In the 22 year history of the Cubs/White Sox crosstown classic, there have been only two traditions worth repeating...
- Silence from Hawk Harrelson
- Willson Contreras pounding the everlovin’ bezeejus out of the baseball like it just insulted his abuelito.
And I know that only one of those is technically still valid. But now that Jason Benetti’s doing their play-by-play, I prefer to think that Hawk is still in the booth and the Sox are always losing.
After being stymied by Ivan Nova last night, the Cubs had to deal with AL ERA leader Lucas Giolito in this evening’s contest. Three days after trying to hit against NL ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu in Los Angeles. After dropping 10 of their previous 15 games, they were in dire need of the kind of offensive performance that makes grizzled old sportswriters type words like “That’s baseball.”
Things didn’t start off well at all with Jon Lester giving up a leadoff home run to Leury Garcia on the very first pitch of the game. It started out as a belt high fastball and ended two-thirds of the way up the left field bleachers, giving the South Siders a quick 1-0 lead.
It was also a mirror image of last night’s game where Kyle Schwarber hit the first pitch he saw for a leadoff homer. If this were MLB Tonight, now would be where Harold Reynolds interrupts to claim that a first pitch home run is bad strategy because now the pitcher doesn’t have to worry about the baserunner as he crosses home plate or something similarly insane.
Thankfully, in the bottom of the first, the Cubs put together a better inning than anything that happened last night. Not to be outdone by Garcia, Schwarber again pounced on the first pitch he saw, lining a laser show of a double to right field. It was hit so hard, Sox outfielder Ryan Cordell could only turn and stare at the ivy as if he felt that by concentrating hard enough, he too could find Andre Dawson.
Kris Bryant followed with a strikeout and for a moment, Giolito appeared to be settling in. Anthony Rizzo then spit on a 3-2 changeup for a walk. That happens. But then Javy Báez drew his first walk since June 2, declining to swing at a 3-1 change. Dogs and cats started looking reserving rooms together in the Hotel Zachary and the bases were loaded.
Three years to the day after he consecrated his first major league at bat with a home run, Contreras then unloaded on a 1-2 change and sent it on a line shot that just missed hitting his own name on the ribbon board in front of the left field bleachers. It was a grand slam to give the Cubs a 4-1 that they would not relinquish.
What followed was one of the most joyous home run trots that Wrigley Field has seen all year. After sending the ball to its final destination, Contreras strutted out of the batters box and flipped his bat as if singing the Ethel Merman part in “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” in Tim Anderson’s direction.
He then proceeded to point to approximately every single one of the 39,776 fans in attendance as he rounded the bases, taking brief breaks to pound his chest with force that made you expect him to shout “I’m comin’ to see you, Elizabeth!” (And yes, I realize that as a 27 year old Venezuelan, there’s a 0% chance that Willson would get that reference.)
Giolito ended up laboring through 34 pitches in the first. And while he kinda settled in after that, the Cubs weren’t completely done with him. Contreras took him yard again in the third, lacing an 0-1 pitch into the left field bleachers. If his celebration was a bit more subdued this time, it was only because Willson could only find a few late arriving fans who hadn’t already been pointed at.
With the Cubs up 5-1, things appeared to be comfortable. But tonight was one of those Jon Lester tightrope evenings that have become all too familiar over the past month. At this point, we all know how Lester approaches making in game adjustments when his command isn’t there.
LESTER: I’m trying to hit the outside corner!
CONTRERAS: It’s not working.
LESTER: OK...what if I get angry?
James McCann led off the top of the fourth with a home run that took off to right center to make it 5-2. As he rounded the bases, you could see him about to curse himself out for enjoying the moment until realizing “Oh yeah, I’m the other McCann...” Eloy Jimenez followed with a walk and Yoan Moncada pulled an RBI double down the third base line to start to make things uncomfortable at 5-3.
Lester was glaring in home plate umpire Cory Blaser’s direction when he didn’t get a call off the outside corner. Which means he’s about to get a hashtagging like he’s never seen before. But it helped out later when he got that pitched called to strike Cordell out looking for the first out of the inning. After an infield single by Yolmer Sanchez brought the go ahead run to the plate, Lester struck out Giolito.
What followed was the biggest break of the game and it went the Cubs’ way. Garcia chopped a 1-2 pitch in front of the plate and made contact with the ball. Blaser ruled he was out of the box and called him out, retiring the side with the Cubs still up by two. Replays showed that Blaser was very wrong but that play was not reviewable because REDACTED.
Things mostly settled in from there. David Bote hit a home run to lead off the fourth, making this the third homer Giolito had given up tonight after surrendering five in his previous 13 starts. Lester gutted his way through five and two-thirds innings, allowing seven hits and three runs while striking out six. The bullpen made the lead stand and the Cubs split the series.
That’s baseball. Glorious baseball.
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