For most of the day, it looked like another frustrating loss for the Chicago Cubs.
Then Jon Jay came to the plate
Jay connected for his third career pinch-hit homer and Ian Happ hit a tiebreaking two-run single an inning later, helping the Cubs rally for a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.
"When you're not starting the game, I know I have a chance to come off the bench and impact the game and I was able to do that today," Jay said. "So I definitely like being in those situations."
Chicago (42-42) returned to .500 for the 19th time with its third win in its last eight games. The reigning World Series champions have not been more than two games over or two games under .500 at any point since May 27.
"We've shown our flashes of the type of team we can be," said Jay, who signed with the Cubs in the offseason. "We've just got to continue to keep fighting."
The Cubs trailed 3-0 before Jay drove a 1-2 pitch from Erasmo Ramirez (4-3) over the wall in left-center for a tying homer with two out in the sixth inning. Jay then popped out of the dugout for a curtain call, obliging the crowd of 39,855 on a picturesque day at Wrigley Field.
Happ got his big hit in the seventh, driving in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with a bouncer up the middle against Tampa Bay's drawn-in infield. Happ had two hits and is batting .357 (10 for 28) in his last seven games.
"Happer just rolling it through the middle obviously was a game changer," manager Joe Maddon said.
Tampa Bay (44-42) wasted a chance for a two-game sweep in its reunion with Maddon, who skippered the Rays for nine years before leaving after the 2014 season and taking over the Cubs.
Mallex Smith went 4 for 4 and scored three times for the Rays, who had won three of four. Blake Snell pitched five scoreless innings in his best outing of the year, working around four hits and four walks.
"It's definitely as step forward, but I got to get into the sixth inning, I have to," Snell said. "I'm aware of it, but hopefully a step in the right direction."
Smith doubled and scored on Evan Longoria's sacrifice fly in the sixth, giving Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead against John Lackey. But that was it for the Rays.
"Just unfortunate we couldn't hold the lead," manager Kevin Cash said.
Pedro Strop (3-2) replaced Lackey and pitched a scoreless seventh for the win.
Tampa Bay was only down by two when it put two runners on against Carl Edwards Jr. with two out in the eighth. But Koji Uehara came in and struck out Longoria to end the inning.
Longoria tumbled over a door while trying to grab Rizzo's foul popup in the fifth. But he stayed in the game.
"It hurt," he said. "I was scared, yeah, anytime you go into the wall. That wall's a weird height, you get nervous a little bit when you go over it. It didn't feel great."
Lackey is dealing with right plantar fasciitis, but he won't pitch again until after the All-Star break and brushed off any concern.
"I got a ways before I got to pitch again, so I think I'll be all right," he said. "But I mean I'm 38 years old, I'm bothered by a lot of things."
WHEN SCHWARBER RETURNS
The Cubs are monitoring Kyle Schwarber's progress at Triple-A Iowa, and the outfielder could return to the majors soon. When he comes back, he might get another shot at the leadoff spot.
Schwarber was the leadoff hitter at the beginning of the year, but was pushed down in the lineup when he got off to a slow start. He was hitting .171 with a .295 on-base percentage in 64 games at the time of his demotion on June 22.
"I would not be concerned with putting him back there, just depending on what he looks like when he gets back," Maddon said.
Rays: 2B Brad Miller (right groin strain) is expected to come off the disabled list this weekend. Miller is currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham. "I'm sure he's getting where he's chomping at the bit," Cash said. ... OF Colby Rasmus (left hip tendinitis) is rehabbing, but Cash said there was nothing new with his recovery. "We're just not getting the responses from the hip that we were hoping for," he said. "It's going to take some more time."
Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) is slated to throw another bullpen session on Friday or Saturday. If that goes well, he could go out on a rehab assignment.
Rays: RHP Jake Faria (3-0, 2.23 ERA) gets the ball for the opener of a four-game set against Boston on Thursday night. LHP Chris Sale (11-3, 2.61 ERA) pitches for the AL East-leading Red Sox.
Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (1-5, 2.80 ERA) faces Brewers RHP Zach Davies (9-4, 5.03 ERA) on Thursday afternoon in the makeup of a May 20 postponement. The Cubs then host Pittsburgh for a weekend series beginning Friday.
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