Late-inning magic marks change for Cubs

Jorge Soler scored the winning run in the 10th to notch the second Cubs comeback in two days. Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Are you starting to believe?

It's only the second week of the season, but the Chicago Cubs are two games (4-2) over .500 for the first time since the final day of the 2009 season. They are in first place after improbable back-to-back wins in final at-bats, including a thrilling, 10-inning, 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday.

"When you start doing things like this, you start to believe you can win late," manager Joe Maddon said postgame. "It's important to believe you can win a game late."

Starter Jon Lester added: "When you can do that early in the season, these guys know they can. For a young team, just to know they can come back."

Maddon praised the Cubs for a total-team effort in Sunday's 6-5 win over the Colorado Rockies, in which outfielder Dexter Fowler hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run that erased a one-run deficit in the ninth inning. Monday had more of the same total-team feel, led by all-everything rookie Jorge Soler.

Soler homered twice, including a game-tying shot in the eighth, before singling and scoring the game winner in the 10th. In the second inning, he gunned Zack Cozart out at third base after Lester threw wild to first. Soler's arm is as impressive as his massive power.

"The throw he made to third base was ridiculous," Maddon said.

Said Lester of Soler: "He reminds me a little bit of Manny [Ramirez], a little bit of David [Ortiz], there's a lot of guys. But that raw power from the right side, you don't see it a lot."

But just as Sunday wasn't all about Fowler's heroics, Monday wasn't only about Soler:

  • The Cubs played short-handed for the second day in a row, as infielders Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella are ailing. Up stepped Chris Coghlan, who had three hits including a home run. That came before he was asked to play third base for the first time since 2013. Monday was his ninth career appearance at the hot corner, and he handled himself just fine, with a nice tag on a runner late in the game. Maddon had approached him during batting practice and told him to be prepared. "How about Coghlan?" the manager said postgame. "He had another big game."

  • Listening to Maddon over the past few days, he might be most impressed with the Cubs bullpen. Virtually unknown to him before spring training, the relievers have been lights out, especially the past two games, when their starters struggled. Between Sunday and Monday, the bullpen has thrown nearly a complete game (8 2/3 innings) while giving up just six hits with no runs and no walks. "The bullpen, these guys have been wildly good," Maddon said. "The first thing I think of in the morning is: What does the bullpen look like? It's been good."

  • Arismendy Alcantara earned a few free passes the first week of the season but was hitless entering the 10th inning Monday. His streak had reached 16 at-bats without a hit. Then he lined one past the infield with the bases loaded for the game-winning RBI. "Alcantara gets off the snide there with a hit up the middle," Maddon said. "Game winner. That has to help his confidence, to get a knock right there. He'll probably sleep well tonight."

  • The list of contributors goes on and on. Anthony Rizzo was on base four times, twice scored on Soler home runs and started the 10th-inning rally. He is hitting .235 through six games, but his on-base percentage is .462. Welington Castillo nearly won the game with a second consecutive, late-inning pinch hit, but he lined out to left in the ninth instead.

  • Only Lester felt he didn't hold up his end of the bargain. He gave up six runs and 10 hits in six innings of work. "Obviously, I haven't hit my stride yet, but I don't want to use anything as a crutch, by any means," Lester said. "When you have four guys [starters] out there doing their job, and you're the loose end of the chain, that's never good. ... I'll get back to being the front end of that chain instead of the back end and letting these guys down."

After the past two days, it's hard not to believe him -- or anything else the Cubs say. A change might be in the air. They could always come back down to earth as soon as Tuesday, but if they extend their record to five, six or 10 games above .500, we'll look back at these past few days as the start.

"The liveliness in the dugout is a lot of fun to witness right now," Maddon said. "I'm so process-oriented. If you're playing the game properly and well, good things will happen."

The night might have been best summed up by Soler, the man-child with strength and athleticism you'd duplicate in a laboratory if you could. His wide-eyed, innocent smile with reporters in the locker room afterward told of a player who might not realize how many people he made happy. Through an interpreter, he described the pitches he hit out and the runners he threw out.

Then came his curtain call, after his second home run of the game to tie it in the eighth inning. All those big moments, and it was the adoration from fans that got him.

"I was nervous," he said of his wave to the crowd. "I believe everything is coming together at this point."

He was talking about his game coming together, but the first-place Cubs might have a few things of their own coming together.

"I like the fight," Maddon said.

He can't be alone.