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Cubs' latest lesson is how determination creates luck

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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs expanded their victory profile Friday to include wins where you blow a huge lead (twice) and walk away winners when the opposing outfielder appears to step into quicksand.

The Cubs have won five consecutive times this week, conquering multiple nail-biters, some gems from the pitcher's mound, one where a bases-loaded walk ended it and Thursday’s triumph that came via a big mid-game rally.

But it’s likely that nothing will top Friday’s head-scratcher, where the Cubs held 7-1 and 10-5 leads only to see relievers Jason Motte, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon combined to give up five runs between the seventh and ninth innings.

Matt Szczur will technically go down as the hero, although the one to really credit was Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco, who stumbled to the ground while failing to catch a lazy pop up behind second base in the 12th inning with the bases loaded.

So maybe the way the Cubs won Friday will be hard to repeat moving forward. The determination they showed while doing it, though, is what the win was all about.

“Yeah, I mean it just shows something about our team to not overcome, but (the Pirates) put up a four-spot over two innings and they’re usually getting a W,” said Anthony Rizzo, who crushed a mammoth home run in the fourth inning. “But we scored throughout day and when they scored in the ninth, we just kept fighting and put it together in the end.”

By the time it ended, Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jason Hammel and Jonathan Herrera were wearing empty buckets on their heads. Yeah, it got that weird.

Yet, even though it was a long 5-hour, 1-minute day with plenty of plot twists, manager Joe Maddon saw some beauty to it.

“I could have lived without (the drama),” Maddon said. “We really should have put that away earlier. But don’t be deceived, we played really well today. We did not pitch well, but we played a good game of baseball. I’m really happy with the way we played, whether it was the at-bats, the hitting, the defense or base running, everything.”

The five consecutive victories not only are a season-best, it is now the longest winning streak in almost a calendar year. The last time the Cubs won five consecutive was last June.

And there is at least one common denominator with all five victories. They have all come since the left- and center-field bleachers were reopened Monday.

At the very least, it gave fans the chance to see an improbable victory from all angles. Perhaps the craziest occurrence of all was that Szczur's game-winner looked identical to a chance he had in the 10th inning.

One inning after the Pirates rallied to tie it, the Cubs loaded the bases in the 10th and had Szczur at the plate with one out. With the game there for the taking, he hit a popup to shallow right field. With the pitcher’s spot up next, third-base coach Gary Jones sent Starlin Castro home on the play.

Castro was thrown out by about 30 feet, sending the game into the 11th inning, but Maddon was fine with the gamble there. So of course, in the 12th, it was Szczur at the plate again with the bases loaded and one out. And sure enough, he hit a nearly identical pop fly to right.

This time, though, Polanco fell and Castro scored without a play. In fact, after Polanco got to his feet, he didn’t even bother picking up the baseball that lay in the grass next to him.

“I say wow,” Castro said, when asked for his reaction when Szczur hit another popup to right. “You see the first one, we’re out by much. Maybe it will happen on the second one too. We just try to go and see what happens.”

What happened is that the Cubs won and learned that as long as you keep fighting, you give yourself a chance for something good to happen.

“Unbelievable,” Maddon said. “The way the whole thing played out was remarkable. Then we got lucky. We got lucky. I give them a lot of credit for coming back the way they did. They had a lot of fight in them obviously.

“We have to become more consistent. The big thing about a bullpen is when you bring a guy in from the bullpen you know what to expect. We have to know what to expect."