This Mike Montgomery thing isn't working out well, not so far, at least.
Montgomery made his second appearance as a Cub, this time in a much higher-leverage situation than the first, and he failed again, allowing a hit, a sacrifice bunt, and a game-winning single by Tyler Saladino, and the White Sox defeated the Cubs 5-4. It was the third straight game the Sox had blown a lead in the eighth inning or later and come back and won in walkoff fashion.
Montgomery's failure wasn't the only reason the Cubs lost this game, just the highest-profile one. You had a feeling this might not be the Cubs' evening just four pitches in. After Dexter Fowler led off the game with a fly to center, Kris Bryant smashed a ball on which Harry Caray very likely would have said, "It might be... it could be..."
It wasn't, because of Melky Cabrera, who literally stole a home run from Bryant:
Give Melky credit. That was an outstanding catch, one of the better ones I've ever seen.
The Cubs couldn't do much with Miguel Gonzalez over the first six innings, though some sketchy baserunning by Bryant ran them into an inning-ending out. With Javier Baez on second, Bryant singled to left. Baez took a wide turn at third, but Bryant took an even wider turn toward second -- why, I have no idea, because the ball took an easy bounce to Cabrera. Once Bryant did this, Baez did the right thing in breaking for the plate, and nearly made it. Cabrera's throw first went home, then Dioner Navarro threw to second to try to nab Bryant. Saladino threw home after Baez broke, and ... here, watch it for yourself [VIDEO].
Baez nearly made it, trying to slide around the tag. No call was made at first; no tag was made and Baez missed the plate. As Baez tried to scramble back to touch home, Navarro tagged him.
The White Sox scored a run in the third, and the Cubs left two more runners on in the fourth and sixth, and Jake Arrieta seemed to have things in hand, for the most part. He had two out with two runners on in the sixth when he hung an 0-1 slider to Todd Frazier, who smashed a three-run homer to center field to make it 4-0.
We are all familiar with Frazier from his time with the Reds. That was the 12th career homer for Frazier off Cubs pitching, his second-most against any team (18 off the Pirates). And then there's this:
Players to homer off Jake Arrieta in both 2015 & 2016:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 26, 2016
that's it. #WhiteSox
Fortunately, Arrieta won't have to face Frazier again, not this year, anyway. Overall I thought Jake threw pretty well. He had thrown just 65 pitches through the first five innings, but struggled with a 10-pitch at-bat against Tim Anderson leading off the sixth. He struck Anderson out, but went into long counts against most of the Sox batters in that inning, eventually throwing 28 pitches before Frazier deposited Jake's 29th pitch of the inning into the hitters' background.
So the Cubs went into the seventh inning down 4-0 for the second straight day.
The Sox bullpen cooperated, though, and began to give back the lead. Miguel Montero, who went 2-for-4, doubled down the right-field line and Baez cut the deficit in half with this two-run homer [VIDEO], his 10th. That's a new career high for Baez, who hit nine in his rookie year, 2014.
The Cubs again wasted an opportunity in the eighth after a leadoff walk by Ben Zobrist. Two force plays followed, after which Addison Russell walked. I was surprised that Robin Ventura didn't bring in a lefthander to face Montero, but Matt Albers struck him out to end the inning.
The Cubs bullpen was doing a good job keeping the White Sox in check. Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr. threw two innings of scoreless relief, allowing one hit and a walk and striking out three. I was particularly pleased at Grimm's outing. He's been pretty bad since the beginning of last September, but he has now not allowed a run over his last eight appearances covering 5⅓ innings. In those innings he's allowed just one hit and struck out seven. It would be a real boost to the bullpen if he could recover his form of the first five months of 2015.
The Cubs went into the ninth trailing by two and not having to face the Sox' two best relievers, David Robertson and Nate Jones, though Jones did warm up. Robertson had blown a save Sunday by allowing three ninth-inning homers.
So instead, it was Albers the Cubs faced, and they immediately got results. Javier Baez led off with a double, his third hit of the game, and Fowler singled him in to make it 4-3. Bryant singled to left, sending Fowler to third with the tying run.
What Bryant was thinking in trying to stretch the single into a double, I'll never know. He was thrown out by Cabrera:
So instead of having runners on first and third with nobody out and the lead run on first, it was just Fowler on third with one out. Ventura replaced Albers with Dan Jennings.
Rizzo looped a single to left, scoring Fowler to tie the game, and Zobrist flied to right for the second out. Willson Contreras followed with a single, sending Rizzo to second. Joe Maddon sent Matt Szczur in to run for Rizzo, another somewhat-inexplicable call. Yes, Szczur is faster than Rizzo, and you certainly want your best chance to score the lead run. On the other hand, if the game goes into extra innings, you have now taken your best hitter out of the game.
Jason Heyward struck out to end the inning, and now we're back to the beginning of this recap, Montgomery's failure. As a Cub, Montgomery has faced five hitters in two appearances. Three of them have gotten hits, and one of the outs was a sacrifice bunt. This isn't good; he's going to have to be better, it's that simple.
The full house at the Cell was, I'd say, about 40 percent Cubs fans. They were loud, especially when Baez hit his homer and when the game was tied in the ninth, but Sox fans were clearly louder, notably when Frazier hit his home run. I didn't see any incidents between Cubs and Sox fans, so that's good, at least.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals were rained out against the Mets in New York, so the Cubs lost only half a game of their N.L. Central lead, which now stands at seven games. The Cards and Mets will play a single-admission doubleheader Tuesday.
The two teams go at it again Tuesday evening, with Kyle Hendricks going for the Cubs and James Shields for the Sox. Remember, today's game starts an hour earlier (for ESPN): 6:10 p.m. CT. The game preview will post at 4 p.m. CT.