By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — In a close game with playoff race ramifications, the Cubs lost out on two counts and won on a much more important level.

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After Cubs right-hander John Lackey was robbed of a key strike three call by home plate umpire Jordan Baker in the fifth inning, he and catcher Willson Contreras were ejected one pitch later. How the Cubs responded in the 8-2 win against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon may be more of an indication of the championship-caliber players who make up the team.

Baker missed a 2-2 pitch that Lackey threw over the plate with Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez took with two runners on, two outs and the game tied at 1-1. After Lackey let Baker know about that called ball, he surrendered an RBI single that gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. At that point, Lackey and Contreras lost their cool with Baker and were thrown out after animated discussions.

So how’d the Cubs respond? They plated six runs in the bottom of the sixth to take full control and stretched their NL Central lead to 3.5 games over the Brewers and four games over the Cardinals.

“It is crazy how the game can change like that”,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, who had three hits, including his 27th homers. “I was glad we were able to erase that and move on. I think it was a nice little spark for us. That turned into some energy that we all needed.”

The Cubs showed patience and composure in their seven-run rally in the sixth inning that chased Martinez. Alex Avila tied it with an RBI single, while Jon Jay gave the Cubs the lead for good with an RBI single of his own.

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“It does take a special group to do that,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “I am not patting ourselves on the back, but you have to have some experience to deal with that kind of moment. You have two good teams playing good baseball right now, and that game could have gone different ways. That was a big moment in the game, and we could have said whatever.”

The win was the Cubs’ first over an above-.500 team since Aug. 13. Since that time, they’d only faced one such foe, getting swept by the Brewers.

“We have a good energy in the dugout right now”,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There is a really good vibe. Our hitters coming off of the Mets series continue to grind out really good at-bats. Up and down, I felt we were really engaged in today’s game.”

Several hours after his ejection, Lackey expressed no regret over his actions. He was happy his offense picked him, and continuing that solid plate approach is the Cubs’ goal.

“To have some really good at-bats against what I consider one of the best pitchers in the league says a lot about this team,” Bryant said. “It tells you about the guys on the team and how good we really are.”

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Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.