I keep saying this, and it keeps being more and more true: Watch baseball long enough, and you'll see things you have never seen before.
Tuesday night, it was a graduate-level course in roster management from Joe Maddon. Three different Cubs pitchers played left field, one served as a pinch-hitter, Joe swapped lefty and righty hurlers twice, and everyone on the roster participated except three starting pitchers (Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Wednesday's starter Kyle Hendricks).
In the end, it was two key hitters who won this game. Kris Bryant's single through a pulled-in infield gave the Cubs a lead and after an intentional walk Javier Baez eventually put the cherry on top with a grand slam. The Cubs beat the Reds 7-2 in 15 innings, their longest game since the John Baker Game nearly two years ago.
Heck, if Baker had been around and in uniform Tuesday night, Joe probably would have found a way to have him pitch. Or... perhaps not:
Sorry I'm unavailable for this game due to the 40 minutes of BP I threw to my nephew today.— John Baker (@manbearwolf) June 29, 2016
Only #Pattonwood can save us now.
It didn't start out that way. Jon Lester was dominant, throwing 7⅔ innings of three-hit ball and driving in the Cubs' second run with a single, his third hit and third RBI this season. The other run came on a home run leading off the game by Ben Zobrist, his 10th. The only mistake Lester made was a home-run ball thrown to Billy Hamilton that cut the Cubs' lead to 2-1.
I mean... you explain Hamilton to me. Three of his 13 career homers are against the Cubs. He's got an .879 career OPS (148 PA) against the Cubs, which is 251 points over his career OPS. He's stolen 22 bases against the Cubs in 37 career games, more than against anyone except the Pirates.
Still, the score's still 2-1 and Hector Rondon is in the game for a four-out save opportunity, something he's done previously this year. With one out in the ninth, Hector hit Brandon Phillips with a pitch, something he certainly did not want to do. Phillips had quite the painful day on his 35th birthday; in addition to the HBP he fouled two balls off his left leg and was in obvious discomfort most of the evening.
But he stayed in the game, advanced to second on a single by Jay Bruce and, after Hector had struck out Adam Duvall, scored the tying run on a single by Eugenio Suarez on a close play at the plate.
On to extra innings they went, and that's where things got fun and weird. Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr. both threw scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th, striking out two each, and the Cubs' stock of position players was emptied when Chris Coghlan and Miguel Montero pinch-hit for Grimm and Edwards, respectively. Neither PH appearance resulted in a run, and both stayed in the game. But when Joel Peralta replaced Trevor Cahill in the bottom of the 13th, out trotted Travis Wood to left field.
Wood was just the first of three Cubs pitchers to play a position other than pitcher in this one; he and Spencer Patton swapped places a couple of times, and eventually Pedro Strop finished the game in left field, with a look on his face as if to say, "C'mon, hit the ball to me, I got this!" This is worth posting here for posterity, as it isn't likely to happen again:
Although with Joe Maddon in charge, who knows?
Some good defense kept the Cubs in this game. First, Anthony Rizzo, who seems to be making a specialty of this sort of thing, climbed up on the GABP tarp to snag a foul ball by Suarez to end the eighth inning:
And with one out in the 13th and runners on first and second, Ben Zobrist's leaping grab [VIDEO] of a line drive hit by Joey Votto turned into an inning-ending double play. That preserved the tie, and two innings and several Maddon machinations later, the Cubs put together their five-run rally, capped by Baez's slam. It was Baez's first career grand slam, and his first-ever hit with the bases loaded (previously: 0-for-8). Beyond that, Baez's homer has this distinction:
15th inning grand slam by Javier Baez: latest grand slam inning wise in #Cubs history (previous was 14th inning by Cliff Johnson 5/28/1980)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 29, 2016
You almost certainly remember Sean Marshall playing left field for the Cubs in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals July 12, 2009. The Cubs lost that game 4-2, though the swap worked; Aaron Heilman (!) entered the game and struck out Brendan Ryan, at which time Marshall resumed pitching.
There's a bit of irony here as Wood became the first Cubs pitcher to patrol the outfield since then. Wood was acquired in one of the first trades made by Theo & Co., for Marshall, in December 2011. That deal's worked out quite well for the Cubs.
Here are some fun facts about the Cubs' pitching outfield:
There was also a 7/22/1986 #Mets game where both Jesse Orosco & Roger McDowell both played the outfield.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 29, 2016
Before that, there was the famous August 17, 1982 Cubs/Dodgers game at Wrigley Field, where Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda used pitchers Bob Welch and Fernando Valenzuela in the outfield, rotating with a Dodgers outfielder depending on what side of the plate the hitter was batting. I won't ruin the surprise (and please don't in the comments) -- go look and see who that actual Dodgers outfielder was on that day 34 years ago. Lasorda was forced to use those pitchers in the field for the final three innings of that 21-inning affair after he ran out of position players due to Ron Cey being ejected.
I love the way Joe Maddon manages. He will literally do every single thing he can in order to win, and he's got his players totally buying into it. I don't know about Spencer Patton (who wound up with the win, since he got the last out of the 14th inning) or Strop, but Wood was an outfielder in high school and certainly wouldn't embarrass himself out there. That said, I would really like to see the Cubs carry only two catchers; while they won this game, it's not a good situation in the long term.
Kudos to the extra-inning Cubs relievers in this one. After Rondon's blown save, the Cubs pen, which has been shaky of late, posted six innings of shutout ball, allowing just three singles, with no walks and eight strikeouts. Plus, some standing around in the outfield. None of the three pitchers who played left field touched the ball defensively. They're probably disappointed, though certainly not with the result of the game.
Cubs walk watch: the long extra-inning affair produced seven Cubs bases on balls, bringing the season total to 330, or 4.34 per game. Pace: 703. At the current pace the Cubs will break the team record (650) in game 150, September 19 at Wrigley Field against the Reds.
Speaking again of the Reds, the Cubs are now 8-1 against Cincinnati this year and have outscored them 78-30. Throw out the one loss and in the eight wins that margin is 71-17.
One more thing: The win was the Cubs' 50th of the year, and they maintained their 10-game division lead over the Cardinals, who also won Tuesday. Another fun fact:
#Cubs games needed to reach 50 wins— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 29, 2016
2016: 76 - fewest needed since 1918 (71 - 50-20 and a tie)
The Cubs will go for yet another win, and a sweep of this series, in just a few hours. Game time is 11:35 a.m. CT; the game preview will post at 10:15 a.m. CT. Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs and rookie Cody Reed for the Reds.