings, Happ crushed a 2-run shot to center field that would prove to be the difference in the game. Before Happ’s blast, the Cubs were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Thursday.

It looked like another game where the Cubs would rue those missed opportunities — especially when the Giants rallied against Shota Imanaga.

Leading 3-0 with 2 outs in the 6th, Imanaga was sitting on 80 pitches, a runner on first and a 2-2 count against Matt Chapman. Things were looking up — until they weren’t.

Chapman singled to extend the inning, then Jorge Soler hit a ground-rule double to make it a 2-run game with the tying run in scoring position.

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Luis Matos hit a 35.9 cue shot off his bat toward second base that ended up as an infield single to tie the game. Imanaga induced a flyout to end the frame and his day, turning it over to a beleaguered Cubs’ bullpen.

The relievers answered the bell.

Luke Little struck out the side in a perfect 7th, Tyson Miller worked around a walk for a scoreless 8th and Héctor Neris struck out 2 to send the game to extra innings.

That left Counsell to turn to Hodge, who had pitched 1.2 on Wednesday to try and lock down the save. Things started a bit shaky — Brett Wisely hit a blooper into no-man’s land that dropped between Dansby Swanson and Seiya Suzuki in right field.

No problem, though, for Hodge.

The rookie struck out Austin Slater on 9 pitches, got Heliot Ramos to fly out to right. Hodge induced a game-ending popout from Wilmer Flores — although there was a brief “oh no” moment when third baseman David Bote and Hodge nearly collided on the play.

(WATCH: Craig Counsell on Porter Hodge’s first career save)

One game won’t correct the Cubs’ woes, but it’s a good first step.

In the first three games of the series, the Cubs were a combined 6-for-25 (.240) with runners in scoring position and the bullpen had allowed 7 earned runs in 6.1 innings (9.95 ERA).

Hodge has shown he can pick up leverage outs and, while there will be hiccups as a young pitcher, his development is a positive sign. Getting Neris back on track is crucial — he was the Cubs’ biggest acquisition this offseason in their bullpen, and they’ll need him the rest of the way to succeed. Miller has been dependable since being acquired and Little, like Hodge could be a young piece that can contribute moving forward.

And, at the end of the day, the Cubs will need to deliver with runners in scoring position. Going 1-for-11 in those situations won’t cut it. Days like that will happen, but the Cubs need to be able to deliver more consistently in scoring situations. Since April 27, the Cubs are hitting .188 with runners in scoring position and have gone from 17-9 to 38-44 in a two-month span.

Both areas need to improve, and the Cubs will hope Thursday was a good first step.