Friday night's game gets my nomination for "Weirdest Game of 2014," and, happily, the Cubs came out on top of the Brewers 6-4 anyway despite their starting pitcher not being able to throw strikes, some sketchy defense and a "free play" balk call where it appeared that neither Cubs manager Rick Renteria nor his players understood how the balk rule worked.
Let's start at the beginning with Eric Jokisch, who was making his first major-league start. One of Jokisch's strengths for most of his minor-league career was good control. This year at Triple-A Iowa, he walked just 31 in 158⅓ innings and had a 1.7 BB/9 ratio.
It seemed as if he walked 31 guys Friday night, but it was just four in four innings; he wound up with 86 pitches (41 strikes) on the night. Nervous during his first big-league start? Maybe, but he's going to have to do better if he wants a shot at the 2015 rotation (or bullpen).
As for the strange non-balk that eventually cost the Cubs a run, here's the best explanation I found on the play that resulted in the ejection of manager Rick Renteria:
The Cubs manager was ejected for the sixth time this season while arguing with second-base umpire Jeff Nelson after a ground ball to third went for an infield hit a split second after Nelson called a balk during the Cubs’ 6-4 victory Friday night. Luis Valbuena came up with Carlos Gomez’s hot shot to third but had no play at first because Anthony Rizzo — reacting to Nelson’s call — didn’t cover the bag. Baserunner Jean Segura went from second to third on the play. The rules allow for the Brewers essentially to get a free play. Had Gomez hit into an out, the Brewers would have been given the choice of accepting the balk and sending Gomez back to the plate. Because the runner and the batter advanced, the balk call was wiped out and the play stood. "I heard, ‘Balk,’ " Rizzo said. "I thought it was dead. … Learn something every day. Thankfully, it didn’t cost us the game."
Meanwhile, the Cubs were hitting and scoring plenty, and the good news there is that a lot of it was from players who will be a big part of the team's future. Javier Baez went 3-for-5, his second three-hit game, and drove in a pair of runs. Jorge Soler also had two RBI, and Chris Coghlan, who has been a pleasant surprise this year, homered to lead off the game and scored three runs. making Jokisch's rough outing a footnote to this game instead of the lead story.
Since Jokisch didn't complete five innings, it was "scorer's discretion" on who to award the individual pitching win. That went to Neil Ramirez, the only Cubs pitcher to not allow a baserunner, except for Hector Rondon, and since Rondon saved the game, he couldn't get a "win." Rondon posted his 28th save, very efficiently with 11 pitches. That's an excellent save total considering he wasn't officially anointed "closer" until May. It's also his 11th save with 11 or fewer pitches. Perhaps he can help teach Jokisch how to throw strikes.
The win clinched the season series for the Cubs over the Brewers, the first time they've won that season set since 2010. It's also the first time a Cubs team has won 72 games since 2010. Progress! If the Cubs can win one more game this weekend, it would make 2014 the first time they have ever won that many games over the Brewers. In fact, a Cubs team has won more than 10 games over a team from Milwaukee just once -- in 1963, when the Cubs went 12-6 against the Milwaukee Braves. Something to shoot for, I'd say.
They'll go for that Saturday night with Tsuyoshi Wada facing Wily Peralta. Remember, game time is an hour earlier than Friday -- 6:10 CT.