Normally, baseball teams don't pinch-hit for their starting pitcher in the bottom of the fifth inning down 1-0, especially when that pitcher is doing well, having allowed just two hits and getting his opponent to beat the ball into the ground (nine ground-ball outs and just three balls hit out of the infield).
But Joe Maddon knows what he's doing, and on a brutally cold, windy evening at Wrigley Field, with runners on second and third and one out, he likely figured that might be the Cubs' best chance to score.
Tommy La Stella batted for Kyle Hendricks and drew a walk, loading the bases. A sacrifice fly by Dexter Fowler scored a run, so the move did pay off. (Fowler's ball might have been a grand slam on any other day, not this one, with the wind howling in from the east at 16 miles per hour.)
A more important play was this one:
Javier Baez was called out trying to steal second base with the Cubs leading 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh. He immediately signaled to the dugout to have the replay crew take a look, and as you can see, Baez pulled his left hand out of the way of Jonathan Villar's tag while keeping his right hand on second base, a nice heads-up slide. Baez later scored on a double by Anthony Rizzo (another heads-up play, Rizzo took second when no one covered the base). The overturned play ruling Baez safe was the first replay challenge at Wrigley Field this year.
That run turned out to be the difference in the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Brewers. Pedro Strop was uncharacteristically wild in the eighth inning, issuing two walks before pinch-hitter Ryan Braun doubled both runners in. The boos for Braun were about as loud as I've ever heard them at Wrigley Field, despite a fair portion of the crowd having departed for warmer places by that time.
Addison Russell provided the Cubs' other scoring with a two-run triple in the sixth inning, another ball that might have left the yard on a warmer, less windy evening. Russell went 2-for-4 on the evening.
Adam Warren threw two efficient 1-2-3 innings in relief of Hendricks. He's been an excellent acquisition, allowing no runs in seven appearances covering eight innings, striking out nine and allowing just five baserunners. After Strop ran into the aforementioned trouble in the eighth, Travis Wood got Villar to pop up to end the inning and Hector Rondon (fourth save) finished things off, though not before allowing Kirk Nieuwenhuis to single, putting the tying run on base, and giving up this fly ball to end it [VIDEO]. Kris Bryant, who had moved to left field after Baez remained in the game following his pinch-hit appearance, ran that ball down on the warning track, probably the longest ball the Brewers hit all night.
One other thing I want to mention about this one is the absolutely ridiculous strike zone of plate umpire Larry Vanover. You likely know about the CubsUmp Twitter account, which keeps track of ball-and-strike calls that are missed. Usually, there are four or maybe five calls per game that are egregious enough for CubsUmp.
I'm not going to embed all the bad calls from Tuesday night because, as you can see by clicking on that link, there were 11 of them, an extraordinary number. As it turned out, the Cubs were the beneficiary, getting seven of those 11 calls in their favor. But really, that shouldn't happen. Beyond that, Vanover has a delayed strike-three call that puzzled quite a few hitters during this game, a couple of whom started trotting to first base, thinking they had walked. Vanover doesn't have delayed strike calls on strike one or strike two, just on strikeouts. Hey, Larry: you're not the show here. This is yet more excellent evidence that we need automated ball-and-strike calls.
Despite Vanover's antics, the Cubs continued to run up large opponent pitch totals by being selective. Brewers pitchers threw 167 pitches and the Cubs walked six times. Thus the Cubs walk watch stands at 103, or 5.15 per game. Pace: 834.
The win improved the Cubs' record to 15-5, and they again took over the best record in baseball from the Nationals, who lost, dropping to 14-5. There has been only one Cubs team since 1900 that started 15-5 or better: the 1907 team, which was 16-4. Kicker: that 1907 team wasn't even in first place at 16-4 -- the Giants started 18-3. They eventually finished 107-45 and, as you know, won the World Series.
I mentioned it was cold. It was by far the coldest night of the 2016 season at Wrigley, with many thousands of no-shows from the announced total of 35,861, and many of those who did show up departed after the seventh inning. Jorge Soler, who as you might remember played in conditions like this last year bundled up as if he were headed to the Arctic, didn't even wear long sleeves for this one, though he probably should have. Soler was 0-for-2 with a walk.
Conditions aren't supposed to be any better Wednesday night. In fact, the forecast calls for rain much of the evening. Jake Arrieta is scheduled to start against Milwaukee's Taylor Jungmann, and it wouldn't be optimal to send Jake out there, only to have the game delayed by rain. The teams have a common off day August 15, the day before the Brewers' next trip to Wrigley, so rescheduling wouldn't be too difficult. (Not to mention that the Cubs could likely sell tickets for a game in August for more than on a cold, wet day in April.
So, stay tuned here for any news of a possible postponement for tonight.