Pirates closer Mark Melancon blew two save opportunities all year. This was one of them.
Pirates closer Mark Melancon allowed three runs in an outing just four times all year. This was one of them.
So this game, which included Edwin Jackson throwing a scoreless inning and posting a win, was most unusual. The lead changed hands three times, and the Cubs trailed by three going into the eighth inning. It was starting to feel like a special year already.The Cubs were 8-5 after this win, half a game behind the first-place Cardinals.
I don't know how many times I'm going to wind up writing these words this year, but here it is for the second time in a week: the 2015 Cubs have already provided more thrills and excitement in just 13 games than most of the recent-year Cubs posted all season.
Let's start by putting it this way. The 2013 and 2014 Cubs, combined, won one game they trailed entering the ninth inning (total record for those two years entering the ninth: 1-160).
This year's Cubs have already won three games they trailed entering the ninth, the latest Tuesday night, 9-8 over the Pirates. They came from behind three times to win this one, and had timely hitting and good relief pitching (that is, after some bad relief pitching that put them behind).
This is what good teams do. Seriously. As I noted the last time the Cubs came from behind in the ninth, the leaders in winning games like this in 2014 were teams that made the playoffs -- Athletics (eight), Giants (five), Tigers (five). And that's for an entire season -- the Cubs have won three of these games in the first 13 outings of this year!
This was an everyone-contributed kind of win, with five Cubs having multi-hit games. Starlin Castro has to be named the top star among stars. He homered in the sixth and then bounced a bases-loaded single through the Pirates infield in the ninth to tie the game at 8. Welington Castillo, who also homered, off Tony Watson in the eighth when the Cubs trailed 8-5, then hit an infield ground ball that scored Kris Bryant with the eventual game-winner. Bryant had two more RBI in this game and now has six in five games. He's tied for third on the team even though he's played eight fewer games than Castro (who leads with 10) and Jorge Soler (nine).
That ninth-inning rally off one of the league's better closers in Mark Melancon was mighty impressive. Anthony Rizzo floated a single to center and Soler pounded a double off the center-field wall. Bryant then took a very close pitch for ball four, and again, as I've written before: in past years, I'd have been thinking, "In what interesting and creative way are the Cubs going to blow this opportunity?"
Not with this team, which has shown incredible resilience. I am actually starting to expect these players to cash in on opportunities like this, and they did. They might have scored more runs if not for a searing line drive from Addison Russell that was snagged on a nice play by Jung-Ho Kang at shortstop. Russell was 0-for-5 in his major-league debut, handled a couple of chances at second base routinely, and I'm sure he's just happy his team won.
Backing up to earlier in the game, Travis Wood threw reasonably well but was lifted for Brian Schlitter after allowing a leadoff walk in the sixth. Can I see a show of hands of people who have had enough of Brian Schlitter? I'll wait.
Schlitter did get Pirates hitters to hit the ball on the ground; unfortunately, several of those ground balls got through for hits and by the time Joe Maddon pulled him for Phil Coke, the Bucs had a 5-4 lead.
I'm beginning to wonder about Jason Motte, too. He had decent velocity again but also had trouble locating, and gave up a three-run double to Kang that gave the Pirates an 8-5 lead. The Cubs had sneaked across a run in the top of the seventh, and I want to point out that again, as they did the last couple of games, they scored this run after two out and no one on base. The Cubs were only 4-for-17 with RISP in this game, but obviously all four hits came in critical situations.
And... how about that Edwin Jackson? (Never thought I'd ever write those words.) This was the first fairly high-leverage situation for Jackson, coming into the game in the bottom of the eighth with the Cubs trailing by two. If he could hold the Pirates down, I thought, maybe the Cubs would still have a shot at this one.
Jackson did his job, inducing a pair of groundouts and striking out Josh Harrison. He has now faced 18 batters this year and retired 16 of them, allowing just a pair of singles. That's right, no walks. He's thrown 65 pitches, 41 for strikes. Yes, Edwin Jackson has done this. Maybe there's something to the idea that he was overthinking preparing for starts and having him inserted into the game on (relatively) short notice, with just enough warmup to come in to relieve, is the way to go. I'd certainly much rather see him pitch now than Schlitter, for example. For his effort, Jackson posted the individual pitcher "win," and I mention that because at 1-0, it is the first time in his Cubs career that Jackson's record in an individual season has been over .500.
Baby steps, right?
Hector Rondon disposed of the Pirates uneventfully in the ninth for his third save.
The Pirates are a pretty good team and going into this series I'd have been satisfied with a split, and the Cubs have now guaranteed themselves that. But why stop there? The 8-5 Cubs are now three games over .500 for the first time in the Ricketts family ownership era -- last time was the final day of the 2009 season, as they finished 83-78 that year.
Since the Cubs won the game this is kind of an academic exercise, but I thought the replay-review crew blew it on this call on Bryant trying to score in the seventh:
To me, it looked like Bryant's leg touched the plate a fraction of a tick before Francisco Cervelli tagged him. The video crew disagreed, saying "Call stands," meaning they felt they didn't have enough evidence to overturn Joe West's call on the field. Not sure what West was looking at -- he appeared to be in proper position to make the call. In any case, it didn't matter since the Cubs won the game anyway.
Anyway, I meant what I said in the headline. The future's here and perhaps faster than any of us had dared hope. Not only are the "kids" in the major leagues, they are producing, and they're all so young -- as noted elsewhere, Russell is the youngest player in the National League (Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays is the youngest in the American League).
The Cubs will go for their third straight win and a series victory Wednesday evening. Jason Hammel takes the mound for the Cubs against Vance Worley.