Hoerner’s infield chopper plates winning run in 10th as Cubs open home series vs. Braves with 4-3 victory

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves engaged in a monumental struggle to get runners home from scoring position Tuesday night.

So naturally, it was a ball that didn’t even exit the infield grass that scored the game-winner.

Nico Hoerner, back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with left hamstring tightness, chopped a game-ending infield single in bottom of the 10th inning in his return to the lineup, and the Cubs beat the Braves, 4-3, in the opener of a three-game mid-week series at Wrigley Field.

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The Cubs had runners on the corners with one out in the 10th when the Braves brought their infield in. Hoerner then hit a high chopper to the right side on an 0-2 pitch from Aaron Bummer (1-2).

First baseman Matt Olson and second baseman Ozzie Albies converged on the grounder, but Albies had no play as Cody Bellinger scampered home with the winning run.

“We get to two strikes, and obviously want to put a ball in play first,” Hoerner said. “Fortunate where it went.”

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The Cubs finished the game 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position, but Hoerner’s walk-off chopper was the one that mattered. The Braves, meanwhile, went a remarkable 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Over the last two games, Cubs opponents are 1-for-31 (.031) with runners in scoring position.

At any rate, Mike Tauchman had two hits and two RBI on Tuesday for the Cubs, who had dropped three of four to the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend to begin a seven-game homestand before a day off Monday.

They returned to the field with a big win as they look to finish the homestand better than they started it before heading off on a big seven-game road trip to St. Louis and then Milwaukee.

The second-place Cubs remained 1.5 games behind the National League Central-leading Brewers, who also won Tuesday night, going into Wednesday’s games.

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Swanson returns, bullpen shines

Luke Little (1-0) got three outs for his first career win Tuesday, capping 5 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball for Chicago’s bullpen.

“Everybody did a great job,” reliever Mark Leiter Jr. said.

Meanwhile, Chicago shortstop Dansby Swanson had two hits in his return to the lineup. The shortstop was activated from the 10-day injured list after being sidelined by a right knee sprain.

Michael Harris II homered and made two nice defensive plays, but Atlanta lost for the fifth time in six games. Orlando Arcia hit a two-run homer, and Charlie Morton struck out eight in five effective innings on a warm, blustery night at Wrigley Field.

“I wish I could have gone a couple more innings,” Morton said.

The Braves had a chance to go in front in the seventh, but they were stymied by some impressive relief work from Leiter.

Leiter replaced Tyson Miller with runners on first and second. After the game was delayed while the grounds crew worked on the mound, Leiter struck out Olson, Travis d’Arnaud and Harris, all swinging.

The delay with the mound “maybe took some of the adrenaline out of the situation and kind of calmed me down a little bit,” Leiter said.

Harris gave Atlanta a 3-2 lead when he opened the fourth with an opposite-field drive into the bleachers in left for his fifth homer.

“I feel like I have a pretty good mentality right now,” Harris said. “I guess just wish I can come through on some of the other situations that we had tonight.”

Chicago threatened in the bottom half of the seventh, putting runners on first and second with one out. But Morton escaped the jam with some help from Harris, who made a leaping catch on the warning track on Tauchman’s long flyball.

Atlanta third baseman Zack Short dropped Michael Busch’s popup for an error in the sixth, and Tauchman hit an RBI single off Daysbel Hernández. But Harris made an impressive running grab in shallow center to keep the game tied at 3-3.

Olson and Ronald Acuña Jr. also made a couple of big defensive plays for the Braves. Olson snared Ian Happ’s liner in the seventh and stepped on first for a double play. Acuña hauled in Patrick Wisdom’s pinch-hit flyball on the warning track in right in the eighth.

Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki got in on the act in the ninth, robbing Acuña of a hit with a sliding catch.

Making moves

Cubs: INF Luis Vázquez was recalled from Triple-A Iowa, and OF Pete Crow-Armstrong and INF Miles Mastrobuoni were sent down.

Trainer’s room

Cubs: LHP Drew Smyly (right hip impingement) struck out five while pitching three hitless innings in a rehab start with High-A South Bend. … LHP Jordan Wicks (forearm strain) threw a bullpen session, and he likely will go out on a rehab assignment this week. … RHP Daniel Palencia (strained right shoulder) got one out in a rehab appearance with Iowa. He walked two and was charged with a run.

Up next

Left-handers Max Fried (3-2, 3.81 ERA) and Justin Steele (0-1, 5.21 ERA) pitch on Wednesday night. Fried is 1-2 with a 3.44 ERA in three May starts for Atlanta. Steele allowed four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in Chicago’s 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

First pitch is scheduled for 6:40 p.m.

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