The Cubs came home from a hard-fought 5-4 road trip and found one of their favorite opponents, the Pirates, waiting for them. This shutout brough the Cubs’ record to 45-20 and they had a 10½-game lead in the N.L. Central.
If you didn't like this game, you don't love baseball, because there was something in Friday afternoon's affair for everyone. (Well, unless you're a member of the Pirates or a Pirates fan.)
The most gorgeous afternoon of the summer so far at Wrigley Field -- unlimited sunshine, temperatures in the low 70s, light breeze off the lake -- brought a full house of 41,547 to see the Cubs play interesting, fascinating, sometimes frustrating and occasionally brilliant baseball in a 6-0 win over the Pirates.
Two pitches into the bottom of the first inning, the Cubs had a 2-0 lead. Dexter Fowler smacked Francisco Liriano's first pitch into left field for a single, and then Matt Szczur did this to Liriano's second pitch:
It looked like the Cubs were going to be off to a big early lead. They got two more runners on base in the first inning, but Addison Russell struck out to end the frame.
Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta was dealing, but had a fairly high pitch count in the first two innings. Then he gave up back-to-back singles to lead off the third, but followed that by striking out the side. He had seven Ks after three innings.
The Cubs kept getting men on base. They left the bases loaded in the fourth and fifth inning, so it went to the sixth still 2-0.
Arrieta retired Liriano on a fly to left to begin the sixth. Why Liriano was even batting was a mystery, unless the Pirates bullpen was so overworked that Clint Hurdle simply wanted to save relief work for later. Down only 2-0, I didn't understand why he didn't bat for Liriano. But then Jake got wild and walked the bases loaded.
That's when the ballpark got rocking. You don't normally see that kind of energy and intensity in a crowd in June, but the full house was on its feet when Jake struck out David Freese for the second out. That brought up Matt Joyce, and Joe Maddon left his ace in the game. Jake ran the count full on Joyce and caught him looking on a 93 mile per hour sinker that had incredible movement:
Jake was lifted for pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan in the bottom of the inning. It's the 23rd consecutive start, dating back to last August, that Jake has not been removed in the middle of an inning. Coghlan sliced a ball to left field and might have been thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, except Joyce's throw almost overthrew the entire infield. The next two hitters were easy outs, but that's when the Cubs' offense got working.
Ben Zobrist singled in Coghlan, who had moved to third on a wild pitch. Liriano was replaced by Cory Luebke, who couldn't find the zone. He walked Anthony Rizzo (who earlier had been hit by Liriano pitches twice) and gave up an RBI double to Albert Almora. Then Hurdle ordered Javier Baez intentionally walked to fill the bases, which I thought was an odd decision.
That brought up Russell, who had one of the best at-bats by any Cub this year. He ran the count full and then fouled off seven straight pitches, before Luebke missed with the 13th pitch of the at-bat. Ball four made the score 5-0 Cubs, and once again the crowd was into every pitch.
The Cubs added their sixth and final run on an odd inning-ending play in which... well, watch for yourself:
Dexter Fowler was ruled on the field to have scored before the tumbling collision between Josh Harrison and Rizzo. The Pirates challenged the call, but it was confirmed. As is often said: watch baseball long enough and you'll see something you've never seen before.
Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Justin Grimm completed the shutout, the Cubs' seventh of the season. Besides the two hits and three walks given up by Arrieta, Grimm allowed a hit and a walk in the ninth before getting a called third strike on Jordy Mercer to end it.
I also wanted to give credit to Russell for this slick defensive play [VIDEO] in the eighth inning on a sharply-hit grounder by Sean Rodriguez, who got booed when he came up to bat after he had entered in the sixth on a double-switch. He plays the part of a Pirates villain pretty well, I'd say.
The Cubs could have scored a lot more runs in this game, as they left 14 runners on base and left the bases loaded in the sixth also. But, given the nature of 6-0 wins, I'll leave the complaint department door locked up tight after this one. Also, all of this was accomplished with Kris Bryant on the bench for the day, said to be battling a stomach bug.
Willson Contreras was on deck to pinch-hit for Wood in the eighth, but Miguel Montero lined into a double play to end the inning. Contreras made his major-league debut by catching Grimm in the ninth, and I'm sure his first big-league at-bat will come soon. He got a nice welcome to the major leagues:
Contreras shook hands with ump Cederstrom, got a pat on back from McCutchen. Welcome to the show. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 17, 2016
Cubs walk watch: After slowing down recently, the Cubs jumpstarted the walk watch today by drawing 11 bases on balls, bringing the season total to 282. That moves the average up to 4.34 per game and the season pace is now back over 700 at 703.
Here are some numbers on Jake and the starting rotation:
Jake Arrieta's last 34 starts:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 17, 2016
1.20 ERA, 240.0 IP, 133 Hits, 248 K, 5 HR allowed, 0.796 WHIP#Cubs
#Cubs starting pitching this season:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 17, 2016
2.29 ERA, 416.0 IP, 294 Hits, 402 K, .200 Opp BA, 0.976 WHIP
I realize the Pirates have had to suffer through some injuries and also a 2 a.m. arrival in Chicago before this game, but they really looked like a team in disarray. Hopefully, the Cubs can take advantage of this the rest of the weekend. The Cubs looked like a team that can do just that; in this game they looked like they had while running up winning streaks earlier this year, despite all the runners left on base.