On this kind of windy, cold afternoon at Wrigley, it's hard to predict what the respective offenses will do. All of today's runs came on long balls, some of them sweet and one of them casting a pall over the afternoon.
Kyle Hendricks ran into almost immediate trouble, looking as though he might fall victim to giving up first-inning runs as the Cubs starters have been so prone to do. After getting Brett Gardner to line out to right field, Hendricks surrendered a double to Aaron Hicks and then grazed Gary Sanchez with his first pitch. That quickly, the Yankees were threatening to score early and put the Cubs in an all-too-familiar hole, but old friend Starlin Castro lined out very hard to right; in fact, hard enough that Heyward was able to catch Hicks lingering off of second base for a double play.
In the bottom frame, Kyle Schwarber led off with a groundout, and then Kris Bryant hit Michael Pineda's 1-1 pitch to right center, and instead it was the Cubs with the first-inning lead.
No more scoring occured until the 6th, when Schwarber hit Pineda's first pitch slider for a solo home run. This extra run was especially nice to see after the Cubs worked out of a jam in the top of the 6th, Hendricks' last inning. Hendricks got Sanchez out, but then a string of singles drove him from the game. Brian Duensing took his place and promptly gave up a single to Didi Gregorius to load the bases with just one out.
But somehow again a lineout to Heyward in right produced a double play, though this one was a little more strange. Castro, standing on third, had taken perhaps two too many steps off of the bag, and when Heyward caught Chase Headley's liner, he had too much ground to make up to try and tag up to score. He attempted, but Heyward's throw was right on line, and a collision between Castro and Willson Contreras at the plate left the catcher slightly rattled but Castro out.
Things looked downright simple for the Cubs going into the 9th, but even the wins haven't been that way for them this season, and Hector Rondon's failed attempt to close in Wade Davis' place altered the course of the game. Rondon got Gregorius to ground out but allowed a single to Headley, setting the table for what was to come next. Headley advanced to second on a wild pitch during Chris Carter's at bat, but Carter struck out, leaving New York with just one out left. Pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk, and then after working Brett Gardner to a 2-2 count, Rondon tried to sneak a slider past him. Ellsbury tagged it, and at first it looked as though it would be a lazy flyout to right to end the game and secure the win, but instead the wind just kept carrying it, and like that, it's 3-2 Yankees.
Addison Russell started the bottom of the 9th by reaching second on Headley's error, setting up the chance to tie, but none of Heyward, Contreras, nor Javy Baez could drive him in.
Get 'em tomorrow, Cubs.
Old friends return
There are a lot of Cubs connections on the New York squad, from Castro to last year's second-half closer Aroldis Chapman, and of course Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild.
I wrote today elsewhere about what Castro has always meant to me, especially since departing. Here's a snippet:
In the years that followed, Castro gave Cubs fans reason to watch in the leanness of losing seasons that can only dull enthusiasm even among the most fervent of fanbases. Any look back at the Cubs lineups of 2010-2013 or so is a mostly frightening venture, but there was always Starlin. He never seized a leadership role like Anthony Rizzo did when he came from San Diego, and his final season in a Cubs uniform was clunky and ill-fitting, forced to move to second base to make room for Addison Russell, but he did it with some degree of grace and then eventually returned to the lineup for a torrid September that helped lead the Cubs to the second wild card spot. The memory of his month at the plate might be buried in Jake Arrieta’s Cy Young run, but it was an apt regular-season finish to his tenure in Chicago.
Chapman holds a different place in the hearts of Cubs fans, and I'll choose to remember him---on the field, at least---for gutting through the 9th inning of Game 7 last fall to give the Cubs another chance.
Both Castro and Chapman have complicated and troubling personal histories, but their time between the lines for the Cubs was mostly good.
Hector Rondon tries to close it out
It was not a pretty inning at all, but Hector Rondon took on a familiar role this afternoon and was assigned the 9th. Even while gritting my teeth waiting for that last out, I was at first happy to see Wade Davis get the chance to take a day off. Yesterday's 13-inning affair almost totally sapped the bullpen, so the Cubs really needed Rondon to polish off the Yankees in the 9th.
He could not come through, however, and that left the Cubs to try and force their old teammate Chapman to blow the save, only to come up short.
This should not mean we give up on Rondon in key innings, however. He has looked much more like his former self this season, sporting a 1.59 ERA and a 0.882 WHIP, and today was the kind of aberration that happens even to the best of them.
Worry not about Schwarber
Kyle's slow start to the 2017 season has engendered some worry, but I think it is worth remembering the small number of at bats he has had in the regular season in his career. There are growing pains and adjustments taking place as he plays his first real full season in the majors.
After a long cold stretch that put him far below the Mendoza line, Schwarber has two home runs in his last four games. He has not gotten a hit otherwise, so there's still work to do. I'd recommend reading Nicolas Stellini on what he thinks needs to happen for Kyle to get back on track.
My only real concern with Schwarber is that he is playing far more than I thought he would, and I wonder at the possibility that some degree of fatigue might be a factor. This is pure speculation, however.
Three Stars of Game
Third Star- Kyle Hendricks (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 K)
He was not flawless, giving up 6 hits, but Hendricks kept the Yankees hitters from plating any runs. A shame his start was later spoiled.
Second Star- Kris Bryant (1 for 3, HR, BB)
Schwarber deserves some mention too, but remember when Bryant started the season 0 for 14? Yea, nobody remembers that anymore.
First Star- Brett Gardner (1 for 4, HR, 3 RBI)
That home run, however wind-aided it might have been, can't be ignored.