There was threatening weather around the Chicago area on this day, but they managed to get this one in despite the dark skies and a brief power outage... actual electric power, not Cubs power, as Kris Bryant's two homers helped the Cubs defeat Clayton Kershaw even with Tsuyoshi Wada on the mound.
Go figure, right? The Cubs' third win in a row made them 38-30, and they picked up half a game on both the Cardinals and Pirates, who were idle. They trailed St. Louis by 6½ games and were just half a game behind the second-place Pirates.
Good thing it was, because otherwise we'd have missed quite a number of interesting things that happened at Wrigley Field, the best of which was the Cubs' 4-2 win over the Dodgers to open their four-game series.
The Cubs might need another starting pitcher. Tsuyoshi Wada retired the first six Dodgers he faced, then gave up a home run to light-hitting Enrique Hernandez and a single to A.J. Ellis. An entourage of Cubs management and training staff then hastened to the mound and Wada left:
Cramping in left deltoid muscle for Wada. #Cubs will evaluate him again tomorrow.— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) June 23, 2015
Whether this is a serious injury or something that just happened in the thick, humid Monday-night air is yet to be determined. Travis Wood, perhaps auditioning to take Wada's spot in the rotation if the latter is out for any lengthy period of time, threw quite well. He immediately turned a Clayton Kershaw bunt attempt into a double play and eventually got out of the inning, even after a pair of walks, when David Ross picked Yasiel Puig off second base. Wood completed 3⅓ innings with just one hit (though three walks) allowed, with four strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Cubs took the lead back on Kris Bryant's first big-league opposite-field home run, a blast that landed about halfway up the new right-field bleachers, with Dexter Fowler on base. Unfortunately, Fowler sprained his ankle when he reached base and had to leave the game two innings later. Hopefully, that one won't be serious, either. The homer was hit on a curveball. According to ESPN, that was the first homer allowed by Kershaw on a curveball in nearly a year -- he'd thrown over 600 curveballs since his last homer allowed on such a pitch.
The Cubs nursed that 2-1 lead into the seventh inning, with Kershaw still on the mound. Matt Szczur, just recalled to replace Kyle Schwarber on the 25-man roster and placed into the starting lineup likely because Joe Maddon didn't want to start Chris Coghlan against Kershaw, hit his first home run of the season to extend the lead to 3-1. Kershaw threw a very good game, allowing just four hits and striking out nine, but the Cubs played long ball with him. It's just the second time this year and 14th time in 224 career starts that Kershaw has allowed more than one home run in a game, and the first time a Cubs team has hit more than one off him in a single outing. In fact, before Monday night, no Cub had ever homered against him at Wrigley, and the only Cub to ever homer off Kershaw was Alfonso Soriano (twice: July 8, 2010 and May 2, 2011, both at Dodger Stadium). Kershaw has now allowed 11 homers this year -- he gave up only nine all of 2014.
Szczur's homer came after dire warnings of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in the area buzzed through the Wrigley bleachers. Though the storms were about 80 miles from Chicago and not headed in Wrigley's direction, they did produce this weird-looking sky behind left field (click to embiggen):
And this pretty sunset (click to embiggen):
The storms might, or might not, have been responsible for this (click to embiggen):
With one out in the bottom of the sixth and Bryant at bat, about 25 percent of Wrigley's lights went out. After quite a bit of discussion between the umpires and both managers and a 10-minute delay, play continued. Joe Maddon opted to play the game under protest, and he explained why afterward:
"I didn't like the idea we had to play against a guy who is really good," manager Joe Maddon said. "You have to see spin, you have to be able to read everything. I did not like the fact we had to play without all the lights on (full power). Just be a little more patient and wait for the lights. That was my argument."
I can tell you that, at least from my perspective in left field, most of the field was still fairly well-lit. Only the deepest part of center field was a bit dimmer than usual. The lights seemed to be about the same brightness as you'd get at a spring-training night game, certainly bright enough to play. Was Maddon engaging in gamesmanship?
The delay tested Kershaw's patience. "My legs are getting heavy," Kershaw told reporters. "I wanted an answer. Obviously, I wanted to keep going. But if they were going to wait for however long, just tell me and I'll go sit down. I don't know if Joe was trying to do that on purpose or what."
Whatever the reason, the lights came back on fairly quickly and, with the Cubs winning the game, the protest was moot. Protested games are rare these days; I recall seeing this done fairly frequently back in the 1960s and 1970s, but not now. Supposedly, the only basis for a protest now is a misinterpretation of the rules. You likely recall the Giants' protest of last summer's Tarpgate game, but that was done after the game had been declared a Cubs victory and eventually everyone agreed that game should have been resumed, which it was. Since the Cubs won the game, the protest is moot and no further action will be taken
The Cubs completed their scoring with Bryant's second homer of the game and 10th of the season in the eighth. That made Monday's game the first multi-homer game of Bryant's career. I'm pretty sure we'll see more of those.
Maddon mixed up his late-inning relievers Monday night, using Pedro Strop in the seventh and Hector Rondon in the eighth before calling on Jason Motte to save the game. Motte didn't seem as sharp as usual; he allowed a homer to Joc Pederson and a two-out single before ending it with a groundout. It finally did rain at Wrigley for a brief time in the eighth inning, a weird little shower that rained hard briefly, then let up, then poured hard again before fizzling out. The Cubs and the umpires must have known that would pass by quickly, because the grounds crew was never even summoned to stand by.
The Cubs' third straight win brought them to a season-high eight games over .500. The last time a Cubs team was nine games over was August 4, 2009. They can do that with a win tonight. Sure, Zack Greinke, who's having a great year, is going for the Dodgers, but as I've mentioned before, he's got an 11.57 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley and his opponent, Jason Hammel, is also pitching well this season.