Welington Castillo, my friends, not only won Friday night's game for the Cubs, he saved you from an epic rant from me.
Castillo's two-out, three-run homer off the Cardinals' Trevor Rosenthal gave the Cubs a 6-3 win over their division rivals and their first extra-inning victory in three tries in 2014.
There's still a bit of a rant coming, but let's talk about the good things that happened in this game first.
Jeff Samardzija posted his third consecutive excellent start. Clearly, this is doing nothing more than increasing his trade value. The Cubs finally scored for him, 20 innings into his 2014 season, but among all pitchers who have started games so far this year (152 of them), Shark ranks 134th in run support, 1.8 runs per start. The Cubs got the first run in part thanks to an error by St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong; two singles scored the run. Then, after Rick Renteria (I still can't decide on "Rick" or "Ricky"; I heard Len Kasper call him "Ricky" on the telecast) left Shark in to throw the seventh inning, the Cubs put him in position for his first win of 2014 by scoring two in the eighth. The first run scored on a sac fly by Anthony Rizzo, and then Nate Schierholtz singled in Mike Olt (who had singled as a pinch-hitter) to give the Cubs a two-run lead.
Pedro Strop was shaky in the eighth, walking a pair, but managed to set up the ninth inning by getting out of it scoreless.
Now, here's my mini-rant.
Hey, Theo! If you wanted Carlos Marmol to close games for the Cubs, why didn't you just keep the version we had instead of signing an older, taller version?
Jose Veras did his best Marmol imitation in the bottom of the ninth, hitting two batters (though the first was challenged and I was hard-pressed to see where it actually hit Allen Craig), issuing a walk, having a passed ball (that could easily have been ruled a wild pitch) charged to Castillo and allowing two runs to score, tying the game.
That leaves Veras with an ugly 12.27 ERA, a WHIP of 2.455 (worst in the major leagues for anyone with 3⅔ innings or more), seven walks, a league-leading three hit batters and two blown saves in four appearances.
So instead of ranting... I'll just suggest: Maybe it's time to get Veras into lower-leverage situations instead of having him close.
Fortunately for the Cubs, Friday night was Cardinals manager Mike Matheny making the second-guessable decisions. He allowed Rosenthal to bat for himself in the 10th inning, giving him a second inning of work. Here's another (even smaller) mini-rant -- why was Justin Grimm nibbling Rosenthal? The Cardinals reliever had exactly one major-league at-bat before Friday night. You should be able to retire such a hitter on three pitches.
Anyway, Rosenthal gave up a double to Schierholtz leading off the 11th. After a bunt moved Nate to third (another one of the few times a bunt is useful, because then a fly ball scores a run), Starlin Castro was intentionally walked. Rosenthal, whose fastball can touch 100 miles per hour, had thrown nearly 20 pitches by the time Castillo tagged a fastball up in the zone for the no-doubt-about-it game winner.
Nice to see the other team's manager making mistakes, and the other team's closer blow games, for once.
The last time the Cubs had an extra-inning homer on the road and won was June 29, 2013, when Alfonso Soriano's two-run shot in the 11th led the Cubs to a 5-3 win over the Mariners.
One last thing about this game: the ball-and-strike calls were horrendous. Gabe Morales, who is on the 2014 minor-league umpire callup list, missed a few real obvious strike calls (for both teams, he was equal-opportunity bad), including one that CSN's pitch box showed was pretty much right down the middle for an inning-ending K by Samardzija. The Cubs were running off the field and had to come back on that one; Shark retired the hitter, but had to throw three extra pitches to do it.
It's always nice to beat the Cardinals, and the Cubs will go for their second straight win Saturday afternoon. Carlos Villanueva will face Adam Wainwright; the game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.