Given the fact that Michael Bowden and Hector Rondon failed in relief Sunday, Dale Sveum's choice to pitch the 11th inning -- after four other Cubs relievers had thrown four really good relief innings Tuesday night -- was basically narrowed down to Sanchez, Sanchez or Sanchez.
And Sanchez simply could not throw strikes. He walked pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick on four pitches. Then he walked Devin Mesoraco, but not before wild-pitching Ludwick to second base. You're probably thinking, as I was at that point, "This is not going to end well." (Spoiler: it didn't; the Reds won 6-4.)
And that's when we found out why Donnie Murphy -- who had tied the game with his fourth home run in just 28 at-bats in the eighth inning -- had been let go by two organizations within the last year. Cesar Izturis laid down a bunt that bounced higher than he probably wanted it to; with a clean pickup, Murphy probably has the lead runner at third base. But Murphy, probably thinking a bit too hard about this, muffed the play, leaving the bases loaded.
This being the Cubs, you know what's going to happen next. Shin-Soo Choo, who had been called out on strikes twice -- badly fooled both times -- laced a single to right, scoring two runs. The inning could have been worse, but Sanchez eventually got Joey Votto to hit into a 3-2-3 double play.
Sanchez, who has already been outrighted to Triple-A Iowa once this year and has options remaining, could be sent back down... that is, if the Cubs had anyone available to replace him, which they probably don't. Such is the lot of the bullpen failures of the 2013 Cubs, and as I mentioned, Sanchez's meltdown came after some really nice pen work by Blake Parker, James Russell, Pedro Strop and Kevin Gregg, who combined for four innings and allowed one hit and one walk while striking out six.
This came while the Cubs were using the long ball to score; Nate Schierholtz, Dioner Navarro and Murphy hit home runs. For a while, it looked like Murphy would be the hero for bringing the Cubs back into a tie; they had at least a chance to win the game in the 10th inning when Anthony Rizzo came to bat with one out and David DeJesus on first base; DeJesus had led off the inning with a single.
Rizzo is supposed to be a middle-of-the-order bat who delivers in situations like these. At the very least, you'd think maybe he could have taken a couple of pitches from J.J. Hoover, who was in his third inning of relief by then. Instead, Rizzo offered at Hoover's first pitch and hit into an inning-ending double play. It was the second DP for Rizzo in the game, and it came after Junior Lake failed in advancing DeJesus with a bunt (he wound up popping up the bunt to Hoover).
I don't want to come down too hard on Rizzo, who is still providing value with good defense, and his overall numbers are still above league average (107 OPS+). But he is hitting .133/.188/.222 in his last 11 games (6-for-45). Slump? Let's hope that's all it is. Rizzo needs to step up and be one of the key hitters of the new "core". Same with Starlin Castro, who was 0-for-5 and again came up with two out in the ninth against Aroldis Chapman. Should we view it as a "triumph" that he grounded out instead of struck out? (Hint: no.) Castro looked particularly bad at the plate Tuesday night, striking out twice. By the time that ground out happened, maybe 2,000 of the original crowd was still left at Wrigley, with the clock past 11 p.m.
Jeff Samardzija struggled through six innings, throwing 110 pitches and walking four. (Comparison point: the two Cubs pitchers who threw the entire game Monday night threw a total of 108 pitches in nine innings.) Cubs pitchers walked eight in all, and that's not going to win many games. This is the kind of thing that Theo and Jed want Cubs hitters to do -- draw more walks. Obviously, at the same time they want Cubs pitchers to stop walking so many; the staff leads the National League in walks issued.
It felt like October weather Tuesday night; the game-time temperature was just 63 and a breeze blew in from center field most of the night. That didn't stop the home runs, but those weren't enough. It would be nice to feel October breezes actually in October at Wrigley, but we still have a long way to go before that happens. One bit of good news: the Reds, who are 8-1 at Wrigley Field this year, will be making their final 2013 appearance in Chicago Wednesday afternoon. Good riddance; the game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.