The Cubs swept the Nationals in a four-game series and drove Bryce Harper crazy by walking him 13 times, a record for a four-game set. (I’m sure it drove Dusty “Walks Clog The Bases” Baker nuts, too.)
The Cubs were 24-6 after this win and had a 7½-game lead in the National League Central.
Before I get to all the wild and wacky details of the Cubs' 4-3, 13-inning win over the Nationals Sunday afternoon, their seventh consecutive victory, let me make one thing really clear:
The Cubs had no business winning this game. Not on a day when Jake Arrieta struggled with his command, threw three wild pitches (a career high) and was gone from the game by the sixth inning. Not on a day when they left the bases loaded in the first inning, trailed 3-1 going into the seventh and left RISP in the seventh, eighth and 11th innings. Not on a day when third-base coach Gary Jones sent Jason Heyward to his doom, thrown out at the plate in the 11th with the potential winning run.
And yet... they found a way to win. That's what the 2016 Cubs are all about and have been since Opening Day.
Javier Baez's walkoff homer was the first such blast of his career (and it produced the Cubs' first walkoff win of 2016). It was hit in front of a surprisingly large number of fans (more than half, I'd say, of the sellout of 41,233) who stayed through the nearly five-hour marathon and was just one more memory for us to place in a 2016 scrapbook already overflowing with incredible performances.
Let's go back to the beginning to wrap this one up. As noted above, Arrieta wasn't sharp. He managed to get out of the first couple of innings despite some walks and hits allowed, a dropped third strike by Tim Federowicz and a pair of wild pitches. A double by Ryan Zimmerman that went off Kris Bryant's glove made it 1-0 Nats in the third, a third wild pitch and Jake's own fielding error led to Washington's second run, and a third run came across in the fifth. By then Jake had thrown 100 pitches and it was left up to the bullpen.
That's when mad scientist Joe Maddon went to work, but not until Heyward did something that, had it not happened, might have ended this game in Washington's favor after nine innings. Heyward's diving catch of Zimmerman's sinking liner [VIDEO] might have saved two runs; if that ball gets by him (and it likely does get by a lesser right fielder) the Nats probably go on and score off Trevor Cahill.
With the Cubs' short bench, Maddon let Cahill bat for himself leading off the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs still trailing 3-1.
This surprised me and, I suppose, you too. Cahill came into this game a .102 career hitter (16-for-157) and had not batted since last year. Naturally, he singled up the middle. After Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch, Heyward sacrificed, advancing both runners.
Now think about that for a moment. The .102-hitting pitcher gets a hit, and the $184-million player expected to boost the offense lays down a bunt. Backward, right?
But it worked, because Bryant followed the bunt with this:
That tied the game and left things up to the Cubs bullpen, beginning with Cahill.
I can't say enough about the performance of Cahill, Adam Warren, Justin Grimm and Travis Wood. With pen mainstays Clayton Richard, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon unavailable due to their recent workload, it was up to four guys who are stretched out enough to go multiple innings. Combined, they threw 133 pitches in eight innings, allowed five hits and no runs and walked six. Even with all the baserunners the Nats had, the pen helped keep them stranded: Washington was 1-for-19 with RISP and left 21 (!) men on base. Zimmerman set a major-league record by stranding 14 runners; the previous record was 12. (One of the previous record holders was Glenn Beckert of the Cubs, who did it in 1972.)
And about those six walks by the Cubs' pen: Three of them were issued to Bryce Harper. Maddon apparently decided that he simply wasn't going to let Harper beat him in this series:
Bryce Harper's 4-game series vs Cubs:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 8, 2016
BB, BB, single, BB, out, K, K, BB, BB, Sac Fly, BB, IBB, BB, BB, IBB, HBP, BB, IBB, IBB
More on the walks to Harper:
Bryce Harper is only @MLB player in at least 40 yrs to receive 2+ IBBs in extra innings with 1B and 2B occupied *each* time, per STATS LLC.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 9, 2016
Harper's batting line Sunday -- enhanced by the three intentional passes, two of them, as noted above, with first and second base occupied -- was also the first time in major-league history that a player had reached base seven times in a game without an official at-bat. It's also just the fourth time since 1913 that a player has walked six times in a game. Here are the other three:
The game marched on. The Cubs got the winning run on base in the eighth and ninth innings, but couldn't score, and in fact, ended the ninth when Anthony Rizzo's ball hit Heyward running toward second, causing an out that finished regulation play. The Cubs had the winning run on second base in the 10th with one out, but could not score. That's after Warren got out of the top of the 10th with the bases loaded, getting Zimmerman to fly to Bryant in left.
Heyward singled with one out in the 11th and Bryant hit a ball to the gap in deep right-center field, and then this happened:
I guess I see what Gary Jones was trying to do, and it did take two perfect throws to get Heyward. On the other hand, if you hold him you have runners on second and third with one out. At that point the Nats probably walk Rizzo and pitch to Ben Zobrist, who's the team's hottest hitter. I would have taken my chances with that. Obviously, since the Cubs won the game this is only a footnote.
Wood, now in the game, loaded the bases with two out in the 12th, one of those on Harper's final walk of the day, but got out of the inning on a grounder to third on which Baez made another of what's becoming his style: a running stop and accurate throw to first base, this one to nail Zimmerman. Wood also put two more runners on with two out in the 13th, one on a hit batsman (the eighth of the series) before a fly ball to center ended that inning.
The lights had been turned on at Wrigley and all but one of the other Sunday afternoon games had ended by the time Javy came to the plate with one out in the 13th, and in case you didn't hear it, this video includes Pat Hughes' radio call of the game-winner:
Maddon on Baez:
#Cubs Maddon on Baez HR: "You can see how much power he's got. ... That had rockets on it, man, and that was really well struck."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 9, 2016
Words, my friends, are beginning to fail me to describe the amazing things the 2016 Cubs are doing on a daily basis. If it's not great pitching, it's great defense. If it's not timely singles, it's home runs. If the starting pitching flops, the bullpen picks things up. Every single man on this team contributes, and the manager seems to know exactly what buttons to push, when to push them, and why it all works. It's such a pleasure to watch and I hope every one of you understands the historic nature of what you're watching.
Cubs walk watch: Despite the length of this game, and all the walks given to Harper, the Cubs walked just three times in 13 innings, bringing the season total to 156, or 5.2 per game. Pace: 842.