The original recap of this game was titled "Edwin Jackson Earns His Pay," and he did so in the uniform of the Atlanta Braves. Jackson came into a tie game and allowed solo homers to Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler, which were the difference in this Cubs win, their third straight. They reached the 70-win mark with this one, against 51 defeats, and picked up yet another game on the Cardinals. The 6½ game deficit was the smallest since early June. They remained three games behind the Pirates, who also won, but because the Bucs' win was over the Giants, the Cubs' lead over the Giants for the second wild card increased to five games.
Come on, admit it. You were rooting for it, and you got it. We all were, and we all did.
Edwin Jackson, who pitched mostly poorly for the Cubs for two and a half seasons, was released about four weeks ago and signed on with the Braves eight days ago. He entered Saturday's game with two out in the seventh inning, having made three previous appearances in relief for Atlanta covering 4⅓ scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out five.
Jackson's entry into the game came with almost no reaction at all from the sold-out Wrigley crowd, either pro or con. It was almost as if he had been erased from most fans' collective memory.
Not mine, though. I was thinking, "Homerunhomerunhomerunohpleaseohpleaseohplease," with the game tied 7-7. Kris Bryant was the first Cub Jackson faced and he hit the ball sharply, but a line drive right to third baseman Pedro Ciriaco.
After Pedro Strop threw a scoreless eighth, Jackson came out again, and Miguel Montero, who as the Cubs' primary catcher probably knows Jackson's stuff better than anyone, led off the inning. Four pitches later, Montero lofted a pitch that landed in the left-field basket for a home run. Jackson's next pitch, to Jorge Soler, was also launched into the basket.
Two pitches, two home runs -- incidentally, the first home runs Jackson gave up this season, he allowed none with the Cubs in 23 appearances -- and the Cubs had a comeback win, 9-7 over the Braves. The win, the Cubs' third straight, moved them back to a season-high 19 games over .500 and kept pace with the Pirates, who won in a walkoff over the Giants. That also put another game of space between the Cubs and Giants for the second wild-card spot; the Cubs now lead San Francisco by five games.
Call it whatever you want. Irony. Schadenfreude. Just plain weirdness. But since the Cubs are paying Edwin Jackson about $15 million not to play for them this year and next, it's a happy thing that Jackson's pitching actually helped the Cubs on this sun-kissed, gorgeous afternoon at Wrigley.
The complaint department isn't completely closed, though. Dan Haren struggled through 4⅓ innings, allowing a two-run homer to Nick Swisher (really... I mean really? Swisher came into the game hitting .190/.259/.310) and when he got himself into trouble in the fifth, Joe Maddon didn't hesitate to yank him for Travis Wood, although the Cubs actually still had a 3-2 lead at the time (thanks primarily to Anthony Rizzo, who drove in a run in the first with a groundout and hit his 25th homer in the third), but with runners on second and third with one out.
Wood has been pretty solid in relief this year, but not in this one. Freddie Freeman doubled in a run, then A.J. Pierzynski gave the Braves the lead with a two-run single and after Wood struck out Adonis Garcia (who, incidentally, is the first big-league player named "Adonis" since 1897, when Adonis Terry retired -- from Cap Anson's Cubs), Swisher homered again, giving the Braves a 7-3 lead.
That was the 14th time Swisher had homered from both sides of the plate in one game. That tied the major-league record for such things, which had just been set by Mark Teixeira against the White Sox three weeks ago, breaking the record held by... Swisher. Teixeira and Swisher have been trading this record since 2013, and the last three times it's been tied or broken have all been in Chicago, either at Wrigley (today) or at the Cell.
A bit of a digression, needed with a 7-3 deficit in the fifth. I told my bleacher group, "Seven runs will not win this game," and the Cubs proceeded to get right back into it off Williams Perez with a three-run fifth, highlighted by a two-run double by Bryant and a double by Montero, making it 7-6. The Cubs tied it in the sixth on a homer by Addison Russell, his ninth, also into the basket, this one upheld on review:
The wind was blowing out pretty strongly to left field; perhaps none of the homers hit Saturday would have made it if not for the wind, as all of them were either in the basket, or like that one, touched by a fan over the yellow line and bouncing out. It was mentioned here the other day when a fan appeared to reach over the yellow line and grab a ball that it seemed possible that the baskets appear to be not as far from the wall as they were before they were reattached. It seems to me that an adult with a normal-length arm could not reach out as far as the basket used to go, and now they can. Were these not reattached at the proper angle?
Happily, Russell's ball was ruled a homer and the game was tied. Meanwhile, after Wood was removed, Tommy Hunter, Clayton Richard and Strop shut the Braves down in the sixth, seventh and eighth. Richard, in particular, has done an excellent job in relief since his latest return to the team. In four appearances since August 12, Richard has thrown 7⅔ innings, allowed six hits, one walk and one run and struck out eight. It can be reasonably argued that if Haren keeps getting pulled this early, it might not be a bad idea to try Richard as a starter again. The bullpen's getting stretched to the max by Maddon and the Cubs really need the starters to start going deeper into games.
Fortunately, the homers by Montero and Soler won this one, and thanks, Edwin. We like you after this one!
Hector Rondon threw just six pitches in notching his 23rd save, so he should be available for Sunday's game.
The crowd of 41,196, with almost no no-shows, was early-arriving, many apparently wanting the Jon Lester bobblehead that was the Saturday giveaway. Bleacher lines were the longest I've seen them all year. But after the game started, the crowd was into the game, with almost no one leaving early. That's what starts to happen when games pick up playoff importance.
Note on Anthony Rizzo's 25th homer: He becomes the fifth Cub lefthanded hitter to have multiple 25-homer seasons. The others are Billy Williams (10 such seasons), Bill Nicholson (five), Rick Monday (two) and (two). If Rizzo gets to 30, he'll join Williams (five) as the only lefthanded Cubs hitters to have multiple 30-homer seasons.
The Cubs will go for their fourth four-game sweep of 2015 -- now that would be an amazing achievement! -- Sunday afternoon, with Jason Hammel facing Matt Wisler.