The Atlanta Braves are like your irritating younger cousin who you really dislike, but you have to have over to your house from time to time just to keep peace in the family, and then one day when he's over he breaks a precious family heirloom. And after that, he complains that the heirloom was in his way, and he never liked it to begin with.
Let's just say I'm very, very happy the Cubs don't have to see these guys until 2017, because they annoyed their way to a 4-3, rain-delayed, 11-inning win over the Cubs that ended with Jeimer Candelario softly flying to center field at 12:34 a.m. Besides the loss, it meant that the Cubs probably arrived at their Pittsburgh hotel only a couple of hours before the time of this recap post (8 a.m. CT), which will make them a tired squad this evening.
Before all that, this one was certainly eventful. Storms had been forecast for the evening hours and they arrived a little after 5:30 p.m. It rained quite hard for a time, finally ending a little after 7 p.m. Not long after the rain ended, this happened:
I did not see this happen; the first sign of it was several Cubs employees running across the field. The man lay motionless on the field until the cart arrived to take him to the hospital. In addition to paramedics and staff, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. went out to see what was going on. The Cubs later issued a statement:
"Prior to the game, a fan was injured after attempting to jump onto the field from the Wrigley Field bleachers. The fan was taken by paramedics to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.
"We are unable to provide further comment on his condition at this time. We will remain in contact with the fan’s family to stay updated on his progress."
I hope the man will be OK. Having said that, this was a remarkably stupid thing to do. The Wrigley Field bleacher outer wall is nearly 12 feet high. Years ago I saw someone else do this; the man landed on his feet and broke both his ankles. Please, please, please: if you are ever in the bleachers at Wrigley, don't do this. Just don't. The Sun-Times article linked above also notes:
According to the Twitter account of @JoelMcKinnon, the man, wearing a Mets jersey, had been warned twice by ushers to get off the wall at the front of the bleachers and once hitting the track was unconscious.
Said one tweet from the account: "He never moved. I saw his stomach rising so he was breathing, but never responded to anything."
The game began after an official delay of an hour and 35 minutes due to the rain, and four batters in, Jason Hammel was down 2-0 following a two-run homer by Nick Markakis. Uh-oh, went the thought. We've got "bad second-half Hammel" again.
But Hammel settled down and gave up only one more hit, plus a leadoff walk in the sixth, at one point retiring 11 straight. He helped himself with this nice play [VIDEO] on an attempted squeeze by Braves pitcher Lucas Harrell. Hammel's good throw nailed Jeff Francoeur at the plate and after that, Hammel was solid, getting numerous outs on ground balls. This is an encouraging sign, I'd think, for Hammel's second half, even after he again left with cramping issues:
#Cubs Hammel exited with cramping in his right hand.— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 8, 2016
Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks, the latter making his first big-league relief appearance, did a nice job of shutting down the Braves through the seventh, with one out's worth of help from Justin Grimm.
But the Cubs could do nothing with Harrell. I mean... this guy was pitching in Korea last year, but since returning to the big leagues has tied hitters in knots, last week the Marlins, now the Cubs. They managed only four singles and a pair of walks before the eighth inning off Harrell, plus Kris Bryant getting hit by a pitch in the fourth. This would become significant later. The Cubs had the first two men on base in both the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, Bryant inexplicably strayed too far from second on a line drive to short center field and was doubled off. In the fifth, Hammel, Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella all made outs after those first two men reached.
Harrell, who threw a lot of pitches through seven, was sent out for the eighth. He hit Bryant again, and put Kris in obvious discomfort after the pitch hit him in the knee. He stayed in the game, and former Cubs farmhand Hunter Cervenka relieved Harrell. Cervenka ran the count to 3-0 and then hit Anthony Rizzo, who looked about as happy about the HBP as Bryant did.
The Cubs turned this into a rally. Ben Zobrist doubled in Bryant and then Willson Contreras ripped a ball to center that skipped past Ender Inciarte [VIDEO] for a two-run triple, giving the Cubs the lead. All of this happened after two were out. Jason Heyward walked, but Addison Russell flied to center. I had hoped the Cubs would add at least one more in that inning, and that lack of an insurance run hurt the team when Hector Rondon gave up a leadoff homer to Markakis in the ninth. It was just the third homer he had allowed this year.
