This team really can do anything.
For the first two months of the season the Cubs were crushing the opposition, winning games by seven, eight, nine, even 16 runs (Jake Arrieta's no-hitter).
Then they had three weeks' worth of miserable play, losing 15 of 20. They maintained a huge division lead, but some of the play was worrisome.
Since the All-Star break, the Cubs have resumed winning seemingly at will, but in different ways. They've now got three walkoff wins in the last six home games, each one by a different, unusual means, against three different teams. First there was Jon Lester's squeeze bunt against the Mariners. Then there was a wild-pitch walkoff against the Marlins.
Thursday night, with the Cardinals in town and most of another Wrigley sellout still in the ballpark well after 11 p.m., Anthony Rizzo drew ball four on a 3-1 fastball from Zach Duke and the Cubs had won the first of a four-game set against their arch-rivals, 4-3 in 11 innings, their 10th consecutive victory. It's the longest Cubs winning streak since they won 12 straight May 19-June 2, 2001.
Put it this way... The Cubs caught a break on that ball-four call:
We will take it, as well as all the rest of the wild and wacky things that happened on a sultry, windy and humid night at Wrigley Field. Balls were flying out of the yard during BP and it seemed like one of those evenings when quite a few home runs might be hit.
Instead, small ball highlighted the first few innings. The Cardinals hit the ball hard in the first, the first two balls for outs, then three straight singles gave them a 1-0 lead. They extended that to 2-0 in the sixth on the first of two homers on the evening, a solo shot by Brandon Moss off Lester, who threw a credible six innings, allowing five hits and two runs and striking out six.
The Cubs had gotten runners on first and second with nobody out via walks in the second, but Jason Heyward -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- hit a ground ball to second base. That one turned into a double play. Rizzo tripled with one out in the fourth, but was stranded.
Then the fun started. Kris Bryant and Rizzo started the last of the sixth with walks, but the next two hitters were retired easily by Carlos Martinez. Heyward hit a little dribbler down the third-base line for a single, loading the bases, which brought Chris Coghlan to the plate.
Watch what Coghlan does on a 3-2 pitch from Martinez:
Coghlan tried to call time. He does this quite a bit, I've noticed, to try to slow the game down. This time, it was during Martinez' windup, time wasn't granted, Coghlan quickly set himself and lined a Martinez changeup into right field. Bryant scored, but Rizzo was likely going to be thrown out at the plate... except Martinez cut off the relay. Watch Yadier Molina's reaction later in the video. He's not happy that the throw was cut off. Good. I like seeing Yadi not happy.
David Ross then put down a perfect bunt, and the throw pulled Matt Carpenter off first base. Heyward, who had gone to third on Coghlan's hit, scored to make it 3-2 Cubs.
That lead lasted three batters into the seventh. Randal Grichuk batted for Martinez and homered, the Cardinals' 13th pinch-homer of the season. That's just one short of the major-league record for such things, 14, set by the Giants and Diamondbacks in 2001. It's freakish, I can't figure out how they are doing it. The Cardinals do lead the National League in home runs (155; the Cubs are fifth at 137), but that number is so far ahead of what the Cubs have done in that category this year (one pinch-homer, hit by Willson Contreras June 19, his first big-league homer), it's got to be totally random.
Anyway, on we went -- but not until after the Cubs played some defense in that seventh inning to keep the Cardinals from scoring any more runs. David Ross picked Jedd Gyorko off first base [VIDEO] after a leadoff single. And following Grichuk's homer, Carpenter singled and Stephen Piscotty doubled. Addison Russell made this strong relay throw to nail Carpenter at the plate (call by Pat Hughes):
The Cubs got a one-out double from Russell in the eighth, but he was stranded at third. The Cubs were getting good relief work from Justin Grimm, just returned to replace the injured Pedro Strop. And Aroldis Chapman needed just three pitches to retire the Cardinals in the ninth:
Two line drives snagged by Javier Baez and a ground ball to second, and (at the very end of that video) a big smile on Chapman's face. Of his 39 appearances this year, it was just the sixth in which Chapman didn't strike anyone out.
And Maddon owes Chapman a steak dinner for his 3-pitch, 3 outs outing. Says that's a tradition that started in Minors. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 12, 2016
Bryant led off the bottom of the 10th diving into first base after hitting a ground ball to Carpenter. He was called safe on the field and it was ruled "call stands" after review:
Looked like Bryant's hand just touched the base before Carpenter's foot.
But Bryant, too was stranded, at second base after a wild pitch.
On we went to the 11th. Mike Montgomery, who hadn't pitched well for the Cubs since his acquisition from Seattle, and who hadn't thrown in a game at all since July 31, threw a scoreless 10th, though not until after this scary moment:
Matt Holliday has a broken thumb on that clearly unintentional hit-by-pitch; it was a fastball that Montgomery was trying to get up and in. It just got too far up and in. Injuries like this are unfortunate and I never like seeing them. Neither does Joe Maddon:
Maddon on hearing Holiday's fracture: "that's awful. I feel horribly about it."— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) August 12, 2016
Holliday's likely headed to the disabled list. I wish him well.
Montgomery eventually loaded the bases in the 11th, but got out of it with this huge K of Carpenter [VIDEO], and on we went to the bottom of the inning. Contreras singled off Duke, and Jorge Soler hit a ball that went about 60 feet down the third-base line that died in the grass. He couldn't have rolled it out there better. Dexter Fowler walked to load the bases with one out, Bryant struck out (and looked really bad doing it), and then Rizzo got the call on that 3-1 pitch to end it.
Here are some fun facts about this win:
#Cubs have hit a home run in only 4 of the 10 games during current 10-game win streak— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 12, 2016
#Cubs walkoff variety this season:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 12, 2016
May 8: Baez HR
Jul 31: Lester bunt
Aug 3: Wild pitch
Aug 11: Rizzo walk
The 9-0 start in August is the #Cubs best since 1908— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 12, 2016
During the streak, the Cubs have outscored their opponents 46-20 and now have won 13 of 14 and, since ending a five-game losing streak in Pittsburgh the day before the All-Star break, are 20-6, not too far off the 25-6 start they had to begin the 2016 season. They increased their division lead over the Cardinals to 13 games. The combined leads of all the other five division leaders in baseball is 19.5 games.
More fun facts: The Cubs' .637 winning percentage now has them on pace for 103 wins. Their run differential of +189 will wind up at +271 if they maintain the per-game number of +1.67 for the rest of the year. The six walks the Cubs drew in this game bring the season total to 469, an average of 4.15 per game. Pace: 672, still enough to break the team record of 650, set in 1975.
I've probably left something out here, but these games are so jam-packed with exciting plays, good pitching, timely hitting and great defense that it's hard to make note of everything. Just do this: remember where you were, what you were doing, how you were feeling when these victories happened, because 20, 30, 40 years from now, you are going to want to reminisce about all the thrills you have seen this season, perhaps the season we've all been waiting for, for as long as you have been a Cubs fan.
The Cubs will try to match their high point from 2015, 32 games over .500, in Friday's game against the Cardinals. Jake Arrieta will face Adam Wainwright. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.