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Cubs 7, Mariners 6: Jon Lester's Squeeze Wins Wild Comeback

If you watch baseball long enough, you will eventually see things you've never seen before. Never has that been more true than it was Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I have a standing joke with some of my friends in the bleachers, who occasionally depart games that seem to be lost in the late innings. As they walk behind my seat to the exit, I say, "But you'll miss the big comeback!"

We share a laugh, and the game moves on, most times to defeat.

Except Sunday night, it didn't. (And I got a postgame text from my friend who left after the eighth, saying, "Well, you called it! I messed up tonight!")

Anyone who left Wrigley Field early, or turned off the ESPN broadcast in disgust after the horrific first three innings, missed one of the greatest comeback wins in recent Cubs history, accomplished in one of the most unlikely ways -- a perfect squeeze bunt in the 12th inning by Jon Lester, who was one of just four Cubs who hadn't already participated in the game by the time he was called on for the first pinch-hitting appearance of his career.

If you left early, or missed it, or just want to see it again, here are the ninth- and 12th-inning rallies, with Pat Hughes' radio call behind some of the video:

The Cubs defeated the Mariners 7-6 in 12 innings, and consider all this:

  • It was the Cubs' first walkoff bunt since May 11, 1988, when Vance Law did it against the Padres in the 10th inning for a 1-0 win.
  • It was the first time the Cubs had come back to win after being six runs down since August 30, 2012 against the Brewers, when they trailed 9-3 going into the bottom of the sixth.
  • It was the first time any Cubs team had won a game trailing by three going into the bottom of the ninth since September 18, 2008, also against the Brewers, a game they were behind by four runs (6-2) entering the last of the ninth. A Jim Edmonds single made it 6-3 and with two out, Geovany Soto hit a three-run, game-tying homer.
  • According to ESPN, the Cubs had lost 371 games since then when they trailed by at least three going into the last of the ninth.
  • And the score of that 2008 game? 7-6. In 12 innings. You can't make this stuff up.

When the history of the 2016 season is written, this game might, in hindsight, be viewed as the Cubs' most important win. They haven't won too many by one run (now just 13-16) and this was just the second walkoff win of the year (the other, also in extras, the 13-inning win over the Nats on Mother's Day). Up to now, this team hasn't had to overcome adversity too many times. It's always important for teams to do that, and this game was won in spectacular, weird and wild fashion.

It certainly didn't start out that way. Can we declare the Brian Matusz Experiment over? Matusz was awful. His velocity wasn't good, his location was poor, and Mariners hitters kept slamming his mistakes into the bleachers. In his previous MLB appearance to Sunday, May 17 for the Orioles, also against the Mariners, he allowed homers to Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz. Cruz took him deep in the first inning, Robinson Cano in the second, and Dae-Ho Lee in the third. Matusz was booed off the field after that third inning, having thrown 57 pitches.

In what was going to become the first of a series of Joe Maddon moves placing players where they don't usually play, Jason Hammel was sent up to bat for Matusz. He grounded out, and the Cubs were having trouble against Felix Hernandez. They did get the first two hitters of the game on base via walk, but Hernandez then struck out the side. Ben Zobrist bounced a single up the middle for the Cubs' first hit in the fourth, but even after that it didn't seem as if the offense was going to get going at all.

King Felix got himself in trouble with walks in the fifth. Three Cubs drew walks in the inning, the third to Zobrist with the bases loaded. That put a bit of life into the crowd, and when Addison Russell was hit by a Hernandez changeup three pitches later, the score became 6-2. At least, the thought went, the Cubs might have a chance. Carl Edwards Jr. had thrown two scoreless frames, striking out five of the six hitters he faced.

That's when things really began to get crazy. Travis Wood came in to throw in the sixth after Joe Nathan allowed the two hitters he faced to reach. That was a tough spot for Wood, runners on second and third with nobody out, and he immediately walked pinch-hitter Seth Smith to load the bases. But then he got out of it with a pair of strikeouts and a popup caught by Russell.

