Well, that was unexpected!
Around the fifth inning of Tuesday night's game at Wrigley Field, I was sitting in the cold thinking morose thoughts such as, "Man, there are 79 more of these to go,", when the Cubs decided to stage one of their better come-from-behind rallies in recent years.
Solid relief pitching! Stellar defense! Clutch hitting with RISP! Who are these guys?
Maybe it doesn't mean anything; we all know the limitations of this roster. But Tuesday night, this Cubs team played excellent all-around baseball in the late innings and came out with a satisfying 6-3 win over the Brewers in front of about half of the 30,065 announced, of whom maybe 4,000 or so were still around at game's end on a very chilly night.
The second inning was one that won't go into Cubs record books as one of their finer moments. Travis Wood gave up three hits to start the inning; two throwing errors (Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro) helped lead to three runs and it might have been more, except Wood managed to get Jonathan Lucroy to hit into a double play to end the inning.
After that Wood settled down, giving up just two singles and a walk before he was lifted with one out in the seventh. By that time, the Cubs had used a David DeJesus single, a throwing error and a groundout to make it 3-1. Still, the Cubs offense looked moribund, having generated just three singles and a pair of Anthony Rizzo walks through six innings.
But they got two more runs in the seventh off Wily Peralta, who left after allowing a single to Steve Clevenger and a rope of a double to David DeJesus down the right-field line. Mike Gonzalez entered with two out to pitch to Anthony Rizzo. This was a good test for Rizzo, facing a pretty good lefty who has closing experience. Rizzo also ripped a double to right, tying the game, and stood on second base clapping his hands with what appeared to be real emotion. I like that.
The Cubs won the game in the eighth inning off former Brewers closer John Axford, after Starlin Castro had made an outstanding defensive play, diving to stop a Yuniesky Betancourt smash up the middle to end the top of the inning. "John Axford" appears to be English for "Carlos Marmol"; Axford has struggled this year and, like Marmol, has been demoted from closer. You could see why in that inning; Nate Schierholtz ripped a leadoff double to the opposite field. I was a bit surprised that Dale Sveum had Castillo bunt him to third -- it's only the eighth inning of a tie game, after all. Axford went to 2-0 on Luis Valbuena before the Brewers decided to intentionally walk him; Dioner Navarro worked a four-pitch walk to load the bases, and Scott Hairston lifted a fly ball to medium-deep center field.
It wasn't a gimme for Schierholtz to score, but Carlos Gomez's throw was off line, which gave the Cubs the lead and also allowed the other two runners to move up, which was important when DeJesus singled to right. Both scored, giving the Cubs a three-run lead.
I typed all that and still can't quite believe it. Clutch hitting! The Cubs were just 2-for-8 with RISP, but both hits were critical.
Meanwhile, Marmol had actually thrown a decent inning; he did allow Jean Segura to hit a triple to the right-field corner, but retired three hitters on ground outs, including a bunt which he fielded well, and was the beneficiary of Castro's fine play. Baby steps, Carlos. Baby steps. Marmol was the beneficiary of the Cubs' rally and recorded the individual win, for whatever that's worth, and Kyuji Fujikawa, who had bleacherites chanting "Fuji! Fuji!", posted his second save of the season, though it took a while after Valbuena booted a ball and Ryan Braun singled.
Braun, for his part, was again booed loudly and fans everywhere near left field chanted "Steroids!", "PED!" and "HGH!" at him throughout the game. Not once did he react to any of these chants. Maybe he was just cold; it was 39 degrees at game time, with a strong wind blowing in. Though it wasn't anywhere near "warm", I've felt many colder days and nights at Wrigley Field; it was at least tolerable, made more so by the late-inning comeback.
Maybe we won't see too many of these this year, given this team; on the other hand, several players have started out the season well below their career norms. The Cubs got pretty good pitching Tuesday night, apart from one shaky inning, and the hits were there when they were needed, a nice win, and as I said... pretty unexpected.
The win put the Cubs over .500 all-time in home night games: 255-254. They'll have another such game tonight... if the weather cooperates, and right now, that doesn't look too promising.