I'll bet you will never again be as happy to see Javier Baez strike out as you were in the 12th inning Sunday afternoon.
Baez, who also had two hits, swung and missed at a 3-2 curveball in the dirt from Rays reliever Cesar Ramos and scampered to first base with one out and Ryan Sweeney on second base. Sweeney had led the inning off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Chris Coghlan.
The Rays then put five men in the infield with Anthony Rizzo batting -- and four of them were shaded to the right side, a modified version of the Rizzo Shift. Another wild pitch later, Baez was on second base, and then Rizzo laced a ball over the head of the remaining Rays outfielder in right-center and the Cubs had a 3-2, 12-inning win over the Rays, their first win over the franchise from Tampa Bay since 2003.
All of this happened long after starters Travis Wood and Alex Cobb had battled to a 1-1 tie after six innings, the Rays' run being unearned because of a bad throw by Baez. The Rays took a 2-1 lead in the seventh after ... sigh... Rick Renteria had to, just had to, go to the platoon-advantage reliever after Wood had already gone to the mound and warmed up for the seventh. It's this kind of unnecessary delay that I think MLB is going to have to deal with, eventually.
And all this "strategy" didn't help -- pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer singled off reliever Neil Ramirez, and two batters later the Rays had a run. Fortunately, that was the last run Tampa Bay scored. The Cubs came up with a nice rally in the bottom of the seventh after the first two men were routine outs. Ryan Sweeney, who had been double-switched into the game on the second pitching change of the top of the inning, doubled to left-center and Coghlan laced a triple down the right-field line.
That's when the Cubs made the game a strikeout-fest. After having struck out just six times over the first seven innings, Cubs hitters struck out 10 times from the eighth through the 11th inning -- that's 10 of 12 outs, the only other outs were an infield popup and Junior Lake being caught stealing after reaching on a beautifully-placed bunt in the 11th. Just how many strikeouts is this? Why, it helped set a franchise record:
ESPN peeps say according to Elias Sports Bureau first time in modern era (1900) Cubs have struck out 15+ times in back to back games— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 10, 2014
Carrie left the year off that tweet -- and I'm not sure what year it's from, can't seem to locate it. (It's not from this year, obviously.) In any case, the Cubs now have a team record... that they're probably not proud of. But that last strikeout, the one that Baez reached base on, wound up winning the game for the Cubs.
The bullpen did an excellent job after Ramirez allowed the second Rays run in the seventh. Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright and Carlos Villanueva combined for 5⅓ scoreless innings with just two hits allowed.
The Cubs have now played six extra-inning games in their last 12 games, for a total of 18 extra innings over those six extra-inning affairs... thus a total of two complete additional games over that 12-game span. Sunday's game was also the 16th extra-inning game of the year for the Cubs; they are 7-9 in those games. The team record for extra-inning games in a season is 23, and the Cubs have done that three times: 1976, 1991 and 1992. With more than a quarter of the season left (46 games remaining), they've got a real shot at breaking that mark.
This one was fun, lots of fun, and it certainly put a dent in the Rays' playoff hopes. Beyond the key strikeout, Baez had several good at-bats and his two singles might actually spread out the defense against him. They've been playing him up the middle, and if he can learn to pull the ball, he might have a chance to hit the ball all over the field.
All of this happened on yet another gorgeous summer afternoon with the wind blowing in, and in fact, the wind knocked down at least one ball hit by a Rays batter that wound up being caught by Coghlan in left field. You don't often see northeast winds that strong at Wrigley in August, so thank the polar vortex, or something, in part, for this win.
The Cubs did a nice job of matching their 1980s uniforms, even the "stirrups," which by then had become stripes on the socks rather than real stirrups. And I know they were "fauxback" uniforms, but I loved the Rays' interpretation of what they might have looked like in the 1980s. Tacky, which is a perfect representation of the decade.
The Cubs open a four-game series Monday against their division rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers, who are also in the middle of a playoff race. It'd be nice to spoil that for them. Jake Arrieta leads off the pitching rotation against the Brew Crew, and he'll face Yovani Gallardo, at 7:05 CT Monday evening.