When Kole Calhoun hit John Lackey's third pitch of the game into the left-field bleachers, I said to my friend Mike, "One run won't win this game."
Not that Lackey listens to me, but he slammed the door shut after that home run. He retired the next 12 hitters in a row and allowed just two more singles and a walk in eight strong innings, probably his best outing as a Cub. Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant homered for the Cubs and they dispatched the Angels easily 5-1, winning their eighth consecutive game and giving Lackey a victory over the team for which he pitched for eight seasons..
It was particularly nice to see Contreras homer. That drive in the third inning tied the game and it was his first home run since July 4. Contreras had been in a bit of a slump, but seems to have started coming out of it. Over his last seven games he's hitting .308 (8-for-26) with a double, a home run and three walks. He also called a fine game for Lackey and seems more confident behind the plate with every game he spends back there. For good measure, he threw Cliff Pennington out trying to steal second in the sixth inning. Besides Calhoun's homer, no Angels runner got past first base.
And then there was Bryant's home run with two out in the fifth, a majestic blast that wound up not only on the other side of Waveland Avenue from the ballpark, but scooted down the gangway between two buildings, where it was eventually retrieved by one of the ballhawks. Here it is along with some Statcast numbers:
The homer, Bryant's 28th, put him two behind Nolan Arenado for the National League lead. Both Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are putting up seasons that make them legitimate MVP candidates.
Before that homer, the Cubs had added a pair of runs in the fourth inning off Jered Weaver, who I figured they'd eventually start hitting hard, since his fastball was topping out on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter at 83. Rizzo and Ben Zobrist doubled for one of those runs, and after a single by Jorge Soler, Addison Russell hit a sac fly for the second.
The Cubs' final run of the evening came after Bryant's homer. Rizzo blooped a double down the right-field line and after Zobrist walked, Soler hit a soft grounder past the mound. Albert Pujols flipped to Weaver. It would have been a close play at first even if Weaver had caught the ball, but he didn't, and with no one covering the plate, Rizzo scored [VIDEO].
Lackey was helped by some strong Cubs defense. I include this play even though it was eventually overturned on review, because the effort by Russell is outstanding:
Even getting to that ball and making a strong throw was terrific. Later in that inning, Zobrist made a nice play on a grounder to second base (no video available) to end the inning.
With one out in the eighth, pinch-hitter Johnny Giavotella sent a sinking liner to right field on which Jason Heyward made this excellent diving catch [VIDEO]. What you don't see in that video was the standing ovation Heyward got when he walked back to his position in right field, first from the fans in the right-field bleachers, eventually from the whole ballpark. That was really gratifying to see, that while Heyward is having a rough year at the plate, fans do recognize the value of his defense.
Pedro Strop finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth that included a called strikeout of Mike Trout, who went 0-for-4. It seemed like a perfect situation for Hector Rondon, since he hadn't thrown since last Tuesday. Here's why Hector didn't go:
No rondon for #Cubs because of sore right triceps. Not serious, Maddon says— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 10, 2016
Hope it is indeed nothing serious. Fortunately, Cubs starters have been going so deep into games that it hasn't been necessary to use many relievers. Over the last four games, Cubs relievers have thrown only 5⅔ innings, and over that span allowed two hits and one walk, and struck out six.
More on the excellent Cubs pitching of late:
#Cubs starting pitching since All-Star break (23 games)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 10, 2016
2.42 ERA, 149.0 IP, 106 Hits, 127 K, .201 Opp BA, 0.980 WHIP
And more on the Cubs' absolute dominance of their interleague opponents this year:
#Cubs 12-4 vs American League this season#Cubs pitching 2016 vs AL:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 10, 2016
1.86 ERA, 145.1 IP, 86 Hits, 128 K, .169 Opp BA, 0.826 WHIP
They have outscored those opponents (Angels, Mariners, Rangers, Athletics and White Sox) 79-21 in those 16 games.
The Cubs reached 70 wins in their 111th game. That's the earliest any Cubs team has gotten to 70 wins since 1969, when they were also 70-41. 1984 and 2008 were the next-closest among recent good Cubs teams; both of those clubs got to 70 wins in 117 games at 70-47.
Can't imagine a much better evening at the ol' ballyard. The weather was perfect: clear skies, low 80s and light winds, the Cubs won the game with offense, defense and pitching, and it was the third-quickest Wrigley game of the season, an efficient two hours, 22 minutes.
The Cubs will go for the sweep of this brief two-game set Wednesday evening. Jason Hammel goes for the Cubs and Ricky Nolasco for the Angels.