Kris Bryant homered twice to help the Cubs to victory in this game over the Marlins, but the real story was the holiday post-game fireworks, a Wrigley Field first.
The Cubs remained 8½ games behind the Cardinals, and 2½ games behind the Pirates, as all three teams won on this night.
Somewhere, Bill Veeck is smiling.
The man who both planted the ivy on Wrigley Field's brick bleacher wall and created the major leagues' first exploding scoreboard would have loved the postgame fireworks show at Wrigley Saturday night -- some of the fireworks launched from the 78-year-old scoreboard that Veeck himself helped install.
You'll note this story's headline reads "Kris Bryant Fireworks," and no, I didn't leave out the word "and." That's because Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant launched some explosives of his own. He hit home runs in the first two innings of Saturday's game. His six RBI, a career high, helped the Cubs to a 7-2 win over the Marlins. The second homer, a second-inning grand slam off Jarred Cosart, made Bryant the first Cubs rookie to hit two slams in a season since Billy Williams in 1961 -- and we're only halfway through this year.
The other story of this game was starting pitcher Clayton Richard, just acquired from the Pirates, who was making his first big-league start since 2013. He's been recovering from various shoulder issues as well as thoracic outlet syndrome, which has affected quite a number of pitchers in recent years, including Josh Beckett and the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia.
Richard threw six credible innings, though he did allow a fair number of baserunners. Through six he lad allowed seven hits, but no walks, and recorded 10 outs on ground balls. The latter number would have been larger except for a pair of errors, one by Bryant on a possible double-play ball, the other by Addison Russell. Neither had any impact on the final score, though I note it seems as if Russell's pressing a bit both in the field and at the plate. He has just four hits in his last 39 at-bats.
When Richard ran out of gas in the seventh, issuing a walk and allowing a double, he was lifted after 91 pitches (62 strikes) to a warm ovation.
Richard throws with more of a sidearm motion than most pitchers I've seen in recent years. Whether that's a result of the shoulder issues or not, I don't know, but he seems to be effective with it and throws a heavy sinker that resulted in all those ground balls. That can be very useful in a ballpark like Wrigley Field. He's certainly earned at least one more start -- and it will come up against his original team, the White Sox, next Friday if the Cubs stay on rotation.
The Cubs looked like they were breaking out of their recent batting woes with the seven-run outburst over the first two innings, but they managed only one baserunner the rest of the game. Even that was something to be noted: Anthony Rizzo was hit by the first pitch he saw leading off the fifth. That was the 17th time Rizzo's been hit this year, which ties a club record that was set in 1905 by Frank Chance. It's been equaled one other time, by Marlon Byrd in 2010. We are, as noted, just halfway through this season, so Rizzo has a chance to be hit over 30 times this year. That's been done just seven times in major-league history, last in 2004 by Craig Wilson of the Pirates. You all know Rizzo stands very close to the plate and seems willing to sacrifice his body to improve his on-base percentage, which now stands at .405, third in the National League behind Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt.
The seven runs was the most the Cubs had scored in almost two weeks, since the 8-0 blanking of the Twins on June 21, although they have now scored six or more in two of their last three games. It would be nice to think that this represents an awakening of the offense. That might be helped with this news:
Jorge Soler, sidelined since June 3 with a sprained left ankle, will be activated from the disabled list on Sunday. Soler played nine innings on Friday for Triple-A Iowa, his fourth rehab game. He was 2-for-13, but manager Joe Maddon said he wasn’t that concerned about the statistics.
"I don’t worry about that stuff," Maddon said Saturday. "To me, it’s a matter of if he’s healthy and he’s seeing the ball, what does his timing look like, those are the kind of things you’re trying to get from the guys down there."
There's been no official announcement yet on this, but I would expect that Matt Szczur will be optioned to Iowa to make room for Soler on the 25-man roster. The team appears to like Mike Baxter off the bench, and since June 11 Baxter is 12-for-40 (.300) with two home runs.
A scary moment in the game came in the seventh when a sharply-hit foul ball by Russell hit third-base coach Gary Jones, who immediately fell to the ground. That created fears he'd been hit in the head; fortunately, after a few minutes he got up and seemed fine. The ball actually hit him in the elbow, and after the game Joe Maddon could joke about it:
#Cubs 3b coach Gary Jones is ok. Maddon impressed Jones toothpick never left his mouth
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 5, 2015
Here are a couple of short videos I took during the fireworks display at Wrigley after Saturday's game:
The Cubs have a chance to win their second straight series Sunday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks will pitch against Mat Latos.