CHICAGO -- So far, the Cubs have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7 and 8-8 this season. And after Wednesday's doubleheader split against the Padres, they're now 9-9. And in first place.
Ryan Ludwick hit a two-run homer and Cameron Maybin and Chris Denorfia each hit solo shots to lift the Padres to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs in the second game and a split of their doubleheader.
Alfonso Soriano doubled and hit a two-run homer for the Cubs, who are now tied with the Reds and Brewers for first in the National League Central. It's the first time they've been at the top of the standings since Aug. 6, 2009.
"I'm a race track guy and they don't pay anybody at the 16th-pole or the half-mile pole," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "We've got to work some things out and we still have to get better. I'm just so pleased with the effort.
"This was a long day and it would've been great to come out of here with a sweep," he said. "We're doing enough good things that I'm still optimistic down the road. First place -- no one is paying us for that in April."
In the first game, Reed Johnson led off the 11th inning with his first homer to give the Cubs a 2-1 walk-off win, their second extra-inning, walk-off victory of the series.
The Padres called a team meeting during the 45-minute break between games and must have gone over their scouting report on Cubs starter James Russell (1-2), who was making his second Major League start in place of injured Andrew Cashner. The Cubs needed an extended outing by Russell after using five relievers in the opener and the lefty did match his career high in innings pitched by lasting four.
But he gave up seven hits, including the three home runs, and threw 74 pitches. In his other start one week ago against the Astros, he threw 55. Whether he'll get another start is to be determined.
"There were a couple pitches I would like back but overall, I did what I wanted to do and kept us in the game," Russell said. "We had a chance to win out there. That's all you can ask for."
"In my heart of hearts, he's a bullpen guy," Quade said of the left-hander. "He gives you everything he's got and throws strikes. He seems better suited overall to bullpen stuff. If you left him in this kind of role, his changeup would get better, his whole game would get better, especially to right-hand hitters. It's a tough assignment."
The 1930 Cubs were the only other team in franchise history to post eight consecutive stops at the .500 mark to open the season. But the '30 squad that featured Gabby Hartnett, Footsie Blair and Kiki Cuyler rattled off seven straight wins after reaching 8-8. So, the 2011 Cubs now have set an odd record for being even.
Eleven of their first 18 games have been decided by three runs or less. Expect more nail-biters.
"There's something special about this team," Johnson said of the Cubs' comeback ability. "We've done it a couple times and come up short. The more times we're knocking on the door, the more opportunities we have, the more chances we have to succeed in those situations and that's a good thing."
Ludwick homered in the second, Maybin connected in the fourth and Denorfia hit his in the fifth to open a 4-0 lead. Russell was then pulled.
Soriano doubled to lead off the Chicago fifth against Padres starter Aaron Harang (4-0) and scored one out later on Johnson's double. Johnson, though, was thrown out at third trying to stretch his hit.
"If there's no outs or two outs, I'm not going in that situation," Johnson said. "If it's late in the game and we're down by three runs, I'm not going in that situation. It's the fifth inning, fly ball, if I'm standing out there it makes it 4-2.
"If you had to do it over and I had a crystal ball and I knew the three guys behind me were going to get base hits, I would've held up," he said. "I got around second and I knew I was in trouble. I just hit the wall."
Jeff Baker, Kosuke Fukudome and Darwin Barney each singled after Johnson was thrown out, with Baker scoring on Barney's hit, to close to 4-2.
"He's not just a good fiery player but he's a pretty intelligent player," Quade said of Johnson. "It's easy to sit here and say he should've done this or that.
"I'd rather have us err on the side of aggression than be pulling up short all day long," Quade said. "A player makes a read and makes a decision and it didn't work out."
Harang said the Cubs made it tough on him in the fifth.
"[The Cubs] were out there scrapping to get hits," Harang said. "Things worked out and we able to get through the sixth."
Alberto Gonzalez's sacrifice fly in the fifth gave the Padres a 5-2 lead, but Soriano belted his sixth home run with two out and one on in the eighth off Chad Qualls to close the gap.
Scrappy is a good description for his team, Quade said.
"I'm OK with that -- I absolutely like that," Quade said. "Intelligent and scrappy is a good combination. We've shown signs of the intelligence part and we've scrapped the whole time."
And now they're in first place.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.