Albert Almora has crushed left handed pitching and has a popular player for increased playing time among fans. He flew out to start the game. Kris Bryant continued to be un-get-out-able for Diamondbacks pitchers with a single flicked into left field. He should have been erased on an Anthony Rizzo groundball to the second baseman, but Ketel Marte dropped the ball preventing Arizona from getting a single out on the play. Ben Zobrist hit another potential double play ball, but Patrick Corbin was late getting over to cover first. It didn't matter as Ian Happ hit the third straight groundball right at a Diamondback infielder to end the inning.
David Peralta hit a solid single to lead off the D'Backs half of the inning, and a groundball from pesky Adam Rosales gave Arizona an early scoring chance. But Jon managed to match John by inducing a key double play. This time it was A.J. Pollock hit a bouncer that brought Bryant right to the bag at third, and a crisp throw across the diamond meant that Paul Goldschmidt was all that stood in the way of a first inning zero. The Diamondbacks tried the bold strategy of replacing Paul Goldschmidt with Folgers Crystals. I don't know how else to explain Lester striking out the superstar first baseman in an RBI spot. Either way the game remained scoreless through one.
Corbin struck out the side in the second inning getting through Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Alex Avila. Lester matched Corbin's strikeout totals by the end of the second inning. The Brandon Drury strikeout came after a J.D. Martinez flyout and Marte single. The fact that Jeff Mathis was still playing baseball was something I just became aware of as he struck out to end the inning.
Big Slugging Lester led off the the Cubs half of the third inning. Corbin struck out the the big power threat for his fourth straight K. Almora broke up the streak, but hit the ball right to Marte. The Diamondbacks probably should just start putting Kris Bryant who hit a hustle double to keep the inning alive. Rizzo put a charge into a line drive into center field. Pollock was able to corral a ball that seemed to keep carrying on him. No word yet on rumors that the CIA funds A.J. Pollock's defense to prove American cultural superiority to the Soviet Union. Lester matched Corbing for another frame by striking out Corbin to start the inning. A Peralta groundout and Rosales strikeout kept the game level through three.
Corbin pitched a clean fourth inning with two strikeouts. Lester ran into a little trouble in the bottom half. Pollock flew out, but Goldschmidt made both teams happy by drawing a walk. Martinez hit a solid single into left to give the Diamondbacks their second real scoring chance of the game. Lester induced a double play ball that Baez and Happ weren't able to make happen, but a Drury pop up ended the inning with the game still tied.
Baez had the Cubs first non-Kris Bryant Cubs hit of the game as he tucked a single past Goldschmidt into right at the start of the fifth. Avila ripped a single into right to give Lester an opportunity to bunt with no outs. A successful sacrifice bunt occurred after a few misfires from Corbin and one by Lester. Almora worked a full count including an impresive take on a slightly inside 2-2 pitch. Almora hit a the ninth pitch right into the drawn in Marte who fired to home. Baez running on the contact play attempted to swing move past the tag of Mathis. Baez was ruled out by the home plate umpire but Baez thought he was safe. Maddon trusted him, but the call was quickly confirmed somehow. Bryant was pitched to more carefully than well I can't come up with a clever saying, but he didn't see a strike to load the bases. Rizzo drove Martinez to the fence, but not enough to break the scoreless deadlock.
Lester and Corbin traded perfect frames between the fifth and sixth. The pitcher's duel was broken by a lead off single from Adam Rosales. He yanked a deep drive just foul before bringing the count full. He hit a hard groundball that Baez was just able to slow down for the base hit. Pollock hit a high bouncer that Baez managed to handle past second base. He unloaded a strike to Rizzo for the first out of the inning. Goldschmidt finally received the Bonds treatment with an intentional free pass. Unfortunately J.D. Martinez is not 2016 Ryan Zimmerman. Martinez ripped a ball that bounced off the wall. Zobrist playing in right tonight probably didn't help a ton, but it resulted in a run scoring double. Marte hit a groundball to Baez who was drawn in. Goldschmidt was running on contact and was dead in the water. Baez airmailed the throw over Avila allowing Goldschmidt to score. The Diamondbacks would make it hurt as Drury hit a deep drive into center for a bases clearing double. The lead would stay at 4-0 as Lester struck out Mathis and Corbin to end the sixth.
Baez gave the Cubs hope with a leadoff single to start the seventh inning. Avila and pinch hitter La Stella hit shallow fly outs. Archie Bradley came into the game which prompted Maddon to insert my personal fav Jon Jay into the game. Jay reached on an error, but Kris Bryant needed to keep a narrative going with two runners on. Bryant hit a easy flyball out in this clutch spot for the first out in the series. Hector Rondon emerged in the seventh inning from a back injury or the mystery spot. Peralta doubled to start the inning and reached third on a wild pitch. Pollock singled after a Descalso strikeout. That made it a 5-0 Diamondbacks ballgame, but Rondon managed to work around loading the bases with just one out.
Archie Bradley walked Ian Happ with two outs, but was otherwise flawless in the eighth inning. Justin Grimm got two quick outs, but Peralta launched a ball to the left center corner. Jon Jay had no chance on it, but given the funky angles of the ballpark it wasn't surprising to watch Peralta scamper around all of the bases. Descalso double to left, but was left on second with a Pollock fly out.
Fernando Rodney entered the game prepared to fire an arrow. He had the bow drawn with two quick groundball outs to start the ninth. Victor Caratini hit a two strike single, and then Jay did the same on two strikes. Kris Bryant delivered a too little, too late with a two run single also on two strikes. Rizzo kept things going with another two out, two strike single. That put the arrow back in the quiver for Rodney. David Hernandez was called on to get the final out. Ben Zobrist worked another two strike count, but the umpire apparently needed to get home as he called an offspeed pitch that started low and kept going low for the final strike of the game. Zobrist couldn't believe. Joe Maddon couldn't believe. I am not sure anyone in the stadium believed it, but the Cubs sole possession of first place was done.
Mix of Emotions
Jon Lester pitched a very strong five innings. He pitched a poor sixth inning aided by a defensive miscue. The Diamondbacks then piled on a bunch of runs in the late innings. The Cubs then rallied after 26 outs only to have it cut well short by a horrible call by the umpire. On the one hand the Cubs did not deserve to win tonight. On the other hand the umpire prevented baseball from happening. I am confused.
Bryant's on Fire
The power is still not there, but Bryant has settled into being an elite traditional two hitter. He runs the bases extremely well. He is still getting on at a high rate. I am not sure if that power is going to come back this season. The picture painted in a recent interview about the hand injury was not rosy. But this Bryant might be enough to keep the Cubs afloat.
Rest of the Slack
The Cubs need to get production from other spots with a Kris Bryant playing through an injury. Willson Contreras is not able to play for another month at least. And today against a left handed pitcher that has thrived at his home ballpark the offense was largely stagnant. Kyle Schwarber looked horrible against a left handed starter. Ian Happ looked silly chasing high fastballs again. It wasn't a good night for the Cubs offense by and large.