I would like to start by putting in a request for the 2019 Cubs: PLEASE STOP PLAYING MICROCOSMS OF THE ENTIRE SEASON IN ONE GAME.
Ye gods. Where to begin?
There are gut punch games. There are kick to the groin games. And then there’s today--this was the baseball version of the Ivan Drago killshot to Apollo Creed’s head. All that was missing was Craig Kimbrel scrapping “Sweet Child O’Mine” and running in from the bullpen dressed as Uncle Sam to “Livin’ In America.”
Somebody get a GIF of Clark the Cub yelling “Throw the Damn Towel.”
At most, there are maybe ten at bats a year where Yadier Molina isn’t the most overrated player of this generation. And the most soul-crushingly depressing aspect of this latest worst loss of the year was that one of them took place in the top of the ninth inning today.
After more than four hours, five lead changes, and at least one genuine miracle, it all went to waste in two Kimbrel pitches. With the entire season riding on a most precarious 8-7 lead, Kimbrel started Molina off with a shoulder high fastball. But one of Molina’s few genuine offensive tools is an ability to make contact and he got around on it enough to lift it high and deep to left field.
It stayed in the air long enough for everyone watching to think “If there’s a God in heaven above, please not this guy...” And when it landed in the left field bleachers to tie the game at 8-8, you could hear the ghost of Jean-Paul Sartre crowing, “Told ya so!”
Hell is other people. Especially if those other people are Yadi.
That was the first pitch of the inning. The second pitch of the inning was another high fastball to Paul DeJong. This one leaked a little closer to the hitting zone and DeJong destroyed it to deep left center for a 9-8 Cardinal lead. At that point, it was clear that this had ceased being a game and become something of a modern-day Shakespearian tragedy.
JOE MADDON: Is this a dagger which I see before me?
PAUL DEJONG: Nope. ‘Cause it’s in your back.
Even before the ninth inning, this was already playing out to be the dumbest game of the season. And whether it was the good or bad kind of dumb depended on which inning you checked in. For instance...
The second batter of the game was Tommy Edman, the current Bo Hart/Skip Schumaker/Stubby Clapp clone the Cardinals have created to be obnoxiously good for 30 games and then disappear off the face of the earth. He tripled into the ivy in right center and scored the first run on a Paul Goldschmidt RBI grounder to third. Going into today, Edman had accrued 3.1 WAR in only 81 games played this season. So now we know exactly how many wins you receive when you promise your soul to Satan.
But in the bottom of the first with one out, Nicholas Castellanos lined a Dakota Hudson offering to right center and hustled his way into double number 58 despite a nice sliding stop by Harrison Bader. After seeing the result of throwing a strike to Cubs batters, Hudson decided to stop doing that. Completely.
Kris Bryant followed with a walk. So did Kyle Schwarber. The bases were loaded. It didn’t matter. Ben Zobrist then walked to tie the game up. Victor Caratini did the same to grab the lead. It turned out that the key to making Cubs hitters appear to be clutch was for them to never actually swing the bats.
So far, Hudson resembled his namesake state North Dakota--he had nothing. Jason Heyward finally saw a hittable strike and scalded a sacrifice fly to deep left. The Cubs were 0-for-0 with runners in scoring position and found themselves up 3-1. It was the good kind of dumb.
The bad kind reared its head a couple innings later. After giving up a run on a Paul Goldschmidt sac fly in the third, Jose Quintana unraveled in the fourth, loading the bases and giving up a game-tying pinch hit to Rangel Ravelo who, to the great surprise of many, was not actually a Chico Marx character. Danny Hultzen made a brief appearance to give up a two-run single to Dexter Fowler and the Cards reclaimed the lead at 5-3.
It didn’t last an inning. Heyward led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk and one out later, Ian Happ unloaded on a first pitch from Dominic Leone that landed on the batters eye roof in dead center. “Good dumb” had made another appearance and the game was deadlocked at 5-5.
There was a brief respite from the scoring until the bottom of the sixth. For what’s seemed like the entirety of the past week, Nico Hoerner has been scorching line drives all over the ballpark, only to hit them directly into opposing fielders’ gloves. Because big league baseball is hard. Finally, on a middle-middle fastball from Ryan Helsley, Hoerner found the solution to that problem, smashing a go-ahead home run to the left field stands. It was the “Nico Hoerner’s face” of late-game at bats--I hope I’ll be seeing it in my dreams.
Again, though, the good kind of dumb couldn’t last for more than two batters. After an effective sixth inning, Kyle Ryan was tasked with getting through the Cards middle of the order in the seventh. Paul Goldschmidt led off by working a walk on a 3-2 slider. Then Marcell Ozuna absolutely golfed a pitch that seemed like it was about to scrape the ground for a two-run homer to give the Cards a sudden shocking 7-6 cushion.
At that point, you’d be forgiven for thinking, “OK, I have seen the dumbest thing this game’s going to show me. There is nothing that’s going to top the sheer stupid absurdity of that swing.” You would be oh-so-very wrong.
For in the bottom of the seventh, Ben Zobrist lined a ground rule double to right field with one out. It didn’t seem that promising, though, because the pitcher’s spot had been double switched in behind him. And up to the plate stepped pinch hitter extraordinaire...Tony Kemp. I have no idea why Joe Maddon keeps using Kemp to hit as often as he does. I can only speculate that the front office told him “We’ve traded for that short guy from the Astros” and Joe has been operating under the misconception that Kemp is actually José Altuve.
Regardless, the predictable happened and Kemp meekly struck out on three pitches...except...second base umpire Bill Welke called a balk on Cards reliever Giovanny Gallegos which moved Zobrist to third and gave Kemp new life. OK, this probably meant Kemp would be striking out in four pitches instead...except...EXCEPT...
Kemp unloaded on the very next pitch. The only conjecture I can come up with is that he somehow found a way to harness the energy of our collective doubt in his hitting ability and took it out on a baseball that had the misfortune to leak out over the plate. It launched off his bat all the way to dead center field, landing just to the left of the juniper bushes. And just like it was the first day Kemp did a backflip during pre-game windsprints, the collective reaction was an overjoyed “wait...you can do THAT?!” We had been saved! The Cubs retook the lead at 8-7! The season wasn’t dead! The good kind of dumb was going to win after all!
SPOILER ALERT: No it wasn’t. Just a tease. Yes it was. No it wasn’t.
And now, we’re left with an uneasy feeling lingering somewhere between depression and acceptance. There’s another week of games to go and the one genuinely admirable quality of this team is that they still won’t give up. But for the love of all that is good and pure, all I ask is going forward is this: please let today’s game be the actual worst loss of the season. Because this one was the best example of what’s become the overarching theme of the last six months...
The 2019 Cubs: We can’t have nice things.
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