After Markakis' homer, there was a bit of extracurricular activity when a Rondon pitch got too inside for Francoeur's liking. Here's what happened [VIDEO]. It appears to me that Francoeur spent too much time around Brian McCann when they were Braves teammates from 2005-09; McCann must have told him about all the "unwritten rules." (No word on whether Waffle Houses were involved.) That pitch was inside, but not remarkably so. Benches and bullpens cleared, but all that happened was some milling around. When order was restored, Francoeur walked and then stole second, his first steal of the year and just his third since 2012. Hector eventually struck out the side, and Cubs went down meekly in the last of the ninth to send the game to extras.
Bryant left the game after the three-run rally in the eighth, Joe Maddon apparently figuring it was all right to give him the rest of the night off with Hector on the mound. It would have been nice to have Bryant in the game in extra innings. Fortunately:
#Cubs Bryant OK, just a little beat up after getting hit twice tonight— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 8, 2016
Spencer Patton entered the game in the 10th and struck out the side, but he gave up a leadoff walk in the 11th, and you know how those things can come back to bite you. Two singles brought in the lead run, despite a fine effort by Heyward to try to throw out Freddie Freeman at the plate.
Braves reliever Dario Alvarez, a hard-throwing lefthander, had struck out the side in the 10th, but and Heyward led off the bottom of the 11th with singles off him, putting the tying run in scoring position and creating the hope of further extra innings, if not a come-from-behind win.
The Braves brought on yet another anonymous reliever, Mauricio Cabrera, and he induced Russell to hit into a double play, moving Contreras to third. That's when ended things, with maybe 5,000 of the original nearly-full house still in the soggy ballpark.
Beyond this recap of the action, I don't really know what to say here. Losing three of four to two bad teams in this brief homestand was certainly not what the Cubs had in mind. They've now lost seven of eight and 13 of 18, and many times have looked particularly bad doing it. They could use some relief help and I would think they'll be actively looking over the All-Star break. They could use Dexter Fowler back (they're 9-15 in games Fowler has not started), and he's close to returning. He'll be on a rehab assignment with the South Bend Cubs Saturday and Sunday, serving as DH on Saturday and playing center field on Sunday. Then, it's on to the All-Star Game:
Fowler won't play Sunday in Pittsburgh, but if all goes well he can be activated after Sunday's game and still participate in the All-Star Game, returning to the Cubs for the start of the second half next Friday.
[Joe] Maddon has no problem with Fowler starting off in the All-Star Game instead of with the Cubs, or resting a few more days and getting ready for next week. He has been out since June 18 with a right hamstring strain.
"He just has to be honest with us," he said. "If he's feeling really well, I have no problem with it. … It may be that he's not going to go to San Diego and play."
Fowler, who was voted in by fans for his first All-Star appearance, said he plans to go to the game even if he's unable to play.
"It's reality," he said of the injury. "If I can't play, I can't play."
The Cubs simply need to play better, as they did for the first two and a half months of this season. It's in them. It just has to come out again. They're still eight games in first place, so that's good, and 8½ ahead of the Pirates. The final series before the break begins tonight in Pittsburgh, so the Cubs do have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Bucs. Jake Arrieta starts for the Cubs, and, incidentally, didn't go early to the next city as is often the case with a starter in the opener of a road trip to get some extra rest. He was at Wrigley Field Thursday night to be honored pre-game along with the rest of the Cubs' All-Star contingent:
Jake will face Francisco Liriano in the series opener tonight. Hindsight and all, but I suspect the Cubs wished they had played this rainout-makeup game as an afternoon affair, as they likely would have had it finished before the rain began and been able to leave for Pittsburgh before 2:45 a.m.
BCB note: Nice to see BCBer Ryan W. Kasten, who (along with his wife) sat with us in the bleachers for this one, and they both stuck around till the bitter end.
And good riddance, Braves. They do have back-to-back series with the Pirates and Cardinals coming up in August. Perhaps they can help the Cubs out a few weeks from now.