The home season finished, the Cubs headed on the road for their final six regular-season games, still with a chance to catch the Pirates for second place.
The win in Cincinnati made the Cubs' record 92-65. They were eliminated from the division race, but trailed the Pirates by three games, with five games to go, for the top wild-card spot.
Where did that come from?
Many of you likely remember the last week of the 2003 season, when a Cubs team fighting for a division title came to Cincinnati for a three-game series. One of those games was started by Shawn Estes, who had been mostly awful for the Cubs that year. Estes threw a four-hit shutout, a key win for the Cubs in that final week. It was the last game he pitched as a Cub.
If Tuesday's 4-1 Cubs win over the Reds is the last game Dan Haren throws for the Cubs (and it very likely is, and possibly the last game of his career), he goes out with a stunningly good performance. Haren threw 7⅓ shutout innings, allowing just three hits, issuing no walks and striking out six. He'd likely have had the chance to finish the game, but after he gave up a one-out double to Tucker Barnhart in the eighth, Joe Maddon figured that was good enough after 100 Haren pitches and lifted him. He exited to warm applause from... a few hundred Cubs fans who had waited out a 2½-hour rain delay for this one.
Granted that this was against the Reds, who lost their 10th straight and all looked like they'd rather have been anywhere but at Great American Ball Park Tuesday night. But 7⅓ shutout innings is still impressive in the big leagues, no matter who the opponent is.
The Cubs scored all their runs in the first inning when Reds starter Josh Smith had neither command nor control. Dexter Fowler led off with a single and Kyle Schwarber walked. After Kris Bryant struck out, Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch.
That was the No. 30 HBP this year for Rizzo. He became the eighth player in major-league history to be plunked 30 or more times in a season, but just the second to also have 30 or more home runs (Don Baylor did that in 1986). Here are the other seven 30-HBP guys:
Rizzo has said he's not particularly trying to do this, but his crowding-the-plate stance would seem to invite it. In any case it's helped his on-base percentage, which ranks fifth in the National League at .388.
With the bases then loaded, Tommy La Stella hit a ball that started to sail past Reds center fielder Jason Bourgeois. Bourgeois caught it at full extension. If he doesn't grab the ball where he did, it likely rolls to the center-field wall for at least three runs and possibly an inside-the-park grand slam. Fowler scored to make it 1-0, Miguel Montero then doubled in two runs and Javier Baez singled in the fourth run of the inning.
Everyone pretty much could have gone home at that point. The Cubs had only five more hits on the night, all singles, and Haren stifled the Reds until he departed after Barnhart's double. Carl Edwards Jr. entered and finished off the eighth inning without incident. He might have finished off the ninth, too, except Austin Jackson misplayed a line drive hit by Bourgeois, who wound up on third base. Looked like Jackson might have lost it in the lights; he's a better outfielder than that, though in his defense he had never played right field in the major leagues until he came to the Cubs.
Bourgeois scored on an infield out. The run was unearned, but it ruined the chance for the Cubs to post three straight shutouts. No Cubs team has done that since 1992.
Edwards then walked Joey Votto and Maddon summoned Travis Wood to face Skip Schumaker. It took Wood just two pitches to end the game. Schumaker hit into a double play and the Cubs had their 92nd win of the season. Just three post-1945 Cubs teams have won more: 1989 (93), 1984 (96) and 2008 (97), and with five games left in the season the Cubs could conceivably catch all of those squads.
The win increased, just by a bit, the very small chance that the Cubs could catch the Pirates and host the wild-card game next week. Here are the scenarios after the Cubs' win and the Pirates/Cardinals rainout Tuesday night, with five games remaining for both teams:
If the Cubs go 5-0, the Pirates must go 2-3 to tie at 97 wins If the Cubs go 4-1, the Pirates must go 1-4 to tie at 96 wins If the Cubs go 3-2, the Pirates must go 0-5 to tie at 95 wins
It is, obviously, still a longshot. If the Cubs keep winning, it becomes less farfetched every day, especially since the Pirates have a 6-10 record against the Reds, who they host this weekend after they finish up their series with the Cardinals with a split doubleheader Wednesday.
The Cubs, meanwhile, will try to make it two straight over the Reds and four consecutive wins overall this evening, with Jon Lester facing Anthony DeSclafani.