By now we all know that the game ended well for the Cubs, but after a disappointing showing against the Phillies last night, tonight's game felt like a game that the Cubs *needed* to win. Not that it was a "must" win, but after having such a wonderful 6-1 road trip, as a fan it would have been demoralizing to lose two straight to Philadelphia back at the Friendly Confines. As rational as I try to be, I am fully aware of momentum shifts and superstitions that surround my favorite pastime.
Early on, it felt like we were going to see a pitcher's duel. Philadelphia sent Aaron Nola to the mound against José Quintana, who was coming off one of his best starts of the season. Nola was very impressive in the first inning, getting the Cubs out in order 1-2-3, and featuring strike outs of Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant. For his part, Quintana was excellent through the first five innings.
The Cubs got to Nola in the second inning, when the surging Anthony Rizzo took a fastball up and on the inside corner and absolutely hammered it off the scoreboard in right field. With the way Rizzo crowds over the plate, I was sure that it would go foul, but it wasn't really all that close. 1-0 Cubs. The very next pitch was a bit of a hanging curve ball that Willson Contreras hammered for a double against the left field wall, and the Cubs looked to be in business. Unfortunately, the Cubs suffered from some bad luck, and were not able to capitalize. Kyle Schwarber was called out on strikes on a borderline pitch at the knees for the first out. Javier Báez hit a ball sharply to third baseman Maikel Franco, who made a poor throw. The error resulted in having base runners at first and third with one out. Albert Almora Jr. smacked a line drive through the box that deflected off Nola, unfortunately right to Scott Kingery. Despite a poor throw on the relay, the Phillies finished it off for an inning-ending double play.
The third inning saw both pitchers dominate, with Quintana striking out the side in the top of the frame, and Nola punching out two in the bottom half. In the fourth Quintana went 1-2-3, and was cruising at this point. Nola had trouble in the bottom of the inning, by walking both Bryant and Rizzo to start off. On Rizzo's walk, Bryant was running. The throw to second was a moot point, but Bryant alertly recognized that Philly was in their shift, and nobody was covering third. Again, the Cubs were in business with runners at first and third. This time they were able to come through. Contreras singled through the hole in the left side of the infield to score Bryant to make it 2-0. Runners would advance to 2nd and 3rd base, respectively, on a ground-out by Kyle Schwarber. That allowed Báez to drive in a run on a sacrifice fly to make the score 3-0. Almora was walked (he would steal second) to get to Quintana, who worked a full count before grounding out to end the inning.
Quintana kept it up in the fifth inning, with another 1-2-3 frame, and striking out two. The Cubs weren't able to do anything off of Nola, though Kris Bryant did double with two outs.
If the Cubs had lost the game, the sixth inning would have been second-guessed to death by the people on Twitter (and still was, anyway). Quintana walked the lead-off batter César Hernandez, but followed up with two strike outs, giving him 10 on the evening. However, Carlos Santana weakly singled just past second base to put runners at first and second with two down. At that point Joe Maddon decided to go with Steve "Rubber Arm" Cishek to get a righty-righty matchup against Aaron Altherr. Quintana was at 91 pitches - perhaps slightly elevated, but manageable. To that point of the game Altherr had struck out and popped out, so it wasn't as though he'd looked particularly sharp. As (our) luck would have it, Cishek's first offering to Altherr missed its spot, and the ball was deposited into the basket in straight away center. Quintana's nice outing was erased, as the game was tied at 3-3.
The rest of the action happened in the ninth inning. Nola pitched the sixth inning without much incident before being replaced. Cishek pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, as did former Cub Tommy Hunter. We got to see good Justin Wilson (actually, he has been very good lately), who pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, and oddly named Seranthony Dominguez pitched a 1-2-3 bottom half.
Maddon went with Brandon Morrow to pitch the ninth in the tie game, and he was off. He allowed a single to Altherr to lead off, and then allowed a line drive basket shot to left field to Dylan Cozens in his fifth Major League at bat. 5-3 Phillies. Morrow retired J.P. Crawford on strikes, but then got very wild, hitting Jorge Alfaro and walking the relief pitcher Dominguez. I'm going to be optimistic and say that it was a mechanical issue, and that it is just a ding in the season. Cory Mazzoni was summoned to end the inning, and did so getting out his two batters.
As bad as the top of the inning was, the ninth was equally sublime. Schwarber led off with a walk. Báez ultimately struck out after missing a glaringly awful hanging breaking pitch early in the AB for the first out. However, the Cubs got a stroke of good luck as the catcher Alfaro had all sorts of problems with Almora at the plate. On the 0-1 pitch, the ball squirted just past Alfaro. Schwarber initially broke for second, then headed back to first. Alfaro winged the ball past first base, allowing for Schwarber to move to second. Almora singled to center field, though Schwarber made sure that the line drive went through, and was only able to move to third. Lefty Adam Morgan was brought in to face Ian Happ, who walked to load the bases. Ben Zobrist weakly grounded to the pitcher Morgan, who threw home for the force out. Alfaro held the ball this time, choosing not to try for the double play at first. That set up the dramatic finale. That set up J-Hey's heroics. On a 2-2 count, Heyward hit a no-doubt shot to the right field bleachers for a grand slam, and gave the Cubs its first walk-off victory of the season, and a boost in the arm to this Cubs fan.
Since it's draft season, and all
Tonight we got a chance to see Aaron Nola, and I have to admit, I'd not sat down and watched him actually pitch much. I knew that he came in with a low ERA, just over 2.00. What I remembered mostly about him was that there was quite a bit of discussion about him here on the Cubs Den about this time four years ago, when he was pitching at LSU, and about to be drafted. I know that there were some big fans of his in the comments, though some expressed some concern about his delivery, which is closer to a 3/4 motion, where he throws across his body. We know how that draft ended up, as the Cubs selected Kyle Schwarber, and Nola obviously went to the Phillies. Turns out, that worked out pretty well for both teams. For what it's worth, I was pretty impressed by Nola. His first inning was very good, and I was very much concerned about the propositions for tonight's game. He did struggle, giving up some hard contact to Rizzo, but also didn't get much help from his defense. He did what a guy is supposed to do when his team gets down early; he worked through it, and gave the Phillies a quality start.
The rubber match of the series will feature big righty Nick Pivetta vs short righty Tyler Chatwood. Let's hope the Cubs bring their tall socks and play a solid game behind the mercurial starter. First pitch is at 1:20.
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