The Cubs had to come from behind three times to win this one, but finally did on a Kyle Schwarber home run. Here's hoping that happens a lot in 2016. The Schwarber home runs, that is, not having to come from behind that often.
The Cubs were 75-56 after this win. They were 10½ games behind the Cardinals, the biggest deficit to first place in a month. They trailed the Pirates by 4½ games, and led the Giants by 6½ games for the second wild card.
I was sitting in my bleacher seat, thinking morose thoughts about how the Cubs' bullpen had given their opponent another late-inning lead and how this would affect the team's playoff run, when Kyle Schwarber blew up those thoughts and won the game.
Schwarber's two-run homer in the seventh inning, a tall blast halfway up the left-field bleachers, gave the Cubs a 5-4 win over the Reds and brought to life a crowd that had been silenced by Cubs pitchers' inability to keep Reds hitters from smashing baseballs out of Wrigley Field.
Dan Haren probably saved his spot in the Cubs' rotation, for now, anyway, with five decent innings. He allowed a home run to Joey Votto -- no shame in that, Votto is a great hitter, and besides, by now we're used to Haren giving up home runs. I suppose we should consider it a step forward that he had "only" one homer hit off him on a sticky, humid night with the wind blowing out.
Haren actually settled down after Votto's homer in the first and retired the next eight hitters he faced. He was touched up for a run in the fifth inning, and then was lifted for pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella in the bottom of the inning. La Stella wound up staying in the game, and I suspect we'll see a lot of this now that Joe Maddon has a couple of extra bench players. Addison Russell, who had struck out twice, was double-switched out of the game, TLS staying in at second base and Javier Baez, playing his first big-league game of 2015, moving from second to short. This is a good way of keeping players fresh down the stretch, especially now with the weather being so hot. Baez, for his part, played flawless defense while going 0-for-4... with only one strikeout, and one deep fly to center field. Progress!
Clayton Richard, who's been very good out of the pen recently, wasn't in this one. He gave up back-to-back doubles to Jay Bruce and Votto, making the score 3-1 Reds in the sixth. Justin Grimm, beat up badly Monday night, retired the next three hitters, though Brandon Phillips stole second and third after reaching on a fielder's choice. That FC was important, because Anthony Rizzo threw Votto out trying to take third base. Instead of having yet another potential run poised on third, the Reds had a runner on first with one out, and Grimm struck out the next two to end the inning.
The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the inning on RBI singles by Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero. Bryant went 3-for-4 and drove in a pair, raising his BA to .269, the highest it's been since the All-Star break. Bryant is hitting .346/.433/.625 since August 1 with seven home runs in 104 at-bats. He's off to a great start in September.
Fernando Rodney, whose first couple of Cubs appearances were good, gave up a home run to Eugenio Suarez leading off the seventh to make it 4-3 Reds. That sucked a lot of the energy out of an otherwise-enthusiastic crowd, and it was the ninth home run Rodney has allowed in 51⅔ total innings this year, a frighteningly large total (in an almost-identical 52⅔ innings last year, he gave up only three). I'll give Rodney a bit of a break here as Suarez' fly ball got some help from the wind, which had increased in the late innings. The homer just barely made the first row.
But the Cubs and Schwarber would get Rodney off the hook in the bottom of the inning. Dexter Fowler bounced a single to right and Schwarber ran the count full, then fouled off a pitch before launching his homer into the bleachers. All of this happened after the first two hitters in the inning made routine outs. Schwarber's homer was his 13th in just 163 at-bats; only seven rookies have more despite all of them except the Twins' Miguel Sano having at least 100 more at-bats than Schwarber.
The Cubs threatened to add more. Chris Coghlan bounced a ball off the left-field dirt track adjacent to the wall. The ball went into the seats where a woman touched it before dropping it back onto the field. Cubs security began to walk toward the area, but that ball wasn't interfered with; it was already in the seats while touched. The Cubs security supervisor stopped, listened to his radio, then walked away. Anthony Rizzo then walked, but Bryant flied to left to end the inning.
Then it was up to Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. Strop had an easy 1-2-3 inning, but Rondon ran a 3-0 count on Todd Frazier. Uh-oh. Would this be bad Rondon?
Nope. Rondon recovered and got Frazier to ground to Baez at short. Then he struck out Ivan De Jesus, Jr. and Suarez to end it. One of the pitches to Suarez registered 100 miles per hour on Wrigley's pitch-speed meter -- don't think I've ever seen Rondon touch 100 before.
The win was the Cubs' 29th one-run victory (against 17 defeats). The team record for one-run wins in a season is 37. It was set 108 years ago. Yes, things are happening that we haven't seen in decades.
The Cubs gained a game on both the Pirates and Giants. We should be thankful the Pirates are in Milwaukee this week. Despite the Pirates being very good this year and the Brewers being bad, Miller Park has been a house of pain for the Bucs, as it has been for many years. The Pirates lost Tuesday night and are 2-5 in Miller Park this year, and since 2011, the year the Brewers won the N.L. Central, the Pirates are 14-28 in Milwaukee. The Dodgers helped out the Cubs by defeating the Giants, so the Cubs trail Pittsburgh by 4½ games and lead the Giants by 6½.
The Cubs go for another series win this afternoon -- remember, today's a day game -- at 1:20 p.m. CT. Jason Hammel will go for the Cubs and Raisel Iglesias for the Reds.