Thank heavens for David Ross, because otherwise Sunday's 11-5 Cubs loss to the Phillies would have been completely devoid of any fun at all.
Ross started warming up in the eighth inning in anticipation of making his second pitching appearance of the year. The Cubs' offense, moribund since the third, began to make some noise in that inning. Addison Russell hit a two-run homer, his sixth, bringing the Cubs to within seven runs. (Ouch.) Had the Cubs scored more runs in that inning, James Russell, who had begun to stir in the pen, might have come in.
Well, of course I'd have liked to have seen the Cubs score more runs and get back into the game, but since they didn't, watching Ross throw 70 mile-per-hour "fastballs" was a glorious diversion. He was by far the Cubs' best pitcher of the day, posting a 1-2-3 inning with a lazy fly to left caught by Kyle Schwarber (his first inning and first defensive play as a big-league left fielder) and a pair of groundouts. Ross threw eight pitches, seven for strikes and got a loud ovation when leaving the mound for the dugout.
He wasn't done with his busman's holiday afternoon, either. Six pitches into an at-bat leading off the ninth against Hector Neris, he yanked a slider into the left-field bleachers for his first home run of the season. That one got an even bigger ovation from the remnants of yet another sellout crowd at Wrigley, 41,123. (Incidentally, the Cubs have now drawn over 40,000 for six consecutive home dates, and those were all legitimately 40,000+ in the house. That's the first time they've done that since 2009, when they had 34 straight 40,000+ crowds from May 29 through August 15.)
I've tried to check on this and have not yet found it, but I cannot recall a position player coming in to pitch and hitting a home run during his pitching stint. Certainly no Cubs player has done this in my memory, and I don't know of any other such feat by any player for another team. I'm sure one of the stat services will dig this one up (I had no luck through baseball-reference's Play Index) eventually.
Now, on to the recap of some really awful baseball. There's got to be something still wrong with Jason Hammel. While he was throwing 91 or 92, it was all from his arm, as he seemed to have trouble pushing off his back leg. That injury suffered earlier this month must still be bothering him, and if so, they really need to get him on the DL as soon as possible before he hurts his arm. The Phillies pounded eight hits off him, five for extra bases, and there has to be something still wrong with Jorge Soler's legs, too, because balls hit in the gap and down the line near him should have been doubles, but he was slow getting to them and the Phillies had three triples in the first five innings. (Until the seventh, the Phillies had more triples than the Cubs had hits.)
At least the Cubs didn't leave much suspense regarding whether they'd begin another no-hit streak. Schwarber, the second batter of the game, singled to right after Dexter Fowler led off with a walk. Kris Bryant hit a ball about as far as you can hit it to the opposite field without homering; the sac fly made the score 3-1 after the Phillies had scored three in the top of the first, two on a homer by Maikel Franco. I was pleased to see the CubsNoHitStreak Twitter account is starting fresh:
No. 1: Kyle Schwarber singles with no outs in the first for the @Cubs. Only 7,919 to go!— Cubs No-Hit Streak (@CubsNoHitStreak) July 26, 2015
But after Fowler pulled the Cubs to within one with his ninth homer of the year in the third, the Cubs' offense checked out for the day. Starting with the top of the third, 11 straight Cubs went down, the skein broken only by Soler's single in with two out in the seventh. By then the Phillies had a 9-2 lead.
Give Aaron Nola credit; he was really good. He threw 74 pitches for the first seven innings before getting into trouble in the eighth; that's only four more pitches than Yoervis Medina threw in three poor innings, capped by a home run off him by Ryan Howard. The Cubs will need a starting pitcher by Tuesday, but they might also consider sending Medina back to Iowa and getting some more relief help, too.
It was just the eighth time the Cubs had scored five or more runs in 22 games this month, and as bad as this series was, the Cubs are still 11-11 for the month and still five games over .500 for the season. Bad teams -- and make no mistake, the Phillies are a bad team -- can beat better ones just about any time in baseball. Remember when the Cubs were a 100-loss team three years ago? They swept a much better Pirates team in Pittsburgh in a three-game set in September. Did the Cubs take the Phillies too lightly? Perhaps, though I'd have hoped Joe Maddon would have set a better tone than that. They are still in the thick of the wild-card race and all they can do is pick up the pieces and reset things for the Rockies, coming into town for a three-game set starting Monday. In the opener to that series, Kyle Hendricks will face Jorge De La Rosa.
Meantime, here are a couple of photos of the David Ross merriment. First, Ross warming up in the pen; second, Ross' number 3 showing as a pitcher on the scoreboard.