I'm somewhat at a loss for words to describe the Cubs' 5-3 win over the Reds at Wrigley Field Thursday night.
The headline says "unexpected", but that really doesn't come anywhere near describing the happenings of the evening. The Cubs started the day 22 games behind the Reds, who appear headed back to the postseason for the second time in three years, while the Cubs are spared last place only by a pathetically awful Astros team.
Rain, wind and storms provided an hour-long rain delay that turned into an hour and 20 minutes because it would... just... not... stop... raining. The showery weather that hit during the late innings of the game was, in fact, lake-effect rain, which you normally don't see in this part of the country until September. If you didn't see the photos I tweeted before the game, here are some ominous-looking clouds, here are some more, forming over the lake, and here's a rainbow that appeared just before sunset.
And then Chris Volstad started out looking like the bad old Volstad of the first half. A home run, a walk, a single and a groundout made it 2-0 Reds within the first four batters, and Volstad threw 35 pitches in a first inning that seemed almost as long as the rain delay.
But the Cubs cut the deficit to 2-1 right away in the bottom of the first on a David DeJesus double and Anthony Rizzo single... and Volstad settled down. He did give up another home run, to Todd Frazier, but threw only 64 pitches in his remaining five innings to leave the game with a quality start. I realize the QS doesn't necessarily indicate great pitching, but for Volstad, it was his second in a row and just third of the season. Baby steps.
The Cubs took Volstad off the hook for a loss by scoring a pair of runs off Mike Leake in the sixth on a Starlin Castro double that didn't miss being a home run by too much. That raised the thought of extra innings, on a night when it kept raining and the game had already been delayed. By this time Steve Clevenger had been ejected after arguing about... ball one. No joke. Looking at the replays of the pitches Clevenger was questioning -- the pitch before and the one he was tossed on -- he had a point; they were both identical pitches that landed in almost identical spots. One was called strike two, the other ball one. However... you just can't do this, and apparently on the TV broadcast, Len & Bob mentioned that Clevenger had been jawing at plate umpire all game.
Not smart, Steve, especially on a rainy night. What would have happened if Welington Castillo had been hurt? Who's the emergency catcher now that Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson have both been traded?
Anyway, the game slogged on, and I do mean slogged, as rain started falling off and on, heavy enough at times that I wondered whether the umpires might stop the game after the eighth inning if it had still been tied. Under current rules, such a game can be suspended and finished the next day.
Alfonso Soriano took care of that by hitting his 20th home run following a walk to Rizzo. It gave him his 11th consecutive 20-homer season; he joins David Ortiz and Albert Pujols as the only active players to do that. Soriano is having a fine season. While it still might be better to deal him -- and it now appears the offseason is the time -- I'll say again, as I have said before, the Cubs could probably do worse than having him in left field again in 2013.
Carlos Marmol finished up as the clock approached 11:30 p.m. in Chicago; a leadoff walk brought visions of Bad Marmol, but a nicely-turned double play made things easier. After a single, Drew Stubbs hit into a force play to end it. That play looked as if Zack Cozart might have been safe at second base, but I'm guessing the umpires were just as anxious as anyone to get in out of the rain. There were some questionable calls against both teams on a really soggy night on which about 20,000 showed up, a surprisingly large number given the weather and the Bears game taking place a few miles south of Wrigley.
You never know. A loss for words? Guess not; there are almost 800 of them here. After winning 10 straight and 15 of 16, the Reds have now lost five in a row. Who knows, maybe the Cubs can make a series of this after all. The game preview for Friday's afternoon game will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.