Perhaps this didn't occur to you in the bottom of the ninth of the Cubs' 2-1 loss to the Mets, but it did occur to me, so I'm going to ask you what you think.
The Cubs loaded the bases off Mets closer Jeurys Familia on a pair of walks and a bunt that was badly mishandled by Mets third baseman Jose Reyes off the bat of Javier Baez. First, the bunt likely would have gone foul if he'd let it, and then Reyes made a bad throw allowing Baez to reach.
So why didn't Joe Maddon have Matt Szczur, who was pinch-hitting for Hector Rondon, try a squeeze? There was a good baserunner on third base in Addison Russell and Reyes had just misplayed a bunt. Further, until this year Reyes had literally not played a single inning at third base since 2000, when he was a 17-year-old playing in the Appalachian League!
Further, Reyes was playing back at third base, not expecting a bunt, and Szczur's a pretty good bunter. All of this is with nobody out in the ninth, a situation where most teams can push at least one run across the plate.
But no squeeze play was called for, and Szczur grounded to first baseman James Loney, who forced Russell at the plate.
There was still hope for this one with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo due next (even though Rizzo had struck out four times previously in the game), but Bryant hit into a game-ending double play.
Hey, it happens. Even good teams fail in situations like this from time to time. But I'd still have at least tried the squeeze.
All of this ruined an excellent outing by Jake Arrieta, who looks like he's back to his previous form. He threw only 85 pitches in seven strong innings, allowing just five hits and a walk and striking out eight. Unfortunately, one of the hits was a leadoff triple by Reyes in the sixth. He scored one batter later on a sacrifice fly. That tied the game at 1.
The Cubs had plated the first run when Willson Contreras doubled with two out in the third inning. He advanced to third on a wild pitch by Noah Syndergaard and scored when Mets catcher Rene Rivera made a wild throw [VIDEO] trying to get him at third. Later, swiped his first major-league base after walking to lead off the sixth, but was stranded.
That was perhaps the biggest issue in this game other than (in my opinion) not trying the squeeze in the ninth. The Cubs stranded too many runners, many of them in scoring position. The Cubs had RISP in the first, second, third, fourth, sixth and ninth, but Contreras scored the only run.
In the fourth, Arrieta doubled with two out and Tommy La Stella roped a single to right. Arrieta tried to score and was ruled safe on the field, but the Mets challenged and won a review:
I'm not sure I want to see the Cubs' ace making slides like that, and who knows? If Jake holds at third, maybe Bryant and Rizzo get hits and they break the game open. Overall the Cubs were 2-for-13 with RISP and left 10 runners on base, which is way too many. Here's a fun fact about Jake's double:
Jake Arrieta's double: first ever extra-base hit off Noah Syndergaard by a pitcher.#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 20, 2016
Pedro Strop threw an efficient eighth, but Hector Rondon, in the game in a non-save situation to try to preserve a tie into the last of the ninth, failed, allowing three singles and a run. The third single was hit by Rivera, who entered the game hitting .190. Rivera had three singles on the night -- another "go figure" evening.
Give the Mets credit; they delivered when they needed to, and the Cubs didn't. It happens. The Mets are a pretty good team and I certainly didn't expect this series to be easy. The good news that came out of this game was Arrieta's start, continuing the fine work by Cubs starters since the All-Star break:
#Cubs starters in 5 games since All-Star break:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 20, 2016
1.82 ERA, 34.2 IP, 21 Hits, 9 BB, 29 K, 2 HR, 0.865 WHIP
#Cubs Arrieta on his outing: "That was a little more like it"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 20, 2016
#Cubs Arrieta; "I expect to pitch more like this as far as the aggressiveness and keeping the ball down in the strike zone"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 20, 2016
If he keeps doing that, good things will follow.
The Cubs will go for the series win Wednesday afternoon in a 1:20 p.m. CT game at Wrigley. Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs and the always-entertaining Bartolo Colon takes the mound for the Mets.