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Reed Johnson’s RBI bunt single lifts Cubs past Cardinals

Reed Johnsdrives home tiebreaking run with bunt single seventh inning Saturday. | Charles Cherney~AP

Reed Johnson drives home the tiebreaking run with a bunt single in the seventh inning Saturday. | Charles Cherney~AP

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Updated: August 30, 2012 6:33AM

Sometimes the smallest pieces are the key to solving a puzzle.

So as the names of big pieces such as pitchers Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza go through the
rumor mill as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches Tuesday, a small piece such as outfielder Reed Johnson can be a valuable find for a contending team.

Johnson is also the major leagues’ best pinch hitter now, getting his 13th in dramatic — and game-winning — fashion Saturday. He beat out a perfect two-out bunt in the seventh inning, scoring speedy Tony Campana from third with what proved to be the winning run in the Cubs’ 3-2 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.

‘‘That was all on his own,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of Johnson, 35, who is in his second stint with the Cubs. ‘‘He’s a good bunter. I remember him doing it against us once in Boston [when Johnson was with the Toronto Blue Jays], and it led to a big inning.

‘‘He has those things in his toolbox. He’s the ultimate baseball player to have around.’’

That might shorten Johnson’s second time around with the Cubs, who first signed him after the Blue Jays released him in 2008. Injuries cost him most of 2009, and he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010. But he returned to the Cubs last season, playing in 111 games.

Johnson has appeared in 74 games this season. He not only has he been solid defensively, but he is hitting .448 (13-for-29) as a pinch hitter.

‘‘It’s really hard [to hit off the bench],’’ said right-hander Jeff
Samardzija, who held the Cardinals to two runs in six innings despite walking six. ‘‘To have an
approach and idea of what you want to do speaks to the player he is.’’

It is as much his baseball IQ as his popularity with teammates that makes Johnson a commodity.

‘‘In that situation, [the bunt is] always an option for me,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s just part of my game. That’s an RBI out there.’’

So when Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter gave no sign of moving in, Johnson got the
changeup he expected and put the ball in play.

‘‘Even if I get an OK bunt, I know [with Campana running from third] their only chance is to get me,’’ he said.

Getting Johnson might be something teams will angle for even
beyond Tuesday.

‘‘He’s the caliber of player that this time of year gets picked up,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘They can be valuable for a team trying to get in the playoffs.’’

Like other Cubs who are hearing rumors, Johnson said trade talk doesn’t affect him on the field.

‘‘Once you’re between the lines, you don’t think about it too much,’’ he said. ‘‘In the clubhouse, guys will chip on each other [about
being traded]. But I’ve heard
rumors for 10 years of my career. When you pack your bags is when you think about it. I realize it’s just part of the game.’’

The victory meant a lot to Johnson and the Cubs, who had lost their last four games against the contending Cardinals.

Samardzija walked the first three batters he faced but escaped with only one run allowed in the first. Alfonso Soriano’s first triple since Aug. 11 of last season drove in two in the bottom of the inning against Joe Kelly (1-4).

Relievers James Russell (4-0), Shawn Camp and Carlos Marmol (13th save) held the Cardinals scoreless for the final three innings.

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