Seven years ago, I went to a Cubs/Phillies series at Citizens Bank Park. This was the year after the Phillies had won the World Series, and tickets were hard to come by. Unlike Cubs road series these days, there were very few Cubs fans in the house. I managed to get a seat in the last row of seats in left-center field.
That's almost the exact location where Kris Bryant launched a sixth-inning, two-run homer Wednesday afternoon, a blast that must have gone at least 420 feet [VIDEO]. That homer (his 14th), plus another one by Ben Zobrist later in the inning, helped lead the Cubs to an 8-1 win over the Phillies, winning the series and allowing the Cubs to enjoy their off day before opening a series against the Braves Friday in Atlanta.
Here's a fun fact about Bryant and home runs:
Kris Bryant on the road:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 8, 2016
2015: 75 games, 5 HR, 40 RBI
2016: 28 games, 7 HR, 26 RBI#Cubs
Before the Cubs' homer barrage, they had several opportunities to score runs early on. The first two Cubs reached base in the third by Miguel Montero and Javier Baez. But Montero was thrown out at the plate when John Lackey hit an infield grounder, and Dexter Fowler hit into a double play. Jason Heyward walked to lead off the fourth, but Anthony Rizzo eventually ended that inning with another DP ball.
All of this was facing lefthander Brett Oberholtzer, who came into the game just two pitches in. Vince Velasquez got Fowler to line to right, but departed with what was later termed "bicep soreness." Oberholtzer did a fine job for the Phillies, throwing four innings and allowing just one run, unearned because he himself threw away a potential double-play ball. Javier Baez eventually drove in the Cubs' first run with a fifth-inning single.
Meanwhile, Lackey was keeping the game close, helped out by a tremendous play by Albert Almora Jr. in the bottom of the first. You've all heard about Almora's great defense, but here he throws a laser beam to Montero after catching a fly ball hit by Freddy Galvis with runners on first and third:
That was just awesome. I've seen Almora play defense in spring training and I knew he could do things like this. To see him do it in the first game he played in the field in the major leagues was tremendous, just a hint of how good he can be.
And then Lackey really settled in. Cody Asche singled with two out in the second inning. After that Lackey retired 16 straight Phillies, completing seven strong innings in which he allowed three hits, no walks and struck out eight. Pedro Strop, who really didn't need to be in this game but probably needed the work, threw a 1-2-3 eighth. Clayton Richard got another chance to show he can still pitch; he issued a walk and, due to a passed ball, wound up allowing an unearned run. It was still a decent inning, with Richard getting three ground outs after the walk.
Cubs starting pitching, continuing to be amazing:
#Cubs starting pitching - this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 8, 2016
2.30 ERA, 372.0 IP, 260 Hits, 362 K, 0.970 WHIP
Opponents hitting .198/.261/.300
#Cubs starting pitching - last 13 games— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 8, 2016
1.34 ERA, 87.0 IP, 51 Hits, 97 K, .171 Opp BA, 0.805 WHIP
#Cubs starting pitchers this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 8, 2016
1.80 ERA - Arrieta
2.06 ERA - Lester
2.14 ERA - Hammel
2.63 ERA - Lackey
2.90 ERA - Hendricks
In addition to the power show by Zobrist and Bryant, Baez had a good day at the plate, going 4-for-4, the first four-hit game of his career. He also made a couple of nice plays at shortstop, showing off his range and arm. Rizzo drove in another Cubs run with a double in the eighth inning, and then Almora singled off Calvin Murray's glove to drive Rizzo in with his first major-league hit. Congratulations to the rookie on what will hopefully be the first of many big-league hits. Baez singled in Almora and Miguel Montero (who had walked) to complete the scoring.
The win was the Cubs' 19th on the road this year and their 19-9 mark gives them a .679 road winning percentage, best in the major leagues. They finish the season series with the Phillies with five wins in six games; as the Phillies are unlikely to be a postseason participant, that's farewell to them until 2017. The Cubs' eight-run game gave them 313 for the season, which (pending Wednesday night's action) ties them for the Cardinals for the most in the National League, and also increases their run differential to +149. The biggest run differential in 2015 -- for the entire season -- was +221, by the Blue Jays.
Cubs walk watch: two in this one, 254 for the season, 4.38 per game. Pace: 709. At the current pace they will break the team record (650) in game 148, September 17 vs. the Brewers.
Before that, of course, there are many more games to win. The Cubs will be off Thursday, which is MLB draft day. Even though the Cubs don't pick till the third round, which happens Friday, we'll have draft coverage here tomorrow for those of you who want to follow along. Friday night, the Cubs open a series in Atlanta with Jason Hammel facing Braves righthander Bud Norris.