The Cubs began to show that they could play up to the level of the Cardinals in this split doubleheader sweep.
In this game, they came from behind with a three-run seventh inning to post the win, even with a bit of shaky relief work in the ninth.
The Cubs ended the day 7½ games behind the Cardinals and three games in back of the second-place Pirates.
You've heard those kinds of lines before, but in this case Russell wasn't even born yet, in fact more than a year away from arrival on Earth when the Cubs took two from the Cardinals June 8, 1992 in St. Louis. (Interesting side note: in Game 1 of that DH, Cubs pitcher Jim Bullinger homered on the first major-league pitch he saw. He's one of only eight pitchers to ever do that.)
Russell delivered a key single in the Cubs' seventh-inning rally in Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader. It tied the game and the Cubs went on to a three-run inning and defeated the Cardinals 5-3 to move to within 7½ games of first place for the first time since June 24.
This one started out like the other two games in the series, as a pitchers' duel, this time between pitchers both making their third major-league starts. Dallas Beeler gave up just one single through three innings and got the Cubs' first hit himself, a double off the left-field wall in the third inning. Beeler got into a bit of trouble in the fourth but got out of it, and the Cubs took the lead in the fifth on a Starlin Castro double and single by Taylor Teagarden, who was making his first start as a Cub.
Beeler then ran out of gas in the sixth inning, when he had to be removed after 86 pitches with two runners on base. James Russell and Justim Grimm got out of the inning, but not until after the Cardinals had tied the game on a fielder's choice. It didn't help that Grimm threw a pair of wild pitches, helping Jason Heyward advance to third.
St. Louis threatened off Travis Wood in the seventh, but did not score, and that set up the Cubs' seventh-inning rally that started innocently enough with a walk to pinch-hitter Miguel Montero. Another pinch-hitter, Jonathan Herrera, singled and then Russell poked his single down the right-field line. Cardinals pitcher Seth Maness got himself tossed for arguing that the ball was foul, but video of the play (sorry, no embed permitted at the time I wrote this) clearly shows the ball fair just inside first base.
The Cardinals might have gotten out of the inning after Maness was replaced by Kevin Siegrist. Siegrist got Dexter Fowler to hit a comebacker that might have been an inning-ending double play ball, but he threw the ball into center field, allowing the lead run to score. You know, in recent weeks that's been a Cardinals trademark, taking advantage of opposition misplays. So nice to see the Cardinals make a mistake like that against the Cubs.
Anthony Rizzo followed with a sacrifice fly to complete the scoring in the seventh. The Cubs added another run in the eighth on a Jorge Soler double, an infield out and another sac fly, this one by Castro. Those last two runs were not only important for the game, but for the Cubs in general, as they have had a lot of trouble bringing runs home from third with less than two out. Two sac flies in one game is a good step forward. The Cubs were just 2-for-9 with RISP, but those two sac flies were key.
Jason Motte, who appears to have been made closer if not officially named such, wasn't sharp in Game 2 after posting the last two outs easily in Game 1. He gave up singles to the first two hitters he faced, and light-hitting Cardinals backup catcher Tony Cruz, usually a fine DP candidate, singled in a run. Fortunately, Motte then got the last two outs for his fifth save and a Cubs sweep.
Earlier in the game, Rizzo had set the club record for being hit by a pitch when he took a Cooney curveball off his body for the 18th time he'd been plunked this year. The old team record, 17, was set 110 years ago by Frank Chance and tied in 2010 by Marlon Byrd. Rizzo is thus on "pace" to be hit 35 times this year, which would be exceptionally rare. In all of major-league history only two players have been hit that many times in one season: future Cubs manager Don Baylor in 1986 (35), and the all-time record holder, Ron Hunt, who was hit 50 times in 1971. Even if he doesn't get there, Rizzo seems likely to be hit 30 times. That's been done only seven times in history, last by Craig Wilson of the Pirates in 2004.
Now, to the other oddity about Tuesday's nightcap -- the weather. The temperature at game time was 58 degrees. I can't remember ever seeing a game-time temp in the 50s in July. Many people -- myself included -- were bundled up in hoodies, in an evening that felt more like late September than midsummer. The weather this baseball season has been nothing short of bizarre.
But, that's simply a footnote to a long but satisfying day at Wrigley Field for both fans, and I'm sure, for Cubs players. The last time the Cubs swept a doubleheader from the Cardinals at Wrigley Field was October 5, 1991, the tail end of a season where both teams were pretty mediocre (Cubs finished 77-83, Cardinals 84-78). More is at stake this year, and the sweep raised the Cubs' mark against St. Louis this year to 4-8, which still isn't good, but better than 2-8, obviously.
They'll get a chance to make it 5-8 and win this series Wednesday night. It won't be easy, as Cardinals starter Michael Wacha is tough and having a good year. But then, so is Jason Hammel. I look forward to another low-scoring affair.