Once the calendar turned to September, the Cubs did very well in Busch Stadium, winning two of three in a regular-season set, then splitting a pair in the division series.
Before that? Not so much. The Cubs were riding a four-game losing streak -- two to the Brewers and the first two of a four-game set against the Cardinals -- before winning this game.
Even then, it didn't come easy. They led the entire way, but had to hang on with the tying and winning runs on base in the ninth inning. There was some amusement, too, as you'll see.
After this game, the Cubs were 14-12, still in second place, but now 5½ games behind the first-place Cardinals.
Since the Cubs defeated the Cardinals 6-5 Wednesday night, we can look back at the following and not worry about any of it:
- Errors by Jon Lester and Addison Russell that led to three of the five Cardinals runs being unearned.
- Nearly blowing a multiple-run lead in the sixth inning.
- The third straight run-allowing outing from Pedro Strop, who is tied with seven other relievers for the major-league lead in appearances (15).
- This. I mean... what is this? (Click on the GIF for more)
Like I said: Since the Cubs won we can laugh at that play, and the look on Anthony Rizzo's face after Starlin Castro did that is the funniest thing about it. Now, on to the highlights (and lowlights) of this win.
The Cubs took another first-inning lead. Dexter Fowler led off with a single and was picked off. The Cubs challenged and lost -- it looked like Fowler was safe to me, but the reviewers apparently felt there wasn't enough conclusive evidence. Still, the Cubs scored two runs on a walk by Chris Coghlan (who went to second on a groundout) and singles by Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Castro. The Cardinals also challenged a play in the first inning when Peter Bourjos was caught stealing. Again, it looked like the challenge was valid (I hate to admit that, but that's what it seemed), but the review crew said "call stands."
It marks the first time in any game since the review system began that both managers lost their ability to challenge in the first inning.
The Cardinals chipped away off Lester, one run of which was a long home run by Jhonny Peralta, but every time they did, the Cubs came back with more scoring of their own. Rizzo hit his team-leading fifth home run in the third inning, and by the time the game arrived at the sixth, the Cubs had a three-run lead. What could go wrong?
The first thing that happened in the bottom of the sixth was Joe Maddon's second ejection of the season. He had been upset at some of D.J. Reyburn's ball-and-strike calls, in particular one that looked really bad on a strike-three call to Jorge Soler in the previous inning. I'm going to post here this rather long quote from Maddon from this Tribune article because I think it shows how valuable it is to have a manager like Maddon:
"I had enough," Maddon said. "The whole game it was egregiously bad. You cannot permit that to happen. We're trying to ascend. And we're not going to take that from anybody, anywhere at any time. You play a veteran club with a veteran battery and you have guys that barely have a month in the big leagues. I'm not going to take it. Our guys deserve equal treatment. "I'll further add that (Kris) Bryant, (Jorge) Soler and (Addison) Russell handled the moment extremely well. I'm proud of the fact they didn't turn on an umpire. They didn't say anything disrespectful or act like a bunch of babies. "I'm not going to put up with anything. We're trying to get something done here, and I'm not going to permit our guys to get shortchanged, based on the fact they haven't been here a long time."
Look at how he gives credit to his young players, and also how he went out there to show them he had their back. He's making an accusation here that may very well be true -- that teams that have "been there," like the Cardinals, might get somewhat better treatment from umpires than young, up-and-coming teams like the Cubs. I really like what Maddon did here -- at one point, Len Kasper noted on TV, lip-reading, that Maddon said "That one was a foot outside" to Reyburn -- and I love the way he's sending the message that the Cubs are due just as much respect as any other team.
Lester made a poor decision to try to field a comebacker (he probably should have let it go through, where Castro was in position to field it) that could have been the third out of that sixth inning. Instead, after that a pair of hits scored two runs to make it 5-4. Overall, though, Lester had a good outing, allowing only one earned run in seven innings and striking out six.
The Cubs scored what turned out to be the winning run in the top of the eighth when Kris Bryant led off with a double and Soler singled him in. That was important because Strop gave the run right back. He hit Jason Heyward and walked Yadier Molina, and then pinch-hitter Kolten Wong singled in a run.
So that made it nervous time when Hector Rondon came in to pitch for the first time since last Friday, when he saved Lester's and the Cubs' most recent victory. Bourjos singled and went to third on an infield out (he'd been running on the play). Rondon couldn't find the zone against Matt Holliday and finally, ball four was thrown to him intentionally. That put the potential winning run on base, something that goes against "the book." (Maddon might have been ejected, but I'm pretty sure he was still running things from his clubhouse office.)
Rondon struck out Mark Reynolds and then Peralta hit a sharp grounder to Castro.
Castro briefly bobbled the ball. What else could go wrong, I thought.
He picked it up and threw to Russell for the force on Holliday and the Cubs had broken their four-game losing streak (and the Cardinals' eight-game winning streak).
That was a very satisfying win. The Cubs showed they can play the Cardinals tough and overcome bad umpiring and bad fielding and win anyway. (I note that the Cubs also wore the traditional road grays for the first time in 2015 and won. Perhaps they should do this again.)
And now, they have a chance to win two games in 24 hours and leave St. Louis with a split, which is something I think we'd all be happy with. Jake Arrieta will pitch against John Lackey.