Jeff Baker of the Chicago Cubs slides safely into third base against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
That was one strange game.
The Cubs lost to the Pirates 8-4 on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field, but if that's all you heard about the game, or if you went away after the seventh inning, you missed some bizarre relief appearances by two pitchers who have generally been quite reliable this season.
Starlin Castro homered for the Cubs in the first inning, his 11th; that's a new career high for him, and he's on pace to possibly have 15-16 or so this year. I thought he might develop mid-range power like that; at 52 RBI he's got a chance at 80, pretty good on a team that doesn't have that many baserunners and where Castro's hit second most of the year.
Starling Marte matched Castro in the third, and then Travis Wood got himself into trouble with a walk and a single allowed, and with two out and a chance to get out of the inning otherwise unscathed, he balked in the lead run.
Shawn Camp, who has been solid almost all year, had what I'd have to consider the worst relief appearance by any Cubs pitcher this season. He faced seven batters and all of them had hits, all of which were hard-hit; the biggest blow was a three-run homer by McKenry. Two more hits followed that before Dale Sveum had mercy and lifted him for Alberto Cabrera, who was making his major-league debut. (Took a while to get Cabrera warmed up, so Sveum can be forgiven that, at least.)
Cabrera, who has been in the organization since 2006 but is still just 23, has a live arm. Of course, the Pirates have not seen him before, so he was able to strike out two of the three hitters he faced. That's good so far; now let's see what happens when word gets around the league about what he throws. He's at least a potential bullpen arm for 2013.
Carlos Marmol had a decent outing -- after he gave up two solid hits, one to Andrew McCutchen, then a double to Garrett Jones which scored McCutchen easily. He struck out the side after that, and at least was throwing strikes (14 in 17 pitches). That's a good sign, too. Maybe Marmol -- who will certainly clear waivers -- could be traded in August.
McCutchen, incidentally, is a really, really impressive player. You already know this, but watching him in person, he's all over the field defensively, perhaps the fastest everyday player in the league, and hits for average and power. He's one of the biggest reasons for the Pirates being where they are; he's my top candidate for MVP.
So it's 8-1 Pirates going into the last of the ninth, and the stands had emptied out -- maybe 5,000 stuck around -- and the Cubs started blasting Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan all over the yard. In fairness to Hanrahan, he hadn't pitched in a game since last Friday, so was probably stronger than usual, and he served up hittable fastballs to Bryan LaHair (double), Jeff Baker (triple, on a diving attempt by Travis Snider; a faster runner might have had an inside-the-park homer), Welington Castillo (home run to dead center field, probably 420 feet) and Luis Valbuena (single), making it 8-4 and getting the Pirates pen active. Hanrahan then settled down and struck out the side (sandwiched around a single by Castro).
This game felt a lot like some of those May games when the Cubs were totally out of it by the late innings and then scored buckets of runs in the ninth. That was happening while the Cubs were dropping 12 straight; let's hope this isn't another run like that, although I give the Cubs (who are awful on the road) little chance in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers are 29-23, although they might win a game or two in San Diego (the Padres, who the Cubs swept in late May at Wrigley to end that long losing streak, are 22-29 at home).
Weird happening: Jeff Baker, not a speed guy, tripled and stole two bases Wednesday. It's his first-ever multi-steal game (he has just 12 career SB) and the last Cub to do this (triple, two SB in one game) was Corey Patterson, almost 10 years ago, August 20, 2002 against the Astros.
Hey, in a season like this, interesting feats like that are worth noting. Looking to the future is great -- but things like this are at least worth a mention.
Note regarding Tuesday night's one-hitter: Since the last time the Cubs were no-hit (by Sandy Koufax in 1965), they have been one-hit just 22 times, an average of about once every two years. Before Tuesday night, the last time it happened was August 21, 2009 in Los Angeles; the last time at home before Tuesday was August 31, 2005, also at the hands of the Dodgers (Derek Lowe threw a one-hitter).
It's quite some time until the next Cubs game -- 9:10 p.m. CT on Friday, more than 48 hours from now. I'll have some things here tomorrow to discuss, regarding the future, and also this homestand's attendance watch. Enjoy the off-day!