The Cubs had just lost two in a row in their sojourn through the American League Central, so this victory came at a particularly good time.
And after being held to a single run by Twins pitching through nine, they broke through in the 10th with the key blow being a two-run single by Starlin Castro -- after he'd made a bad mental error the previous night.
See? He did lots of good things as a Cub.
Jon Lester pitched all right, after allowing a second-inning home run to Kurt Suzuki, who came into the game with a .297 slugging percentage. Suzuki doesn't have quite enough plate appearances to qualify, but if he did, that would rank 162nd of 167 qualified hitters this year. That's been one of the maddening things about Lester this year -- he can look great for a while, then let hitters who have no business doing anything against a supposed "ace" hit him hard.
But Lester settled down, at one point retiring 10 in a row, and the Cubs tied the game in the third on a ball sliced down the left-field line by Anthony Rizzo. That was a nice rally -- with two out and nobody on, Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler singled, and Rizzo's double scored Russell and put Fowler on third. But there they stood.
And then there the score stood, through the middle and late innings. The Cubs had two men on in the fourth and fifth, but double plays took them out of both of those. The second DP, on a line drive hit by Fowler, caught David Ross off second. Ross should have held closer to the base to make sure it got through, but the Twins made a good play.
The Cubs had two more runners on with two out in the sixth -- nothing doing. By the eighth inning, with outs getting in short supply, that's when things started getting interesting defensively for the Cubs. Byron Buxton led off the eighth with a walk off Pedro Strop, and then Brian Dozier sent Fowler almost to the warning track for a fly ball. Inexplicably, Buxton tried to take second -- I understand the concept, but the play was right in front of Fowler and he sent a perfect throw to Starlin Castro, whose foot got in the way of Buxton's hand sliding in as he applied the tag. Nicely done by Castro, and the double play helped the Cubs get out of that inning.
Then Eddie Rosario singled, again representing the lead run. Strop ran the count to 2-1 on Joe Mauer and then Ross fired the ball behind Rosario, picking him off to end the inning. It's the second time Ross has picked a runner off like that in recent weeks; the other one won the game for the Cubs June 3 against the Nationals at Wrigley. You can criticize Ross all you want, and yes, he's not hitting well. But Saturday he had two hits including a double (he now has seven doubles and five singles this year), and this pickoff. He clearly has value to Lester and the team.
The bottom of the ninth gave the Cubs a chance to show off defensively again. Mauer, at bat when the previous inning ended with the pickoff, led off with a walk. Mauer took off for second and was called safe on the field, but replays showed that his entire body came off the base briefly while Russell held the ball on him:
Great throw by Miguel Montero, who had replaced Ross, and heads-up play in the field by Russell. Jason Motte gave up a one-out single to Torii Hunter, but finished the inning scoreless, and the game headed to extras. The Cubs came into the game 6-3 in extra-inning games, but that broke down as 5-1 at home, 1-2 on the road, and it's tough to win in extras on the road.
As has happened to the Cubs several times this year, it was an error that helped do the Twins in. Dozier bobbled Fowler's ground ball (originally ruled a hit, changed later to an E-4) and Rizzo singled him to third. Kris Bryant lofted a fly ball to center, too shallow to score Fowler but the throw was not cut off, which allowed Rizzo to take second.
That prompted the Twins to intentionally walk Chris Coghlan to load the bases, which brought up Castro.
Starlin had a pair of walkoff hits at Wrigley recently and now he's added a game-winning hit on the road. He lofted a single to center on Blaine Boyer's first pitch that scored two runs. One out later, Chris Denorfia singled in a fourth run, giving Hector Rondon a three-run lead as he was going for his 12th save.
Nothing's ever easy, right? Eduardo Escobar singled with one out and after the second out, Dozier, who's one of the Twins' better hitters, poked a looping line drive that looked like it was going to land in left field.
But Starlin was there, leaping and grabbing it to end the game.
I realize this recap was a lot more straight play-by-play than usual, but I wanted to set up Castro's late-inning heroics, as well as some other key plays that show that the Cubs really had their heads in this game. It's really great that after having his mental error Friday night, Castro had a game like this one. Maybe this had something to do with it:
#Cubs Maddon on Castro: "He needs our support right now, he doesn't need our anger or dissent or whatever"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 20, 2015
Joe Maddon is right, and I trust him to be able to help do that for Castro. Whatever it was, it sure worked for Starlin Saturday afternoon, and the Cubs won one that looked like it might get away.
They evened up their record at 2-2 on this five-game trip and have a chance for meatloaf and a winning trip with a win Sunday. Jake Arrieta will take the mound against Kyle Gibson.