Beyond winning games and looking (again) like a contending team this year, now the Cubs are toying with our emotions.
Monday night's 9-8 walkoff win over the Rockies had enough highs and lows to last an entire season, much less one game. As I have done so many times this year (that was the Cubs' 10th walkoff win), let me start at the end.
Kris Bryant's two-run game-winning home run was not only the first walkoff homer of his big-league career, it was the first Cubs walkoff home run hit while the team was behind since Aramis Ramirez did it against the Brewers June 29, 2007. It was just the 17th time in the divisional play era that any Cub had hit such a walkoff homer, matching Bryant's uniform number. (A complete list of those homers coming at the end of this recap.)
After the first three innings of this game, when the Cubs went nine up, nine down and looked pretty meek doing it while allowing the Rockies to take a 4-0 lead, I was sitting in the bleachers thinking morosely, "Didn't we see this game on Saturday?" Well, the Cubs must have been paying close attention to Jorge De La Rosa and his weird hitch of a delivery the first time around, because they unloaded on him in the fourth inning. Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber opened the inning with walks and four of the next five batters got hits, all solid blows, and even Chris Denorfia's groundout drove in a run. The biggest hit in the inning belonged to Starlin Castro, whose two-run single gave the Cubs a 6-4 lead. Castro wound up with two hits on the night, his first multi-hit game since July 2 (a span of 21 games).
Subsequently the Cubs started going down easily again, and it was easy to start thinking that it would be odd if they got runs and hits only in that one inning, yet won the game. Incidentally, a play that ended the Rockies' fourth inning after they had scored two runs might have helped turn the tide in this game. Charlie Blackmon tried to steal third with two out and was called safe, but on review, it was clear his leg came off the base and Bryant had tagged him out to end the inning.
The bullpen did an excellent job... through the eighth inning, at least. Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon threw three innings and allowed just a pair of singles. The Cubs had tacked on a single run in the sixth when an uncharacteristic throwing error by Nolan Arenado on a ground ball by Castro allowed Denorfia to score all the way from first base, giving the Cubs a three-run lead.
Then came the top of the ninth. Jason Motte, who blew a save Friday against the Phillies, was even worse in this one. He allowed pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso to lead off the inning with a home run, then allowed a bloop single to Charlie Blackmon and double to DJ LeMahieu. That was enough for Joe Maddon, who called on Rafael Soriano.
Soriano got Troy Tulowitzki to ground out. One run scored to make it 7-6. Little did we know that we had just witnessed Tulo's final at-bat in a Rockies uniform. More on this later, too.
Carlos Gonzalez, who has tormented the Cubs for years, smashed a two-run homer into the new right-field patio and the Rockies took the lead back, which led to a return of that morose feeling and, "Oh, well. It's been a nice first four months, anyway." Soriano retired the last two batters and John Axford came in to close for Colorado.
My first thought when I saw it was going to be Axford, and I did say this to my assembled friends in the bleachers, was, "This guy has a record of spectacular blown saves; how about another one?" This wasn't an unfounded idea, either; Axford had been good earlier this year but since June 17 (not including Monday) he'd posted an 8.71 ERA in 12 appearances with a WHIP of 2.226 and a pair of homers in 10⅓ innings. Teams had been hitting him, and hard.
Addison Russell flied deep to center and Dexter Fowler poked a single through a shift. Then David Ross, who'd replaced Schwarber for defense, came to the plate.
Two days in a row, maybe? No, but Ross also hit a deep fly ball to center field. The Cubs were hitting Axford fairly hard, but for outs.
Axford threw a slider in the dirt to Bryant and then Kris hit his no-doubt-about-it homer to left-center field and the remnants of a crowd of 35,070, maybe half of whom remained, erupted. Some friends of mine had left after the top of the ninth, saying they were "so angry" about what happened in that half-inning. Bet they were angrier that they didn't stick around to see Bryant's heroics.
A few somewhat-collected thoughts about this wild win:
- Wins like this can springboard a team to a winning streak. I should point out that after A-Ram's 2007 walkoff, the Cubs lost the next day 13-4 -- but after that, won 15 of their next 20 games.
- Kyle Hendricks struggled through five innings, throwing 99 pitches. I was stunned when Maddon let him start the sixth; I've often complained that Maddon has pulled Hendricks too early, but this game was one where he probably should have erred on the side of caution. When Hendricks allowed a leadoff single in the sixth he was gone anyway.
- It's clear that Motte and Soriano are, at best, in slumps. Forget the Jonathan Papelbon talk -- just give the closer job back to Rondon, who has an 0.57 ERA (one run in 16 appearances) since his last save, with a WHIP of 0.638 and just three walks and no home runs allowed in 15⅔ innings in that span.
- We all wondered why Tulowitzki had been double-switched out of a one-run game in the ninth; the news of his trade broke on Twitter about half an hour after the game ended. That's a big deal for the Rockies franchise, and ends all the speculation (for now, at least) about Tulo going to one of the New York teams.
- A tease for Russ' Heroes & Goats: Bryant's WPA for this game was .981, the seventh-highest single-game WPA in Cubs history.
Here, for posterity (and thanks to BCB reader #1 iowan cubs fan for the research!), are all the Cubs games won since 1969 and before Monday on a walkoff homer while the team was behind:
- Willie Smith, April 8, 1969, Cubs 7, Phillies 6 (Opening Day!)
- Jim Hickman, June 22, 1969, Cubs 7, Expos 6
- Jim Hickman, May 28, 1970, Cubs 8, Pirates 7 (Hickman's WPA in this game is the highest in Cubs history, 1.181)
- Jim Hickman, June 16, 1971, first game, Cubs 9, Padres 8 (can you tell Hickman was good at this?)
- Randy Hundley, July 1, 1973, second game, Cubs 6, Mets 5
- Ron Santo, July 4, 1973, Cubs 3, Phillies 2 (twice in four days!)
- Rick Monday, May 3, 1974, Cubs 6, Reds 5
- Dave Kingman, July 23, 1979, Cubs 2, Reds 1
- Keith Moreland, June 22, 1987, Cubs 3, Pirates 2 (off former Cub Rick Reuschel)
- May 5, 1990, Cubs 3, Padres 2 ,
- Glenallen Hill, September 5, 1993, Cubs 2, Mets 1
- Shawon Dunston, July 29, 1995, Cubs 8, Phillies 7
- Sammy Sosa, May 3, 1996, Cubs 4, Mets 2
- Sammy Sosa, August 3, 1997, Cubs 4, Dodgers 3 (in the 12th inning)
- Sammy Sosa, June 2, 1999, Cubs 9, Padres 8
- Aramis Ramirez, June 29, 2007, Cubs 6, Brewers 5 (after going down 5-0 in the 1st)
- Kris Bryant, July 27, 2015, Cubs 9, Rockies 8
Bryant's walkoff happened six years to the day after Alfonso Soriano hit a 13th-inning walkoff grand slam against the Astros, July 27, 2009. That game was tied 1-1 at the time of Soriano's slam, the only grand slam he hit as a Cub. One final note on this game: it was the first time the Cubs had scored more than eight runs in 35 games, since the 17-0 win in Cleveland on June 17. Maybe, at least, the offense has awakened.
What other thrills and excitement do we have coming this season? Don't know about you, but I can't wait to find out. Dallas Beeler goes for the Cubs tonight against Colorado's Yohan Flande.