Cubs' Bullpen Shines, Geovany Soto Wins Game With Walkoff HR

Marcos Mateo of the Chicago Cubs pitches during a game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field on June 30, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Mateo was outstanding in Thursday's game. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Wow.

The Cubs may be going nowhere this season and here's a reminder that they are still 14 games under .500.

But to win that way? After John Grabow again messes up some outstanding pitching by giving up a home run in the top of the 13th?

The Cubs beat the Giants 5-2 Thursday afternoon when Geovany Soto blasted a three-run, pinch-hit walkoff home run off Ramon Ramirez.

And all this happened after the Cubs were twice in that inning down to their final strike, and a third time down to the last strike on Soto before the game would have continued to the 14th inning.

Let's backtrack for a moment before we return to the scene of the heroics. I have consistently said on this very site that I have not thought Marcos Mateo was a major league pitcher. Great arm, can't throw strikes, too many home runs allowed, etc.

Today, I give Mateo all the credit in the world. He was absolutely outstanding after Carlos Zambrano had to leave in the second inning with back problems. Mateo threw five shutout innings, threw just 56 pitches (37 strikes), gave up two singles and struck out six. A tip o' the cap to you, Marcos Mateo. Maybe you became a major league pitcher today.

The rest of the pen was just as good (with one exception). Continuing Mateo's fine pitching, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, James Russell (his father, former major leaguer Jeff Russell, was in the bleachers today entertaining friends) and Carlos Marmol combined to throw five no-hit innings with four K's and just one walk allowed.

John Grabow, the second-to-last bullpen pitcher remaining -- Chris Carpenter spent two innings sitting by himself on the bench in left field -- threw a scoreless inning, but not before loading the bases on walks in the 12th. He got the first two outs in the 13th easily, before Pablo Sandoval launched a no-doubt-about-it home run deep to left-center field. It was the Giants' first hit since the third inning -- the Cubs' bullpen had thrown 9.2 consecutive no-hit innings.

The Cubs, meanwhile, had scored nothing at all, and trailed 1-0 due to some misplays that involved a bobble by Darwin Barney and then a bad throw by Z, who left right afterwards. After the game Mike Quade said Z had been having some back issues even before the game, but the training staff worked on him and Z said he was OK to go. Clearly, that wasn't a good thing; Carrie Muskat has tweeted that Z is having an MRI on his back and we'll see what's up for his next start.

But the bullpen hung on to the 1-0 lead until Aramis Ramirez tied it with a solo HR that just made it over the basket in the well with one out in the ninth. That was the 299th HR of Aramis' career (and 223rd as a Cub, eight behind Gabby Hartnett for sixth on the all-time team list), and the first off Giants closer Brian Wilson all year.

The homer, then, allowed by Grabow to Sandoval sent the Giants fans in the crowd (who had used their "What's the matter with DeWitt? He's a bum!" chant behind Blake DeWitt for much of the game in the LF bleachers) into excitement. With only two relievers left, Bruce Bochy called on Ramon Ramirez instead of Guillermo Mota. Ramirez has been very good this year, posting a 1.42 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and allowing just one HR in 31.2 innings coming into today's game.

He got the first two outs in the last of the 13th easily. Then Jeff Baker, down to his final strike, smacked a double high off the LF wall. Darwin Barney, also on strike two, singled him in and went to second on a really bad throw by Cody Ross to the plate. Having Barney on second prompted Bochy to intentionally walk Starlin Castro, bringing Soto, the final Cubs position player, to bat.

Geo hit a 3-2 pitch into our section in LF, only about four rows down from me. It was the Cubs' second walkoff HR this year; the other was hit by Reed Johnson in the first game of the split DH with the Padres on April 20, also in extra innings. That's one more walkoff HR than the Cubs had all last year.

As I said -- even in a year that's turning out to be as miserable as this one, seeing a game that had this many great contributions from the Cubs bullpen, and a come-from-behind rally in the bottom of an extra inning, is one of the things that's best about being a baseball fan, especially on a day when the sun was shining brightly and a nice breeze made it a gorgeous day at Wrigley.

Back to reality tomorrow with the White Sox coming to town. They also won in extra innings today. Here's to winning tomorrow and the first three-game win streak of the year.

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