The Cubs took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth... and then things got interesting. Good thing they hadn't stopped scoring.
After this win, the Cubs were 15-13, still in second place in the N.L. Central, but now 6½ games behind the first-place Cardinals.
How many times have you seen this? A team's closer comes into the game in a non-save situation, made so by his team's scoring extra runs in the top of the ninth. And said closer proceeds to have a bad day and nearly blows the game.
That's what happened to Hector Rondon Friday night in Milwaukee. Fortunately, even after having his worst outing of the year, Rondon managed to get three outs before the Brewers could tie the score. The Cubs thus completed a 7-6 win over the Brewers, opening the weekend series on a high, if nervous, note. (Please understand I'm not criticizing Joe Maddon for using Rondon in that situation -- clearly, he had been warming up anticipating a save situation and it was the right call at the time.)
All of this happened after the Cubs had their biggest home-run outburst of the season. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a homer. Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler added home runs in the fourth, all of those three off starter Jimmy Nelson. And Starlin Castro hit one in the ninth, and that run turned out to be very, very important. All four homers were very long. Fowler's, Rizzo's, and Castro's all hit the second deck of seats in the outfield and Soler's was a majestic shot that hit above a railing far over center field. For Soler it was his first home run since he hit two (his only two, before Friday) against the Reds at Wrigley Field April 13.
Jason Hammel gave back the run scored on Fowler's homer in the bottom of the first, but after that settled down and had a very good day, throwing seven innings, allowing five hits and two runs and striking out eight. Here's where I'm going to quibble with Maddon a bit. Once again, I think he made a bit of an early hook. Though Hammel had gone seven innings, he had thrown only 90 pitches (61 for strikes). He'd thrown as many or more pitches in four of his other five starts. Why not let him start the eighth inning?
Instead, Zac Rosscup started the eighth and got into trouble after retiring the first two hitters. Ryan Braun doubled and Adam Lind walked, and Maddon summoned Pedro Strop. Again, this was the right move. Unfortunately, Strop had his third straight bad outing; Khris Davis doubled in Braun. Fortunately, a good throw from Soler held the slow-footed Lind at third. That would prove to be important. Strop did eventually get out of the inning by striking out Martin Maldonado.
With the bullpen overworked and a starting pitcher going well, I'd like to see Maddon give said starter a little more rope. It would have been different if, for example, Hammel was at 100 or more pitches. But just 91? Maddon probably used two more relievers than he needed to Friday night, and when Rondon got into trouble in the ninth, Phil Coke and Jason Motte had to quickly get ready... and another small criticism, I didn't think those two got up early enough. As it turned out they weren't needed, but it was clear Rondon was struggling and they probably should have started to loosen up after Braun's homer made it 7-6. Instead, two more singles went by until the pen started to stir.
I suppose I shouldn't complain too much because the Cubs won, but it certainly wasn't easy, and with Rondon throwing 32 pitches he might not be available tonight.
Now let's talk about the good stuff. It was nice to see the Cubs bring out the power bats Friday, the first time they had hit more than two home runs in a game this year. Rizzo also had an RBI single; Fowler doubled in addition to his home run, and thanks to Castro's homer in the ninth, Addison Russell got one more chance to extend his hitting streak and did, beating out an infield hit, going to second on a throwing error and then taking third on a heads-up play when he noticed no one was covering the base. I'm really starting to like Russell's aggressive, intelligent play both at the plate and in the field.
Also, the Cubs didn't let 15 strikeouts stop their offense. K's are just another out and when the Cubs weren't striking out, they were hitting, with 10 hits, six for extra bases. I think we could live with the strikeouts with that kind of offensive output.
Finally, I happened to notice early on that CSN Chicago was using "CHC" in its scorebox again. Here's a screenshot from the top of the second inning, just before Chris Coghlan made the last out of that inning:
When the inning was over I sent out this tweet:
@CSNChicago any chance we could get "CUBS" back in the scorebox instead of "CHC"?— Al Yellon (@bleedcubbieblue) May 9, 2015
It didn't take long. Here's a screenshot of the first batter (Maldonado) in the bottom of the second:
Not wanting to be ungrateful, I sent CSN this tweet:
@CSNChicago thank you!— Al Yellon (@bleedcubbieblue) May 9, 2015
Hey, what can I say. As someone who worked in TV for 30 years, I notice these sorts of things. And since the Cubs won the game, let's hope they keep the scorebox that way.
The Cubs will go for another series win Saturday night with Travis Wood facing Kyle Lohse.