After losing the first game of this doubleheader, a makeup for a rained-out game in April, the second-game win was welcome, especially after the Cubs went down 5-0 in the second inning.
This series will take tomorrow off for New Year's Day and will resume on Saturday.
I've written what you are about to read on many previous occasions, but it bears repeating this morning: Watch baseball long enough and you'll wind up seeing things you have never seen before.
I'm repeating this because Wednesday night's 6-5 Cubs win over the Reds, giving them a split of the split doubleheader, had enough "never seen before" to last an entire season, if not an entire lifetime.
I hardly know where to begin, so how about the beginning. Going into the second inning, I thought, "Well -- we're ahead of Game 1, anyway, since the Reds didn't score four runs in the first inning."
Whoops. The Reds had decided to wait a bit to spring their multi-run rally, scoring not four but five runs in the second inning, helped along by a critical error by Starlin Castro when the score was merely 1-0. Four runs later the Cubs trailed 5-0 and JD's pregame TV suggestion that "Dallas Beeler could be auditioning for the fifth rotation spot" looked pretty lame.
I was morosely contemplating the ramifications of the Cubs getting swept when the players, and Joe Maddon, decided to make this one interesting. A pair of third-inning doubles by Jonathan Herrera and Castro (the latter, a nice-looking gapper) made it 5-1 and the Cubs loaded the bases when Anthony Rizzo was hit (for the 20th time) and Jorge Soler walked. Chris Denorfia doubled down the left-field line. Two runs came home to make it 5-3 and after a called strikeout, the Reds chose to intentionally walk David Ross to load the bases, with the pitcher due up.
I don't think anyone but Joe Maddon would have done what he did next. With the Cubs' bullpen in disarray and the game in the top of the third inning, he pinch-hit for his starting pitcher. With Kris Bryant, who had ostensibly been given the evening off with Herrera starting.
Well. Now things get interesting. Bryant, with one swing, could give the Cubs the lead. That was probably too much to dream for, but Bryant singled into left field to tie the game. It was the first pinch-hit at-bat, and first pinch-hit, of his big-league career.
So the game stands at 5-5... after two and a half innings. But the Cubs were now going to have to make it through seven more innings with their overworked pen keeping the Reds' offense -- which had scored 14 runs in 11 innings already Wednesday -- down.
Darned if it didn't work. Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Rafael Soriano, Hector Rondon and Jason Motte (sixth save) combined for seven shutout innings. Yes, they got themselves into (and out of) trouble along the way, but all told allowed seven hits, four walks and struck out 11, including Motte's K of Ivan De Jesus Jr. with the tying run on base to end the game.
Ah, but that leaves out the most important part of the story: How the Cubs got the one more run they needed to win this game. They certainly had enough chances, with 12 hits and six walks, leaving 10 men on base. They went 5-for-16 with RISP, which is a fair number of hits in that situation, but a larger number of failed opportunities. After the five-run third, the only runner that was left in scoring position until the ninth was Rizzo, who doubled high off the right-field wall, missing a home run by inches.
The ninth inning, though... The Reds decided they really wanted this game, putting Aroldis Chapman into a tie game. They don't do this very often, but did so last Sunday, which was when Chapman threw 44 pitches against the Indians, a career high. Then he threw 13 more in saving Monday's game. I figured this might catch up to him eventually, and it did Wednesday. Dexter Fowler singled to lead off the ninth and stole second. After Castro struck out, Rizzo singled and Fowler was sent home, where he was tagged out without a slide.
Personally, I thought it was a good send. It took a perfect throw from Marlon Byrd to Brayan Pena to get Fowler, and the play was reviewed because it appeared Pena might have not given Fowler a lane to slide (he didn't slide at all) before he got the ball. That rule, instituted at the start of last season, has been tweaked a bit, and the ruling came back from New York: legal play.
Rizzo took second on the throw, and that was important. The Reds had Soler intentionally walked, and that brought up Taylor Teagarden, the last position player on Maddon's bench, as he had double-switched Bryant, Chris Coghlan and Kyle Schwarber into the game previously, as well as using Jason Hammel as a pinch-hitter. (The latter, an odd choice, I thought: while Hammel has the best BA of any Cubs pitcher this year, .190, he hadn't had a hit in his last five starts. Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta has a three-start hitting streak in which he's 4-for-8 with a home run.)
Teagarden's been mostly the forgottenest man on this roster since Schwarber's recall. He played in Tuesday night's game mainly because it had gotten so long (and even then, caught just one inning) and in Wednesday's first game to give Schwarber a breather in a blowout. Now he was being called on in a critical game situation.
While Teagarden was batting, Rizzo, who was being ignored, stole third base.
Teagarden delivered with a single up the middle, and while Rizzo likely would have scored from second, the stolen base made his run an easy one. Chapman hadn't allowed a run since June 8 and had 13 scoreless outings since then, and beyond that, no Cubs team had scored a run off Chapman in more than two years, since May 3, 2013 (and they lost that game anyway despite scoring three runs off Chapman). That had been a run of 15 consecutive scoreless outings for Chapman against the Cubs, until Wednesday night's rally.
This run, this win, off Chapman and the Reds, could be more significant than any previous scoring off the Reds closer. A game that appeared a lost cause was won by outstanding chess-type moves by Maddon and production from Cubs players when they most needed it. It reminded me in some ways of this game from April 29, 1979, when the Cubs went down 5-0 to the Braves in Atlanta and came back to win 6-5 -- that one, even more miraculous, all six runs coming in the ninth, three of them on a two-out home run by Bobby Murcer off Gene Garber, who was at the time considered one of the better relievers in the game. Or for a game you might remember better, June 29, 2007, another comeback from a 5-0 deficit, that one against the Brewers, ended with a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth, three-run walkoff homer by Aramis Ramirez.
Both of those started nice little runs. The 2007 Cubs went 14-7 following that exciting win and wound up in the postseason. In 1979, that win was the first of a run that saw the team go 9-5 over its next 14 games.
Of course, "past performance does not guarantee future results," and sometimes big, emotional wins like this don't push a team forward into a winning streak.
But this Cubs team has to be mighty happy after winning this one, a win that kept them ahead of the Giants by half a game for the second wild-card spot -- and with the Pirates losing to the Royals, the Cubs trail Pittsburgh by just three games. A series that could have ended in disaster instead wraps on a high note, with the Cubs having a winning 4-3 road trip, and at 26-23 they are second only to the Cardinals for best road record in the National League.
Now it's time for the Cubs to start winning at home, and they can begin that task against two of the worst teams in the league, the Phillies and Rockies. Philadelphia comes in to start a three-game set Friday. Jon Lester will face Jerome Williams.