This one looked like it was going to be an easy win early, and then it got way too close. The victory completed a series win in St. Louis — always a good thing -- and made the Cubs’ record 31-14. They led the N.L. Central by five games.
Three hours and 38 minutes into an excruciatingly exciting game, Hector Rondon knocked down a ground ball by Jedd Gyorko with the potential tying and winning runs on base, picked it up, threw it to Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs had a 9-8 win over the Cardinals, winning the series and ending this rough road trip on a high note.
I mentioned the 3:38 running time of this game not to say anything about the length or pace (but man, could they speed up Jonathan Broxton a little?), but to note how jam-packed this game was with hits, walks, homers, runs, interesting and bad calls, and other sundry things.
The first mention goes to Jake Arrieta, who had his worst game in nearly a calendar year. The last time (in the regular season) that Jake allowed four runs in a game was May 29, 2015, against the Kansas City Royals at Wrigley Field. Seems like ages ago, doesn't it? Jake had fine velocity and good stuff, but the Cardinals apparently had him scouted well and hit him hard.
The Cubs scored six runs in an inning for the second consecutive game, this time the second inning, and again did it without the benefit of a home run. The biggest hit in the inning was a two-run double by Jason Heyward, and you'd like to think that might bring him out of his slump, but it was his only hit of the day, and a couple other of his at-bats resulted in weak ground balls to second.
Anyway, you'd have thought the 6-1 lead after the top of the second would have been enough for Jake, but not on this day. Randal Grichuk homered off him in the bottom of the inning, the second time Grichuk homered to the opposite field in this series. Still, 6-2, no problem, right?
Wrong. Jake got hit hard in the fourth, allowing two more runs, and barely survived a fifth inning that featured an error by Tommy La Stella, and Yadier Molina getting hit by a pitch.
Or, more correctly, Yadier Molina throwing his elbow in the way of a pitch. That was pretty ridiculous, I thought, not to mention obvious on the part of Molina. You could see the steam coming out of Joe Maddon's ears in the dugout, but nothing was said, and Jake got out of the inning by getting Grichuk to ground into a force play.
Jake threw strikes: 62 in 93 pitches. But instead of commanding the zone, he left pitches where Cardinals hitters could hit them. It happens. We're just not used to seeing this from Jake, and I doubt it becomes a regular thing. His ERA jumped from 1.29 to 1.72, which now ranks third in the National League behind the otherworldly Clayton Kershaw and the surprising Drew Pomeranz.
The Cubs had two runners on with two out and a 3-2 pitch on Kris Bryant when Bryant launched this three-run homer:
That once again gave the Cubs a five-run lead. It was the first home run allowed in the major leagues by Korean-import reliever Seung Hwan Oh. It was also Bryant's sixth homer on the road this year; he hit only five road homers all of 2015. Enough, right?
Nope. The Cardinals got it all back on a three-run homer by Matt Holliday, right after La Stella made his second error of the game.
TLS is a fine bench player and every now and again you give him a start, because he usually contributes offensively there, too (he did in this one with two walks). But he's not really a very good defensive third baseman. I'd even suggest that on days that both TLS and Ben Zobrist are in the lineup, put Zo at third and TLS at second. It'd be better defense.
So it's now 9-7 -- the three runs off Adam Warren unearned due to the error -- and the Cardinals got another one back when Matt Adams, who had a monster series, homered off Travis Wood in the seventh.
Before I talk about the eighth and ninth, let me mention the strike zone of C.B. Bucknor in this game. Let me be charitable and quote Jim Deshaies on Bucknor. He said that Bucknor's strike zone was "perplexing," and perhaps that's the nicest thing that could be said. Here's the CubsUmp automated Twitter feed, that posts calls that should have gone the other way. There were 14 (!) of them in this game, equally divided between "helps Cubs" and "hurts Cubs." Really, any competent big-league umpire shouldn't blow this many ball-and-strike calls in a nine-inning game.
The Cubs had a chance in the eighth when Dexter Fowler led off with a walk, but Heyward killed that by hitting into a double play. Pedro Strop also walked the first man he faced in the eighth, Brandon Moss, but he got out of the inning unscathed despite a wild pitch.
Trevor Rosenthal got the Cubs 1-2-3 in the ninth and then it was up to Hector Rondon, who hadn't pitched in a week. It seemed as if the layoff might have hurt Hector, as he allowed singles to the first two hitters he faced, Stephen Piscotty and Adams. This is where Heyward's defense really helped the Cubs. Piscotty might have tried for third off any other right fielder, but the Cardinals surely know how good Heyward's arm is, so he held at second. Had Piscotty been at third base, it probably pulls the infield in and very much increases the chance of the tying run scoring.
Instead, Molina came to bat with runners on first and second. He showed bunt a couple of times, then struck out on a slider in the dirt. A similar pitch got Grichuk, and then Hector got Gyorko (who looks considerably heavier than when he played for the Padres) to hit the comebacker to end it.
The Cubs hadn't done well in one-run games before this one. They were just 5-6 in one-run affairs coming into Wednesday, so it is, I think, a very good thing that they held on in this one. It improved Jake's W/L record to 9-0, and also accomplished this:
The Cubs win their 23rd straight regular-season game started by Jake Arrieta, tying the all-time baseball record. pic.twitter.com/yHEzn1TLw6— ESPN (@espn) May 25, 2016
Congrats to Jake and the Cubs on this milestone. More on Jake's last 23 starts:
Jake Arrieta last 23 regular season starts (#Cubs 23-0)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 25, 2016
20-0, 1.05 ERA, 162.1 IP, 86 Hits, 162 K, .153 Opp BA, 0.764 WHIP
He will get a well-deserved extra day of rest before his next outing, due to the off day Thursday, and will likely next start against the Dodgers Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
So heave off that great sigh of relief that the Cubs didn't blow two separate five-run leads, instead holding on for a big win over their biggest rivals.
Cubs walk watch: six more in this game bring the season total to 221, or 4.91 per game. Pace: 796. At this pace the Cubs will break the team record (650) Wednesday, August 31 against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
A 4-5 road trip isn't great -- it's the first Cubs losing road trip since last August in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the first losing trip of nine games or more since July 2014 -- but winning two of the last three and resuming the winning that had become nearly a daily habit over the season's first six weeks is quite satisfying.