So many things happened during the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Reds Saturday night that I think I'll start at the end.
Starlin Castro laced a single up the middle and Kris Bryant slid home with the winning run just ahead of a desperation throw and the Cubs had their seventh walkoff win of 2015, most in the major leagues.
That's only a tiny part of the story of this game. Great for Castro, who came through when the team most needed him and great for the team, which fought back from a rare bad relief outing by James Russell (only the third appearance in 20 games this year in which he'd allowed a run) to win and give themselves a chance for another series win Sunday night.
Long before Castro's heroics, Kyle Hendricks started this game and was breezing through the first five innings. His only mistake was grooving one to Joey Votto, whose opposite-field homer made it 2-1 Cubs after Miguel Montero had given the Cubs those two runs with a two-run home run of his own. Hendricks didn't walk anyone, struck out seven (just one short of his season high) and threw only 57 pitches in five innings. Further, he executed the first successful sacrifice bunt by a Cubs pitcher this season. The Cubs still have the fewest sac bunts of any team in the National League this year, just nine.
Hendricks was helped by some excellent infield defense from Bryant and Addison Russell; in fact, in the first few innings there were defensive gems made on both sides, keeping the game close at 3-1 after the Cubs had scored in the fourth. Bryant led off with a double, went to third on an infield single by Montero, and then Castro grounded to short. The contact play was apparently on, and Bryant headed for home.
Plate umpire Dan Bellino called Bryant out and almost immediately after the play was shown on the left-field video board, Joe Maddon asked for a review. This one took a while:
Three minutes, 55 seconds later (and that's not close to the longest review ever; there have been six this year alone over four minutes and one of those took 6:25), the review crew in New York overturned Bellino's call. It seemed clear from at least one angle shown on the Wrigley boards that Bryant's foot touched the plate just before Tucker Barnhart tagged him.
Another review happened an inning later on a no-look toss from Votto to Mike Leake covering first base on a grounder by Chris Coghlan:
Coghlan was ruled safe, but review showed that Leake -- just barely -- kept his foot on the base after receiving the ball, yet another excellent defensive play in this game.
It was only a couple of minutes later that rain started falling hard enough for the umpires to stop play after the Cubs had already taken the field for the top of the sixth. The great defense and lack of walks (none by either Leake or Hendricks) had the first five innings pass in one hour, 16 minutes, an excellent pace. Some lightning was in the area so Cubs personnel asked for the bleachers to be cleared. Some fans went into the main concourse, others took shelter in new areas created by the new construction under the video board in left field and under the patio in right field.
That's when the Cubs began showing the Blackhawks/Lightning game on the video boards, first in left field and then on both boards. Not wanting to give NBC's broadcast any free advertising, the Cubs put a rain-delay notice on the board during NBC commercials and played music instead. The lightning threat exited the area after a time, and the team allowed fans back into the bleachers, so I went back to sit in my seat to watch the game. The delay was long enough to allow the entire second and third periods to be shown, and oddly enough, the rain stopped almost precisely after the final horn sounded in Tampa, with the Blackhawks winning and giving themselves a chance to win the Stanley Cup at home Monday. If they do it'll be the first Cup win on home ice for them since 1938.
The Cubs' bullpen did a fine job of shutting down the Reds... except for James Russell, who got hit immediately upon taking the mound for the delayed top of the sixth. Skip Schumaker singled on Russell's second pitch and Eugenio Suarez, who is starting at shortstop in place of the injured Zack Cozart, homered to tie the game. Another single, by Votto, brought Maddon out to replace Russell with Justin Grimm.
That's when the Cubs pen shut the Reds down. Grimm, Travis Wood (again, I thought maybe Wood was in the game to throw two innings as he could have hit for himself), Pedro Strop and Jason Motte combined for four innings and just two singles and a walk allowed, with four strikeouts.
The Cubs offense couldn't do much with Cincinnati's pen, either. Manny Parra threw a 1-2-3 sixth, and the Cubs did manage four hits of Ryan Mattheus but two double-play balls and a baserunning gaffe by Addison Russell did them in. Russell led off the eighth with a double but strayed too far off second and was thrown out by Barnhart. I'll give Russell some slack because at this point, it had started raining again and it appeared he slipped and fell on the wet infield dirt. Too bad, because Dexter Fowler then dumped a ball into short left field for another double which would have scored Russell. Coghlan's infield hit moved Fowler to third, but Anthony Rizzo hit into a double play.
Motte allowed a pair of two-out hits in the ninth, but got Schumaker to ground out to end the inning. By this time the second little rainshower had ended, setting up the bottom-of-the-ninth rally. Bryant hit a ball into the gap in left-center (his third hit of the game) and legged out a double. It was a risk, as the play was close, but he slid in safe. That raised the question: bunt? (I wouldn't have.)
That question was rendered moot when Tony Cingrani hit Montero with his first pitch to him. Castro took ball one before sending his game-winning hit up the middle at 11:42 p.m. Only about 3,000 or so of the 40,693 announced stuck around for the end of this one, the Cubs' 16th one-run win of the year in 27 such games.
Despite three pauses for reviews (Coghlan was involved in the third one, too, on his infield hit in the eighth), the elapsed game time was a reasonable 2:39... nine minutes shorter than the two-hour, 48-minute rain delay. It does no good to complain about the weather as it's going to do its thing no matter what we say about it, but here's what has happened on the Cubs' last five home dates:
- May 30: game rained out
- May 31: game played in 47-degree temperatures with the wind blowing in at 21 miles per hour
- June 11: last four innings of the game played in a steady, moderate rainfall
- June 12: game played in 52-degree temperatures with drizzle, mist and fog throughout
- June 13: thunder & lightning, heavy rainfall, two-hour, 48-minute delay
I mean, did the Cubs anger the weather gods somehow? The forecast for tonight's game isn't much better and this graphic from the National Weather Service says Monday's and Tuesday's games could get rained on, too.
Weather permitting, Jon Lester takes the mound for tonight's ESPN national broadcast against the Reds' Anthony DeSclafani.