The Cubs had lost to the Padres in the opener of this series, and blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning of this one, with Hector Rondon being one of the culprits (Phil Coke, the other, wouldn't be too much longer for this pitching staff). Things could have begun to get ugly.
Thankfully, Starlin Castro produced 11th-inning heroics to win the game.
The Cubs were 6-4 after this win, a game behind the first-place Cardinals.
Wow, where do I even start this one?
How about at the end? Starlin Castro poked a single through a five-man infield with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th and the Cubs defeated the Padres 7-6 Saturday afternoon on a very chilly day at Wrigley Field. The Cubs' winning rally was off Craig Kimbrel, who hardly ever gives up runs. This was the 301st appearance of Kimbrel's career. He's allowed one or more runs in just 41 of those, and hadn't allowed any runs in 11 straight appearances dating back to last year.
There's going to be a fair amount of second-guessing in this recap, so be prepared. The obvious first point I'm going to make is that the game should never have gotten to extra innings in the first place. The Cubs' bullpen, so solid so far this year, disastrously gave up a four-run lead in the ninth inning, and you can start seeing why the Tigers so easily let Phil Coke go. He allowed a pair of hits to start the ninth, and then the usually-reliable Hector Rondon had one of his rare bad outings, giving up four hits and two runs, the last of which tied the game.
Okay, that's going to happen sometimes even with the best of closers -- witness, Kimbrel's failure during this game.
But Rondon and Coke shouldn't have been anywhere near this game. I'm going to second-guess Joe Maddon and wonder why he pulled Kyle Hendricks after six inning and just 80 pitches. After a shaky first inning in which Kris Bryant committed his first big-league error and Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer, Hendricks was absolutely dominant. He allowed only two other hits and struck out eight, which is a career high. Yes, his batting-order spot came up in the bottom of the sixth. But Miguel Montero had just homered to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. With Hendricks so dominant and cruising, I think I would have given him another inning.
Presuming he continued pitching that well, that would have left Jason Motte and Pedro Strop for the eighth and ninth, instead of the seventh and eighth, and maybe I'm writing this recap an hour earlier than I am.
Second-guessing is easy, of course. But it really seemed like a no-brainer to let Hendricks go another inning.
The Cubs appeared to have broken the game open in the seventh when Montero hit his second homer of the game. It was the fifth two-homer game of his career, but first in five years, and welcome to see after Montero got off to such a slow start this season.
A lot of credit for this win, beyond the successful 11th-inning rally against Kimbrel, goes to Zac Rosscup. Rosscup threw two solid innings in the 10th and 11th, allowing a harmless single and striking out a pair. He hasn't allowed a run this year in three appearances and looks more solid every time he goes out there. That's a real plus to have someone who picks up the team when usually-good pitchers fail, especially since the next pitching selections were going to be Brian Schlitter and/or Edwin Jackson.
Let's talk Bryant again for a bit. Bryant shrugged off his first-inning error by walking three times and also singling in a run, for his first big-league hit and RBI. Then he beat out a key infield hit in the 11th when Alexi Amarista momentarily double-clutched Bryant's ground ball. Every one of Bryant's at-bats was good; he saw a ton of pitches, showed good strike-zone judgment and fouled off pitches he couldn't quite reach. Even his one out of the day, a fly to right, was on a pitch he just barely missed hitting out of the ballpark.
Bryant is doing the same thing in two games at Wrigley that he did all spring training, and by that I mean: When he's at bat, you want to put down everything you're doing and watch. I have no doubt he'll hit his first big-league home run soon.
Castro went 3-for-6 with two RBI including the game-winner, and Anthony Rizzo had a pair of hits and also a pair of steals. The latter isn't something you'd expect from Rizzo, who had his first two steals of the year and first career two-steal game. His career high is just six, but if Joe Maddon thinks Rizzo can run in particular situations, I could see him swiping 10 or so bases this year. The 11th-inning steal turned out to be very important in the game-winning rally.
Jorge Soler went just 1-for-6 with three strikeouts but also made a nice running catch just in front of the wall in deep right-center field, probably saving a run and thus, the game. So, this was again a team win, with contributions from unlikely sources when players who normally step up didn't. That's a really good sign going forward, I think; you have to have all 25 men ready to contribute and that's one of the things Joe Maddon does best with his roster.
Saturday, there were no complaints about the umpiring, though as Len & JD noted, on Rizzo's steal in the 11th, the pitch to Bryant could have been a called strike, according to the pitch-trax box on the CSN Chicago screen. That's a fortunate thing for the Cubs, not a "make-up call" but simply one on which they got one to go in their favor.
Each team has won a one-run game in this series and thus the teams have scored an equal number of runs, 11 in two games, Saturday's game featuring three home runs even though the wind was blowing in strongly off Lake Michigan. Weather permitting -- and based on this forecast it might not permit, and the Iowa Cubs have already been postponed for Saturday evening -- the two teams will play the rubber match of this set Sunday afternoon, with Jon Lester scheduled to face former Cub Andrew Cashner.
Think we can squeeze any more excitement out of this series?