I was already trying to formulate how I'd write a recap of another dispiriting loss to the Reds when Kyle Schwarber saved me from doing that with a majestic two-run homer in the ninth inning. It landed in a party area adjacent to the right-field seats in Cincinnati, one of the longest home runs hit there this year.
That almost would have been enough to ask of the Cubs' rookie catcher, but then he won the game for them 5-4 with a line-drive shot into those right-field seats with one out in the 13th inning. Here, you probably want to watch these homers again:
How many more superlatives can we find to describe Schwarber's hitting in his first 11 big-league games? The numbers speak for themselves: .410/.439/.744, OPS 1.183. 16-for-39, 10 runs scored, two doubles, a triple, three home runs, 10 RBI. He's even produced 0.7 bWAR in just 11 games. He's already had two four-hit games. Kris Bryant, who has played 83 big-league games, has yet to have four hits in a game; Jorge Soler has one in 86 career games. It took Anthony Rizzo 90 games to have a pair of four-hit games.
Schwarber also drove in the Cubs' first run of the game on a ground-rule double (seems there have been a lot of those in this series) in the fifth inning. The Cubs tied the game in the sixth on a home run by Chris Coghlan that took a while to become an official homer:
Here's where review really shines. It wasn't obvious on first view, but on replay you could clearly see the ball bounce off the body of the fan in the first row, definitely over the yellow line and into the seats. Coghlan did the right thing by continuing to run, stopping at third base while Reds managerwas probably arguing to the umpires that he should have been placed at second. It was Coghlan's first homer since June 10 and tied his career high (nine) that was set in his rookie year (2009) and tied last season. Since May 31 Coghlan is hitting .298/.406/.427, perfectly suitable for a platoon outfielder.
Jason Hammel struggled at times in his five-inning stint, likely a bit rusty from a 12-day layoff due to a minor leg injury. He threw 97 pitches (60 strikes) and of the two runs he allowed, just one was earned due to Dexter Fowler dropping a fly ball that should have been caught.
Hammel took his own batting-order spot in the top of the sixth and walked, upon which he was replaced by Travis Wood. That's not something you see often -- a pinch-running pitcher who then stays in the game to pitch. Wood got himself in trouble in his second inning of work by allowing a pair of singles with one out. Pedro Strop came in to replace him and Joey Votto took the Cubs out of a possible double play by stealing second. If I can be permitted to criticize Schwarber a bit here on his day, it's clear that teams are running like crazy on him, and that's going to be the case until he shows he can throw big-league runners out.
After Votto's steal, Todd Frazier singled in two runs to give the Reds the 4-2 lead that they nearly took into the "W" column before Schwarber's first home run. Strop has, unfortunately, been ineffective in preventing inherited runners from scoring, though I'll give him credit for then picking Frazier off first base, preventing more possible runs.
The Cubs scored more than four runs for the first time since July 8 (eight games ago), and Fowler, Coghlan and Soler (who also made some nice throws from right field to hold runners to singles on hits that might have otherwise been doubles) all had two hits. Starlin Castro had just one hit, and his offense has to remain a concern, but he made several nice defensive plays and deserves to be complimented for those. The Cubs drew six walks for the third straight game and are now at 319 for the year, 3.47 per game, a pace for 562 on the season.
The fact that Price used Aroldis Chapman Monday after a 44-pitch outing Sunday likely made Schwarber's homer in the ninth possible. I doubt Schwarber's homering off Chapman, but when the Reds brought in J.J. Hoover to close, that gave Schwarber a chance. Truth be told, the last thing either of these teams probably wanted was a long extra-inning game that ended less than 12 hours before today's doubleheader is scheduled to begin. 455 pitches were thrown in this four-hour, 51-minute game (209 by Cubs pitchers, 246 by Reds hurlers) and the bullpens are both pretty much fried. The Cubs might need Hector Rondon or Jason Motte in one of the doubleheader games today, but Rondon threw 30 pitches and Motte 27 and they'd likely be used only in an emergency. Strop (10 pitches) and James Russell (11 pitches) are likely available, as are the only two relievers who didn't throw Tuesday night, Neil Ramirez and Rafael Soriano.
Thus it's very, very important for Kyle Hendricks to go deep into Game 1. He will face Mike Leake, who, if you believe rumors flying, could be making his last start for the Reds, if he's traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Game 2 will feature a guy who's making a Cubs career out of starting in games of split doubleheaders, Dallas Beeler, against Chicago-area native Tony Cingrani, who hasn't made a start this year and hasn't pitched in the big leagues at all in over a month, having been on the DL with shoulder troubles.
So after being thisclose to losing two straight to the Reds, the Cubs still have a chance to win three of four, granting that sweeping doubleheaders is never easy. The game preview for Game 1 (11:35 a.m. CT start) will post at 10:30 a.m. CT.
In the meantime, let's all celebrate Kyle Schwarber and his biggest baseball day -- so far. And perhaps best of all for him, he had that day in front of a large contingent of family and friends from his hometown, Middletown, Ohio, which is about halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati. Something tells me this isn't the last time Schwarber will have games like this one.