All right, tell me that before Monday night's 13-innin 5-4 Cubs win over the Marlins, you predicted that the winning run would be driven in by Travis Wood... as a pinch-hitter.
No question, Wood's a good hitter. He has two home runs this year and always seems to approach his at-bats well. But a pinch-hit double? In extra innings? Even good-hitting pitchers usually don't hit well when pinch-hitting. People used to love seeing Carlos Zambrano step up to the plate as a pinch-hitter, but he went 3-for-29 with 14 strikeouts in that role, all singles. Wood had been 0-for-4 as a pinch-hitter before Monday night.
But he smacked a double, just out of the reach of a diving Casey McGehee, into the left-field corner at Marlins Park. Loud cheers erupted -- it seemed as if only Cubs fans were left in the stadium by that time. It scored Junior Lake, who had singled. Know how rare that is? Only one other Cubs pitcher has ever hit a pinch-double (or indeed, any pinch-hit for extra bases) -- Rodney Myers in this wacky game on May 4, 1999.
You know how I feel about pitchers hitting. Wood, though, approaches his craft well. I actually enjoy watching him hit. You almost never see him with a smile on his face, but TV cameras caught him in the dugout with a huge grin after that hit, which gave him nine RBI on the season and a slash line of .276/.323/.552 (oddly, the good OBP comes from two HBP's; he has no walks). The nine RBI are 52nd-most in Cubs history for a pitcher in a season -- but remember, we're not even halfway through this year. The Cubs team record for RBI for a pitcher in a season is 20, set by Fergie Jenkins in 1971.
I'll be rooting for Wood to break that mark.
Kudos also for the Cubs bullpen, which was outstanding Monday night. After Jason Hammel put in a decent, but not great, start, the pen threw seven shutout innings, allowing two hits, four walks (one intentional) and struck out eight. James Russell, the last available reliever (Neil Ramirez wasn't), finished it off for his third career save and first since 2012. Only Justin Grimm struggled, issuing two of those four walks, but Wesley Wright and Brian Schlitter bailed him out.
I'm at 400+ words and haven't even mentioned the Cubs' four-run sixth, capped by a three-run homer from Starlin Castro, after the offense looked rather impotent through the first five innings as the Marlins went out to a 3-0 lead, highlighted by a two-run homer from Giancarlo Stanton that showed how amazingly powerful Stanton is. He muscled the ball over the wall in right field, his opposite field. If you thought that home run was amazing, here are the numbers behind it:
Stanton's HR yesterday was hit at 110.7 mph with a launch angle of 20.9! Never got more than 50 feet off the ground.— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) June 17, 2014
That's just amazing. Stanton's 19 home runs and 56 RBI lead the National League and his .993 OPS is second.
Castro now has 10 home runs in less than half a season; that matches his total from all of last year and is just four short of his career high, set in 2012. His .802 OPS would also be a career high if he can keep it up for a full year. He's clearly shaken off whatever was bothering him last year and seems poised for a breakout season. He went 3-for-6 Monday night.
Luis Valbuena continued his own hot hitting, going 2-for-4. I haven't been a fan of his in the past except as a utility player, but he is having the best year of his career, by a large margin. Does this represent a true bump in his abilities at age 28? It's possible, I suppose, and if so, Valbuena is either a valuable trade chip, or perhaps could stick around long enough to be a useful part of the next Cubs contender, whenever that is.
Both teams used 20 players in this marathon; the Marlins used all their relievers while the Cubs saved Ramirez, and both teams used all their position players except their backup catchers. Good thing, I guess, that the Cubs have a good-hitting pitcher like Wood, because if they had used Eli Whiteside to pinch-hit in that situation, this game might still be going.
This one was a lot of fun -- some good pitching performances, home runs to watch (even Stanton's was fun to watch, despite it going against the Cubs), and Wood's stunning double.
The Cubs have a chance to win another road series with a win Tuesday night, when Jeff Samardzija will face Anthony DeSclafani. It's been nearly a year since the Cubs have won two straight road series; they did it in Milwaukee and Seattle at the end of June, 2013.