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Cubs 1, Royals 0: Chris Denorfia Walks It Off

What a sendoff to a magical regular season at Wrigley for the Cubs.

Jon Durr/Getty Images

I truly could not be happier for Chris Denorfia, whose first-pitch walkoff home run in the 11th inning gave the Cubs a 1-0 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Denorfia, who lost playing time after the acquisition of Austin Jackson, had started just one game in September and had only 16 plate appearances this month prior to his appearance Monday night (he made the most of those, going 6-for-14 with two doubles, a triple and two walks). He launched the first and only pitch from Royals reliever Miguel Almonte into the left-field bleachers (about a section over from me) for his third homer of the season and the Cubs had their 13th walkoff win of 2015. That's the most for any Cubs team since 1932.

I've got tons of those sorts of facts about this game, but let me start with this one: Denorfia's home run was the first pinch-hit homer to win an extra-inning scoreless game in major-league history. So all of you watching on TV or listening on the radio or online, plus the 40,552 in Wrigley Field, experienced something that had literally never been done before in the 140 years of this sport's big-league existence.

Wow. There's more, but let me first sum up the rest of this game, which was important for quite a number of reasons.

Kyle Hendricks made his case for being the third starter for the Cubs in the postseason. Hendricks had a pretty good outing against the Brewers last week, and in that contest, two of the three runs he allowed (in six innings) scored after he left the game. This time, he was dominant. After a bit of a shaky first inning that included a pair of walks, Hendricks allowed just two more hits, a second-inning single by Alcides Escobar and a fourth-inning double by Mike Moustakas. No Royals runner got past second base and Moustakas was the only one past first in an outstanding performance by the entire Cubs pitching staff.

But Hendricks looked like he did in 2014, when his 13 solid starts got him seventh place in National League Rookie of the Year balloting. He doesn't throw hard -- I don't think I saw the Wrigley pitch-speed meter touch 90 for any of his pitches -- but when he has location and movement he can baffle hitters, and he did so Monday night. The Royals are a very good team that's fifth in the American League in runs and had been shut out only 10 times this season, just once since July. They had their usual lineup on the field Wrigley Monday night, still fighting for the best record in the A.L. so they can have home field throughout the postseason.

Hendricks should have one more start during the regular season, Saturday in Milwaukee. If he does well that night, I'd slot him in behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester as the No. 3 starter in the postseason.

The Cubs couldn't do anything with Yordano Ventura, either. He retired the first 15 Cubs he faced before Jorge Soler bounced a single up the middle to lead off the sixth. In the seventh, Chris Coghlan led off with a walk and Kris Bryant dribbled a grounder in front of third base. He was called out, but that got reversed quickly:

Unfortunately, Tommy La Stella hit into a double play, ending that threat. Neither team could generate much offense in the eighth or ninth innings; each had one baserunner in the 10th after two were out, but both innings ended with that runner stuck on first base.

In addition to Hendricks, Trevor Cahill made his case for the postseason roster by throwing two efficient innings. He gave up a single to Moustakas (who got loud calls of "MOOOOOOOOOSE" every time he came to bat from the huge contingent of Royals fans at this game), then immediately got Salvador Perez to hit into a double play. The Cubs can use the "Jason Motte Loophole" to the roster rules to add Cahill to the postseason roster (Cahill, otherwise not eligible, can replace a player on the DL at the end of the season, which Motte will be). Cahill has been spectacularly good for the Cubs since his promotion September 1, appearing in nine games and throwing 15⅓ innings, allowing six hits and four walks with 19 strikeouts. He's got a 0.652 WHIP and has given up three runs for a 1.76 ERA. That could be extremely useful in a playoff series, as Cahill has shown the ability to go multiple innings.

The bullpen as a whole threw five innings Monday night and allowed two singles and a walk with five strikeouts, setting up Denorfia's heroics. Who knows? Maybe Denorfia's great September off the bench will get him on the playoff roster after all.

I mentioned I had a number of fascinating facts about this win, so here they are:

  • It's just the second game in Cubs history that went to extra innings scoreless, then was won 1-0 on a walkoff homer. Here's the other one. Check out who hit the homer! That game also featured a 12-inning complete-game shutout by the Cubs' Ken Holtzman. Only four other pitchers have thrown a CG shutout with 11 or more innings since then, none since 1975.
  • Just 38 games in major-league history have ended that way -- scoreless through nine, then ended 1-0 on a walkoff homer. Here are the other 37.
  • It was the Cubs' 20th shutout of the year. That's the most for a Cubs team since 1969.
  • Mad Scientist Joe Maddon gave Anthony Rizzo the day off, and it seemed his constant double-switching and position-changing was aimed at never allowing him in the game, though Rizzo was on deck to pinch-hit in the 10th. Bryant started at first base, his first time there as a professional, and wound up playing four positions (1B, CF, RF and 3B). He's the first player in the major leagues to do that in one game this year and the first Cub to do it since 1998 (Jose Hernandez in this game).
  • At 2:49, it was the fastest game of 11 innings or more in the major leagues since April 18, 2012, when the Phillies and Giants played an 11-inning 1-0 game in 2:27.

The Pirates lost to the Cardinals Monday night, which means another St. Louis win over Pittsburgh clinches the N.L. Central title for the Cardinals. That game, combined with the Cubs' win, kept alive the very small chance that the Cubs and Pirates could end the regular season in a tie, which would bring the wild-card game to Wrigley Field. Here are the scenarios as of Tuesday morning for the remaining games for the two clubs (six for the Cubs, five for the Pirates):

If the Cubs go 6-0, the Pirates must go 2-3 to tie at 97 wins
If the Cubs go 5-1, the Pirates must go 1-4 to tie at 96 wins
If the Cubs go 4-2, the Pirates must go 0-5 to tie at 95 wins

As I said, it's a very small chance. On the other hand, the Pirates have been shut out in their last two games, which hadn't happened to them since April. I'll keep hoping for this to happen until it's mathematically impossible.

There's one more thing about this game that's a curiosity. Remember three years ago when the Cubs and Astros became the first 100-loss teams to play each other after both had lost their 100th game in 50 years? We had the positive side of that at Wrigley Field Monday, and only because of the May 30 rainout that forced this game. The Cubs and Royals both entered Monday's game with 90 wins. I don't know about other ballparks, but that's the first game at Wrigley Field between two teams who had already won 90 games since the last day of the 1969 season, when the 91-win Cubs defeated the 100-win Mets 5-3 to end that year.

1969. There's still a lot of pain inside many of us who lived through that year. At 17-9, the 2015 Cubs are having the September all of us hoped that 1969 bunch would have had. Not a single member of this year's squad was even born then, and even its manager was only 15 years old. This year's group isn't responsible for any of the Cubs' history of failure, but they are doing a fine job of winning in their own right.

Keep it up, 2015 Cubs. Bring us something special this October. At the end of each season I usually say goodbye to ballpark friends and workers I know, saying "See you in April." Monday night it was: "See you in two weeks."

In the meantime, the Cubs have six more chances to win regular-season games this week. Tonight in Cincinnati, Dan Haren (making his first start in 11 days) will face the Reds' Josh Smith.