As the clock approached midnight and the bases filled with Cardinals in the 12th inning Tuesday evening in St. Louis, I got to thinking, "What's the most Cub way for this game to end?"
Hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded, I thought.
Sure enough, that's what happened. Justin Grimm hit Greg Garcia, a rookie making his 14th big-league plate appearance, with the bases loaded and that gave the Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Cubs.
Truth be told, Garcia seems to have a knack for doing this sort of thing. He got hit 10 times last year at Triple-A Memphis, four times in just 99 plate appearances at Memphis this year, and Tuesday night's game-winner was the third time he had been hit in those 14 big-league PA this year.
The game took more than four and a half hours to complete and three and a half hours for nine innings, and a large part of that was due to Jake Arrieta. Arrieta works at a maddeningly slow pace and issued five walks in just four innings of work. He threw 82 pitches to get 12 outs and, frankly, was fortunate to leave the game with a 2-1 lead. One begins to see why Arrieta wore out his welcome in Baltimore. Jim Deshaies wondered, on the game telecast, whether it's a matter of Arrieta not trusting his stuff. This could be true, as Arrieta does have good stuff, one of the reasons the Orioles kept giving him chances, one of the reasons the Cubs traded for him last summer.
But he's going to have to do better than this to keep his spot in the Cubs' rotation. Despite a 2.70 ERA and reasonable 2.95 FIP, Arrieta has walked eight batters in 13⅓ innings and has a poor 1.875 WHIP. Just to show you the randomness of starter run support, the Cubs have won two of Arrieta's three starts, and scored 18 runs in those starts. That's three more runs than the Cubs have scored in Jeff Samardzija's eight starts.
This game started off better than it ended. Rick Renteria inserted Luis Valbuena in the starting lineup ("matchups," he said, noting that Valbuena was 5-for-14 lifetime off Adam Wainwright, more on this below). Valbuena hit a two-run homer in the second inning, and the Cubs managed to hold that lead until Carlos Villanueva and Wesley Wright gave the Cardinals a pair of runs in the sixth inning, thanks in part to a ghastly-looking throwing error by Starlin Castro on what should have, at the very least, been a force play at second base, if not a double play.
It looked like the game was going to end with that 3-2 score in nine innings, but with the Cubs down to their final strike in that ninth, Emilio Bonifacio laced a single to right field, scoring Junior Lake with the tying run. Turns out all that accomplished was dragging the game out another hour. Cubs relievers Neil Ramirez, James Russell and Brian Schlitter combined for five scoreless innings in which they allowed only one hit. That is, most definitely, a good thing. Meanwhile, the Cubs had just two baserunners in extra innings; Anthony Rizzo walked and was erased on a caught stealing in the 10th, and Valbuena doubled with two out in the 12th.
Somewhere during that time, Patrick Kane flipped a puck over Ilya Bryzgalov for the game- and series-winner in Minnesota. That was great, but watching the Cubs flounder through a 12th inning in which Grimm allowed a single and two walks before the walkoff hit-by-pitch was painful. Incidentally, pretty much the entire crowd in St. Louis had departed by then. I don't think I've ever seen Busch Stadium III that empty -- maybe 2,000 of the original sellout crowd saw the end of this one.
I do want to say one more thing about the Luis Valbuena start and the Mike Olt non-start Tuesday night. Here's what Rick Renteria said before the game about "matchups":
#Cubs Renteria expects there will be a time when Olt is in lineup every day. Based today's lineup on matchups vs Wainwright— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 13, 2014
#Cubs Renteria: "We're still mixing and matching and will continue to do so until we see where they're all at"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 13, 2014
To which I ask: Well, what is it we're doing here? Playing matchups? Or having a player development year? Because what else does Mike Olt have to do to be in the lineup every day? He's leading all National League rookies in home runs and RBI despite playing sporadically for the first month of the season, and has a .994 OPS this month in 30 at-bats.
Yes, Valbuena was the "better" matchup. Yes, Valbuena hit a home run and went 3-for-6 Tuesday night. All that accomplished was stretching the game out until almost midnight.
Well, have at it. I'm sure you'll have some things to say about the Mike Olt thing -- and Olt did get into the game as a pinch-hitter, drawing a walk, which is good -- as well as the rest of this defeat, which dropped the Cubs' record in one-run games to 2-8.
They'll try it again tonight, with Jason Hammel facing Michael Wacha.