When the Cubs came back to the field after a 1-2-3 sixth, Joe Maddon's brain gears went into overdrive. Wood, as he did earlier this year in Cincinnati, played left field. And wouldn't you know it, a ball hit by Franklin Gutierrez with one out and a runner on base came in Wood's direction:


The smile on Wood's face in the video clip says it all. Who says these guys don't have fun out there? And that was a very good defensive play by any metric:

Pedro Strop had relieved Wood on the mound in the seventh, when that play was made; Wood eventually came back to pitch in the eighth after Strop allowed a leadoff double to Mike Zunino and got a pair of outs with two nice infield plays. Wood came back in and picked off Shawn O'Malley [VIDEO] to end the inning.

But the Cubs were still down by four. They got one back in the seventh when Dexter Fowler led off with a walk and Zobrist smacked a triple into the gap in right-center -- his first triple as a Cub.

While all of this was going on, the Cubs bullpen was throwing lockdown relief. In all, the pen threw nine shutout innings, allowing five hits and two walks, with 12 strikeouts, absolutely outstanding work.

The Cubs' ninth-inning, game-tying rally continued the wackiness. Rizzo doubled with one out and Zobrist moved him to third with a single. Russell singled to left, making it 6-4, and inexplicably, Guillermo Heredia, the guy the Mariners put in left field for defense, threw to third instead of second. That put Russell in scoring position. Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch, loading the bases, and Willson Contreras hit what could have been a game-ending double-play ball to third.

But Contreras beat the relay, and it was confirmed on review:

And then Mariners closer Steve Cishek wild-pitched Russell in with the tying run, and on we went to extras.

No one reached base in the 10th or 11th inning. Aroldis Chapman threw a 1-2-3 10th and Hector Rondon retired all six hitters he faced in the 11th and 12th. Hector got some defensive help, in particular on this slick sliding catch by Contreras, who had moved from behind the plate to left field in the 10th:

The Cubs used five different players in left field in this game, in this order: Chris Coghlan, Wood, Matt Szczur, Zobrist and Contreras, and two of them -- Wood and Contreras, neither an outfielder by trade -- made outstanding defensive plays. Who writes these scripts, anyway?

Russell also made an outstanding play on a tricky-hop grounder hit by Heredia in the 12th:

Fun fact about that play:

Fun fact about Rondon's appearance:

And thus on we went to the last of the 12th, with a surprisingly large number of the full Wrigley house (I'd say about half) remaining to see the comeback. Heyward led off the 12th by nearly hitting a walkoff homer, missing the right-center basket by only a few feet. He advanced to third on a fly ball by Contreras, setting up Lester's winning squeeze bunt.

No, I certainly did not expect to write the words "Lester's winning squeeze bunt" this year. Or any year. But this Cubs team has been doing incredible things all season, despite the late-June/early-July skid. They've now won 11 of their last 17 and with the Cardinals and Pirates both losing Sunday, they lead them by 7½ and 10½ games respectively, as we begin the final two months of the regular season Monday with the arrival of August.

Beyond all of that, it was good to win that one at the time it was won because the Cubs were really out of pitching choices. John Lackey was going to enter the game to throw the 13th if the game had gone that far, and that would have likely taken him out of his usual rotation slot, scheduled for Wednesday. The Cubs will likely need some bullpen help after everyone in the pen threw in this one, so I would not be surprised to see Matusz designated for assignment sometime Monday, with Trevor Cahill (or someone else) returning to give the pen some reinforcement.

Cubs walk watch: six walks in this one brought the season total to 437, or 4.2 per game. Pace: 681. At the current pace the Cubs would break the team record (650, set in 1975) in game 155, the final regular-season home game, September 25 against the Cardinals.

We'll all remember this one for a long, long time. It's one of the most dramatic wins in all of Cubs history, and one of their best-ever comebacks, and it gave them a series win when several innings and hours earlier, the game seemed a complete and utter defeat. You can bet the Cubs' "celebration room" got a real workout late Sunday night. Even as someone who's been at Wrigley Field as many times as I have, this game provided about as much excitement as any of them. It'll take a while to get some perspective, but this win could easily wind up as one of the top five best games I've ever seen in person.

And as if that's not enough, the Ichiro show comes to Wrigley Field along with the Marlins. Ichiro comes in just two hits short of 3,000 in his major-league career. A three-game set starts Monday evening at 7:05 CT. Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs and Adam Conley for the Marlins.