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Cubs 4, Pirates 2: Every Dog Has His Day

The Cubs got a game-winning home run Wednesday from an unlikely source.

Jonathan Daniel

The phrase in the headline, adapted from Hamlet, isn't quite correct; it's been altered, to some extent, to mean "every person, no matter how insignificant, can have power or influence at some point."

Here's the original Shakespeare, act V, scene 1:

Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew and dog will have his day.

Wednesday afternoon's "dog" was Darnell McDonald, a 34-year-old baseball lifer of modest ability whose best big-league year consisted of 363 plate appearances for the 2010 Red Sox, for whom he posted a 103 OPS+. Obviously, that's why the current front office is familiar with him, and why they brought him in to play at Iowa and provide some bench play for this year's Cubs late in this season.

Granted a start Wednesday afternoon against lefthander Francisco Liriano on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon that almost made me want this awful season not to end, McDonald was scheduled to bat with two runners on and no one out in the bottom of the sixth inning against Liriano, who was reaching the end of his rope at 100 pitches. The game was sitting in a 1-1 tie. The Pirates had a mound conference; despite a reliever being ready, Liriano was left in to face McDonald, who had already doubled twice off him.

Bad mistake, Clint Hurdle! McDonald ran a 2-1 count and then launched a Liriano fastball into the left-center field bleachers for a three-run homer, his first as a Cub.

McDonald isn't likely to be back in 2014 and, as he turns 35 in November, his career could be reaching an end. But that home run will be memorable for him, I'm sure, as it was for the "crowd" of a little more than half the 26,171 announced tickets sold who showed up at Wrigley Field on, as noted, a beautiful afternoon. I was surprised there weren't more people at the ballpark to say farewell, even to as awful a season as this one. (More on attendance coming up tomorrow.)

That made a winner out of Jake Arrieta, who made his final 2013 start an excellent one; Arrieta threw six solid innings, allowing just four hits and one run. He'll certainly be in the mix for the rotation in 2014; if not, he'll be a valuable bullpen piece, or perhaps even a trade chip. Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop threw efficient setup innings and Kevin Gregg finished up for his 33rd save, despite allowing an unearned run. He struck out the side to wrap the Wrigley portion of the Cubs' 2013 season. The 33rd save tied Gregg with Lee Smith (1984 and 1985), Joe Borowski (2003) and Ryan Dempster (2005) for 10th place on the all-time Cubs single-season list.

The loss was crushing to the Pirates' chances of winning the N.L. Central; coupled with the Cardinals' win Wednesday afternoon, Pittsburgh now trails by three games with three to go, and it's almost certain the Cardinals will beat the Cubs at least once and clinch the division this weekend in St. Louis. (Great. The Cubs will have to watch three clinchers this year.)

It does set up an interesting matchup between the Pirates and Reds in Cincinnati; Pittsburgh leads the Reds by one game. The winner of the series will host the wild-card game; if the Pirates win two of three or sweep, they'd finish second and host; if the Reds sweep, they finish second and host. If the Reds win two of three, the teams will wind up tied, but the Reds would then have won the season series, and thus be the wild-card host. It will be odd, probably, for those teams to play a three-game set with that at stake, and then play another winner-take-all game as the wild-card game.

It's always bittersweet to leave Wrigley Field for the final time every fall; this year, it's fine to put this bad season to bed (and with their 31st win, the Cubs have tied the fewest home wins in a non-strike season in Wrigley history; they went 31-46 in 1957, and thanks to Ed Hartig for the info). But it's sad to say goodbye to ballpark friends and all the Cubs employees we've all gotten to know well over the last months and years. It's 191 days until the next game at Wrigley Field, April 4, 2014 against the Phillies, and that can't come soon enough.

In the meantime, there are still three games left in the Cubs' season, important ones for the Cardinals, and there will be plenty here at BCB tomorrow to talk more baseball. Stick around.