One thing I’ve always appreciated about this site is the intelligent discussion we get in the comments. Readers also tend to have long memories. I was pleased to get a nice note from 44slug, who also commented about this team not being quite the team of destiny that we’d grown to appreciate over the past two seasons. I’d like to think that 44 was referencing a recap I wrote a couple years back that mentioned my obsession with the FPS game, Destiny, but I don’t know that I should be quite that vain. The comment has made me think quite a bit, however, about this team’s identity, which 120 games in is still undefined. It certainly doesn’t have the feel of a team that is ready to make a long run toward another crown, but more like…ugh…2004, where the team suffered some big injuries and stuck around, only to sit out the playoffs after a disappointing end (that series against the Mets *still* pisses me off.
So we found our favorite team this afternoon, hanging on to a 1.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. These are the games they’re *supposed* to win – against a team 20-games below .500 and playing out the string. Our guy, Jon Lester, was on the mound, so you felt pretty good about picking up a half game on the idle Brewers.
Unfortunately, things fell apart in the second inning. Apologies in advance, as I was teaching during the first six innings of today’s game. I snuck an occasional peek at the Gameday feature on the At Bat app, gaping in horror as the inning unfolded. Then with, at first, tempered optimism as the Cubs came back. By the time I was able to turn the game on, Justin Grimm was coming in to start the 7th inning.
To the Action
Lester looked good in the first, needing only six pitches to retire the side. In the Cubs’ half, only Kyle Schwarber was able to reach base, on the first of three hits on the day. Kris Bryant lined out and Anthony Rizzo flew out to center to leave him stranded.
When you see that a team scores nine runs in an inning, your first thought is “must be blowing out at Wrigley today.” And although it was, the Reds put together a big inning the old-fashioned way by stringing hits together. It started with an Adam Duvall pop fly that dropped in front of Ben Zobrist in right field. Eugenio Suarez followed with a ‘tweener pop fly that Javy Baez couldn’t quite reach. Scooter Gennett grounded a single through the middle to knock in Duvall, and Phillip Ervin drove in Suarez with a broken bat single. None of the balls were hit particularly hard, but the Reds led 2-0. Two straight outs made it feel like Lester might get out of the inning, but a two-out walk loaded the bases for Jose Peraza who, of course, dumped a weak line-drive into center to score two more. And it only got worse. Joey Votto parked a 3-run homer into the left field bleachers to make it 7-0. And then it got worse. Kris Bryant booted a ball hit by Duvall, which was immediately followed by a Suarez double.
And it only got worse. At that point, Jon Lester left the game with what is being called “left lat tightness.” Bringing in Mike Montgomery did not immediately end the threat, as he walked Gennett, then gave up a double to Ervin. Kyle Schwarber had his second outfield assist in as many days, as he got the ball to relay man Baez, who threw home to finally end the inning.
Teams of destiny have games like this – in 1989, the eventual division champs played a great game against the Houston Astros, where the Cubs came back after trailing 9-0. Dwight Smith was the hero, tying the game on a sacrifice fly, then knocking in the winning run.
And for a bit, it looked like the 2017 Cubs might come back and have that definitive win that they are so badly needing.
They started chipping away in the bottom of the second, on Ian Happ’s 16th home run on the season. The fourth inning would see an outburst of power by the middle of the Cubs’ order. Kris Bryant led off with a solo homer, and Anthony Rizzo followed with a double to left. After a Zobrist line-out, Alex Avila hit his third homer as a Cub to bring the Cubs to within five runs. It was the first of back-to-back-to-back home runs by the Cubs, as Ian Happ hit his second of the game, followed by Javier Baez’s 19th homer of the season. Trailing 9-6, the Cubs had plenty of time and momentum on their side.
In the fifth inning, the onslaught continued. Kyle Schwarber led off with his 20th dinger on the year, and Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch. Rizzo doubled him home, and eventually came around to score on Avila’s game-tying double. The Cubs looked to be in the driver’s seat, as Mike Montgomery settled in in relief of Lester. He held the Reds to two hits over his final four innings of work.
The weird series with home plate umpires continued, and was on display in Justin Grimm’s inning of work in the seventh. He walked the leadoff batter with some questionable calls going against him. Ervin continued his solid day with a homer to re-take the lead for the Reds, 11-9. Everybody in the ballpark, including batter Stuart Turner, thought that Grimm had earned a strike out on a 2-2 count – everyone, that is, except for home plate umpire Chris Conroy. Grimm eventually got the out and escaped further damage, but it was rough.
The Cubs managed to get within one with a sacrifice fly by Ian Happ in the bottom of the inning, but the bullpen coughed it up again. Justin Wilson’s struggles continued, as he walked the first two batters on eight pitches. He was replaced by Brian Duensing, who nearly escaped the inning, but Javier Baez was not able to work a miracle double play on Suarez line-drive up the middle. He managed to snare it and backhand the ball to second for the force, but the turn and throw to first were too late to end the inning. Hector Rondon gave up another run in the 9th to make the final score of 13-10.
What a freaking draining game (and series).
Three Stars of the Game
#3 - Ian Happ had a nice game, and boy, did he need it. After taking the league by storm, he’d hit a plateau, as pitchers adjusted to him. Hope the two-dinger, 3-RBI game gets him back on track.
#2 - Speaking of guys who needed a big game, Kyle Schwarber has now climbed over the .204 mark with a 3-hit game. And, as mentioned before, he had another outfield assist.
#1 - Phillip Ervin isn’t going to want to leave Chicago. He got his first major league home run during the series, and ended it with a 3-hit, 4-RBI performance.
As always, the writing staff will keep everyone posted on the latest Lester news. The Cubs will host the Blue Jays for a 3-game series starting tomorrow afternoon.