We might not all agree on everything Cubs, but I'm pretty sure you'll all concur with these three things:
- Cubs wins are good
- Wins over the Cardinals are always extra-special good
- Wins over the Cardinals, coming from behind in the late innings, when St. Louis desperately needs the game to keep pace in a playoff race, are freaking awesome!
This one started out like a typical Cubs/Cardinals game in a year when the Cubs aren't good and the Cardinals are. The Cubs kept pace early, with decent enough pitching from Carlos Villanueva and a pair of RBI from Welington Castillo, one on his fifth home run of the year. But it just wasn't enough; the Cardinals are the better team and when they extended their lead to 4-2 in the sixth, I figured, "Well, they gave 'em a good fight, but it's just not going to be enough."
That feeling got stronger when the Cardinals brought in their 100 mile-per-hour reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, who came into the game having walked just 12 batters in 54 innings. But that's where this Cub team showed glimmers of a brighter future. They got patient with Rosenthal, who couldn't find the strike zone. Rosenthal walked Castillo and Nate Schierholtz. But then he settled down and struck out Starlin Castro and Cody Ransom (Castro, I thought, had a particularly bad at-bat).
Darwin Barney was next and I figured, "Well, here's a mismatch. How is Barney going to be able to hit a 100 MPH fastball?"
And yet, that's exactly what he did, lining a double into the right-center field gap, tying the game.
Then Dioner Navarro, who just three days earlier looked like he had suffered a season-ending injury, came to the plate to pinch-hit for Blake Parker. Navarro ran the count to 2-1 and then laced a Rosenthal fastball down the right-field line, scoring the lead run. And Navarro -- who isn't fast to begin with and was running on what had to be a really sore ankle -- chugged into second with a double.
The Cubs scored an important insurance run in the top of the ninth off Cardinals reliever Michael Blazek on a Junior Lake double and a single by Schierholtz. (Incidentally, the Cubs doubles pace has fallen off; they're on pace for 317, well short of the team record of 340. They do still lead the National League with 227, one ahead of... the Cardinals.) The insurance run was key, because Kevin Gregg allowed a home run to Matt Holliday, his second of the game, which fell into the St. Louis bullpen just out of Schierholtz's reach. The outs that followed were a bit strange; David Freese lined a ball off Gregg's right shoulder, which bounced right to Castro, who threw Freese out at first base. After a cursory examination by the trainer, Gregg's next pitch, to Jon Jay, was an easy comebacker to complete the 6-5 win over the Cardinals; Gregg posted his 25th save of the season. It was the Cubs' first one-run win since the series in San Francisco two weeks ago.
I don't know how to explain it, either, except to point out that the Cardinals miss Yadier Molina. They are 4-7 since he went on the DL -- but they had also lost six in a row while he was still playing, so it's not all attributable to that. Let's hope the Cubs can continue the Cardinals' slide by sweeping the series Sunday afternoon. The Cubs are now 6-6 against St. Louis this year; the Cubs' last sweep in St. Louis was September 13-15, 2010, during that wacky late-season run that made it look like Mike Quade would be a good manager. That sweep helped quash any faint playoff hopes the Cardinals had that year, the only year in the last four they have failed to qualify for the postseason.
It's too early to put St. Louis out of playoff contention this year and with two wild cards, they're probably going to make it anyway. But a sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis? Oh, that would be sweet.
One final note on the television broadcast of this game. Are you as sick of this commercial as I am? Yes, I understand the sponsor pays for the time, etc. But that thing has to run at least a dozen times a game. Even if I liked that stuff (ugh), I might stop drinking it after being bombarded by it that many times.
Finally, some of you might be wondering about the Cubs' blue alternate jerseys, which they have now worn for every game on the past two road trips. They haven't given up on the road grays -- the choice is still, apparently, up to that day's starting pitcher (at least on the road -- at home, the Cubs wear only pinstripes). The last time the Cubs wore gray on the road was the July 8 makeup game against the White Sox, which they won -- but the Cubs are now 9-6 on the road since the All-Star break, wearing only blue alts. So I guess the idea is: "Don't mess with success."
The preview for Sunday afternoon's game will post at 12 noon CT.