This was nearly the middle school dance of baseball games: hesitancy, missed opportunities, squandered chances, and leaving empty-handed. Only Alex Avila's 9th-inning triple rescued the night. Probably thanks to Joe Maddon's decision to pinch run for Anthony Rizzo and replace him with Leonys Martin, the Cubs ended their skid and have a chance to split the four-game series with Pittsburgh.
Before Rizzo's walk and Martin's steal of second base, Jose Quintana and Gerrit Cole were the story of the night. Quintana because he has been a challenge to watch for so much of his tenure with the Cubs, and Cole for his eight innings of sterling work. It was refreshing to see Quintana pitch so well, going six innings and not allowing any runs, but while this was happening, Cole kept the Cubs offense from producing any runs.
There were opportunities, however. In the first inning, Chicago put two runners on with just one out thanks to consecutive walks to Tommy La Stella and Kris Bryant, but Rizzo grounded into a double play to spoil both runners.
They got two runners on again in the next inning, but this time with two outs. Ian Happ and Alex Avila both struck out, and then Jason Heyward walked and Javier Baez singled. But Quintana was the next batter, and he struck out.
Those would be the best scoring chances the Cubs had until the top of the ninth, when Cole finally surrendered the game to his bullpen. Daniel Hudson was called upon to preserve the tie, but instead he walked Rizzo, allowed pinch-runner Martin to steal second, and then gave up a triple to right field to Alex Avila. Then enter Wade Davis for the bottom of the ninth, and it's over.
The Pirates had their best chance in the sixth, when Andrew McCutchen and David Freese opened the inning with singles, but thanks to an atypical double play, the threat was neutralized. Jose Osuna fought through a long ten-pitch at bat, fouling off five consecutive pitches, before he grounded a curveball to Baez at short, who threw to Kris Bryant for a force out at third, and then Bryant nearly sailed the throw to second for another out, but La Stella stretched and kept his foot on the bag.
From there, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop carried the seventh and eighth innings before Davis took the ninth, allowing only one baserunner on a walk between the three of them.
Cubs win, 1-0.
A pinch runner though?
The decision to lift Rizzo for Martin in the 9th was one that sparked a mini-debate on Twitter during the handful of minutes until Avila tripled to right.
In summary, one side thinks that Rizzo should have been kept in to keep his bat in the lineup in the event of an extra-inning game, and that he would have scored on Avila's triple anyway. Understandable.
The other side is that in a 0-0 tie in the ninth inning and on the road, you manufacture the scoring opportunity. It could be argued that maybe Rizzo doesn't score because he likely would not have stolen second like Martin and kept Avila from being able to advance all the way to third. Who knows.
For me, I'm about the latter. Create the opportunity to score a run, especially given the aforementioned circumstances and that you've lost three in a row already and have the Brewers coming to town this weekend. Manufacture and capitalize.
Player of the Game:
Jose Quintana? Six innings pitched, six hits, only one walk, and six strikeouts.
Alex Avila? He was hitless with two strikeouts prior to his RBI triple.
Strop/Rondon? They preserved the tie in a pair of crucial innings.
I generally err on the side of the pitcher in these cases, but tonight I have to give it to Avila. That was a timely piece of hitting that was sorely needed.