It looked for the first four innings of Sunday's game that the Cubs were going to have a tough time against Rubby De La Rosa. No hits and just one walk, but De La Rosa came into the game with a 4.46 ERA and 28 home runs allowed this year, and so it was just a matter of time, I thought, until someone took him deep.
Man, that was an understatement. Kris Bryant hit a monstrous home run that hit perhaps four feet from the top of the left-field video board. The ball would have likely landed on Kenmore Avenue before the new bleacher structure was built, and was measured at about 495 feet, the longest home run hit this year in the major leagues.
That one just tied the game, as Kyle Hendricks had given up one run through five. Hendricks' innings were ... well, not bad, but not really good, either; he walked two and seemed constantly in trouble and was rescued by a slick double play turned by Javier Baez on a line drive with David Peralta running. Baez ambled over to Peralta and tagged him out to end the second inning.
The Cubs loaded the bases in the fifth after Bryant's blast on three singles, but even with just one out at the time, they couldn't score. De La Rosa struck out Dexter Fowler (who K'd four times in the game) and Austin Jackson to end the inning.
But more power was shown in the sixth, when D'backs manager Chip Hale made three pitching changes after De La Rosa began the inning allowing a single to Chris Coghlan and walk to Anthony Rizzo. Enrique Burgos entered and promptly wild-pitched the runners to second and third, and you'd think that would have prompted an intentional walk to Bryant. Welington Castillo even came out to talk to Burgos, but they pitched to Bryant and walked him anyway.
Miguel Montero followed, so Hale brought in lefthander Matt Reynolds. Reynolds threw ball one and then Montero deposited his next pitch into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam. One pitching change later, pinch-hitter Jonathan Herrera lofted his second homer of the year (and first at Wrigley) into the basket in right, a ball that probably never got more than 15 feet off the ground the whole ride into the seats.
During one of those pitching changes, a fan ran onto the field and was immediately tackled by security. Kids, don't do this. It can cause you all sorts of legal trouble that you don't need. Just dumb.
Anyway, it turned out the Cubs needed most of those runs, as pitching got a bit sloppy in the ninth inning. Trevor Cahill had a solid eighth, but Castillo homered off him to make it 6-2, and after a strikeout and walk, Pedro Strop was summoned, something I'm sure Joe Maddon didn't want to have to do.
Strop promptly made the score 6-4 when Nick Ahmed homered off him, which meant Hector Rondon had to start loosening up. Strop struck out pinch-hitter Phil Gosselin to end it.
The sweep gave the Cubs a 4-2 homestand, a win of the season series against the D'backs (4-2) and a final record of 20-12 against the N.L. West this year. With the Nationals defeating the Braves (are the Braves going to win even one more game this year), the Cubs retain their 7½ game lead over Washington, currently closest to the Cubs for the second wild-card spot. The Cubs' magic number to clinch a wild-card spot dropped to 20 as they returned to 21 games over .500. The Pirates and Cardinals, of course, play Sunday evening (and I hope the game goes 18 innings!), so the Cubs still have a chance to pick up a game on Pittsburgh if they lost.
Kris Bryant's RBI tied him for the Cubs' rookie record for RBI in a season, 86, set by Billy Williams in 1961 and tied by Geovany Soto in 2008. Both of those men won Rookie of the Year awards and Bryant seems well on his way to doing that as well. The team rookie HR record is held by Williams (25), so Bryant has a shot at that, too.
It was a very hot day at Wrigley, perhaps the hottest of the year, but very few people left the ballpark early, all wanting to soak in this sweep. These are games that teams headed to playoff spots really need to find ways to win, and the Cubs did. They will face a sterner test in St. Louis the next three days.
Which is where I'm headed, too. Shortly after this recap publishes, I'm hitting the road for St. Louis to see this series. I'd like to thank in advance Russ La Croix, who's graciously hosting me for the next three days while I'm attending this series. If you're going to be in St. Louis for any of the games, I'll tweet out my seat location each day when I get there.
I haven't seen a Cubs game in St. Louis since 1992, so I'm interested in seeing their now-nine-year-old ballpark, and hopefully, some Cubs wins.