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Extra effort paying off for Cubs

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Twenty innings after they started their day, the Cubs were right back where they started, at least in one way — .500 after a doubleheader split Wednesday with the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.

They were also in one other, less familiar place — first place in the ­National League Central Division, tied with the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals at 9-9.

Turned out winning the twinbill opener 2-1 on Reed Johnson’s walk-off homer in the 11th assured their first share of first place in the division since they were tied with St. Louis on Aug. 6, 2009.

“At the track, anyway, I don’t think they pay anybody at the 1/16th pole or even the half-mile pole,’’ manager Mike Quade said after the Cubs’ rally fell short in the 5-4 nightcap loss to the Padres. “We’ve got to work on cleaning up some things so we can win some of these close games, but we’re doing a lot of good things. We’re doing enough good things I’m ­optimistic.’’

The Cubs’ win in the opener was their second straight extra-inning game and second win in a row. They’re 4-3 in one-run games after another pair Wednesday.

“That says there’s a lot of fight in us,’’ said first-game starter Matt Garza. “We don’t quit after nine. We play hard until it’s over, until they ring that final bell or we get that final out.

“Q told us in spring training that we need to be resilient and we’ve definitely shown that we are.’’

Even after falling behind 4-0 in Game 2 with the bullpen assigned to help cover for injury losses to a pair of starting pitchers, they nearly pulled off the comeback.

Johnson, the Game 1 hero, doubled home Alfonso Soriano in the fifth for the Cubs’ first run in the second game. He might have cost an even bigger inning by charging around second on the play and getting thrown out at third for the second out. Three straight hits followed for another run before the rally was over.

“If there’s no outs or two outs, or if it’s late in the game and we’re down by three I probably don’t go,’’ Johnson said. “But it’s another run if I’m standing on third there and we get a fly ball.

“Obviously, if you had to do it over again, if I had a crystal ball, and knew the next three guys were going to get hits ...’’

After the Padres went up 5-2, Soriano delivered his sixth homer of the season, a two-run shot in the eighth to close the gap to one.

“We’re fighters. We’re not going to roll over,’’ Garza said. “We’re going to be scrapping till the end.’’

James Russell, who got the fifth-starter spot start for the second time in as many weeks, pitched into the fifth inning but gave up three home runs for the four early runs.

Quade said he’s not sure what he’ll do for a starter next time that spot comes up. Russell said he’s ready to give it another shot.

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