FALL IS IN THE AIR — AND IT FEELS FESTIVE

PROMIS­ING SIGNS AS CUBS, DARVISH TOP CAR­DI­NALS TO OPEN FIVE-GAME SE­RIES

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS BEAT - BY BRIAN SANDALOW | @bri­ansan­dalow

The feel­ing hit right fielder Ja­son Hey­ward be­fore the Cubs’ 4-1 vic­tory over the Car­di­nals on Fri­day night — the first in a five-game se­ries at Wrigley Field, in the mid­dle of a long stretch against Na­tional League Cen­tral op­po­nents.

“It feels like Septem­ber,” Hey­ward said. “That’s what it feels like to me. That’s some­thing I say with ex­cite­ment.”

Over the last two sea­sons, Septem­ber hasn’t ex­actly been ex­cit­ing for the Cubs. How­ever, the Yu Darvish of this sea­son is some­thing they should be thrilled about — and he’ll be a ma­jor fac­tor if this Septem­ber is dif­fer­ent than the last one.

Darvish, the July-Au­gust NL pitcher of the month, re­tired the first 15 Car­di­nals bat­ters he faced Fri­day be­fore Matt Car­pen­ter started the sixth in­ning with a home run. Though his bid for a per­fect game bid didn’t sur­vive, Darvish’s Cy Young chances are alive and well.

Not that he’s fix­ated on that.

“If I start think­ing that, I will fail,” the right-han­der said.

Car­pen­ter was the only baserun­ner Darvish al­lowed on a night when he went seven in­nings, strik­ing out 11. He won his ca­reer-best sev­enth straight start and low­er­ing his NL-lead­ing ERA to 1.44.

“The way he com­mands the strike zone with his sec­ondary pitches is some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Cubs man­ager David Ross said. “He can re­ally do it. And you’ve got to re­spect the 95 [mph], the 97 he’s got in his back pocket.”

Mean­while, the Cubs’ of­fense dis­patched Car­di­nals ace Jack Flaherty (2-1) af­ter 2 ⅔ in­nings. Will­son Con­tr­eras had a two-run sin­gle in the first, an RBI sin­gle in the third and a solo home run in the sixth.

The Cubs did that de­spite an­other of their most im­por­tant pieces not play­ing. A day af­ter a foul ball bounced off the ground and hit him in the right eye, out­fielder Ian Happ was not in the lineup. Happ, who’s hav­ing a break­out sea­son with 10 home runs and a .421 on-base per­cent­age, was re­placed at the top of the lineup by Kyle Sch­war­ber.

Ross said Happ is day-to-day af­ter see­ing doc­tors Fri­day morn­ing and un­der­go­ing a num­ber of tests. The eye, Ross said, is still com­ing back, and the swelling wasn’t as bad as it was Thurs­day night.

“I think it’s go­ing to be fine,” Ross said. “With ev­ery­thing he’s gone through, I just don’t think it’s smart to start him.”

As­sum­ing the is­sue isn’t a long-term prob­lem, Happ fig­ures to be a part of the Cubs’ ef­forts to win the Cen­tral. Be­tween now and the end of the sea­son, they will have found out more about their group.

“Septem­ber’s been a big month, and it’s a lot of things that you learn about your team­mates, a lot about your club, and you get to see where things are go­ing to stand and shake out head­ing into Oc­to­ber,” Hey­ward said.

The five-game se­ries with the Car­di­nals is just the lat­est ob­sta­cle in this short­ened and bizarre sea­son. Like many teams, the Cubs have had their share of in­juries but also got help be­fore the trade dead­line that should at least pro­vide depth down the stretch.

“I just look for­ward to hav­ing a chance to jell this month,” Hey­ward said. “Let’s once again test our­selves in an­other sit­u­a­tion where we’ve got five games in four days. It’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge. It’s go­ing to be a lot. But it’s go­ing to be a lot of fun, and that’s what we have to con­tinue to do, is have fun as a group.”

Darvish is cer­tainly making things fun when he pitches.

“That was re­ally fun to watch,” Ross said. ✶

NAM Y. HUH/AP

Yu Darvish pitched seven in­nings Fri­day for his sev­enth straight win.

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