You can't really see it too well in this video, but I'm going to tell you exactly what happened to Kris Bryant's first-inning home run Wednesday night:
The ball bounced off a bleacher bench four rows in front of me -- leaving a large dent -- grazed the face of a friend of mine (who wound up wearing an ice pack for a couple of innings, thanks to quick work from the Wrigley EMTs), and landed directly in a blue plastic garbage dumpster that was, just then, being brought up the steps by two of the Wrigley cleanup crew.
The crew tossed it on the ground where a nearby fan picked it up, one of the easiest home-run grabs you'll ever see in the bleachers. Incidentally, that ball was absolutely crushed, hit into a 17 mile per hour wind blowing in. If not for the wind, Bryant's home run likely winds up flying over our heads in the left-field corner and landing on Waveland Avenue. The homer, his 36th, briefly gave Bryant the league lead, but Nolan Arenado homered later on Wednesday night, so the two remain tied.
That was just one of the many entertaining moments in the Cubs' 6-5 win over the Pirates, a game that wound up much closer than it probably should have.
Jason Hammel threw six very good innings, helped out by some excellent defense. It didn't start out that way. Addison Russell made an uncharacteristic fielding error on a ground ball on the very first play of the game. But Hammel got bailed out by a double play. He finally allowed a run in the fifth inning on two singles and a walk. By then the Cubs had a 2-1 lead on an RBI single by Russell. He drove in Bryant, who had singled, taken second on a wild pitch, and third on an infield out.
By then Bryant had saved a run by ending the second inning with this outstanding diving grab of a line drive by Sean Rodriguez with two out and a runner on third (this video also includes his homer):
He also later leaned into the crowd along third base for this nice catch [VIDEO] on Josh Bell's foul popup leading off the fourth. (Thanks to the fans sitting in that area for not getting in the way!)
The Cubs broke the game open, or so it seemed, in the sixth. Jorge Soler slammed a double into the right-center field gap and scored on a single by Jason Heyward -- a line drive up the middle, I should note, and that's a good sign for Heyward. He also hit a line single to left in the seventh and went 2-for-3 with a walk. Heyward since returning from his Colorado benching: .333/.351/.500 (12-for-36, three doubles, a home run). Another run in that inning scored on a balk
So the Cubs led 5-1 entering the seventh, but the bullpen wasn't sharp. Trevor Cahill struck out Rodriguez leading off the inning, but then allowed a single, a walk and another single, loading the bases. Justin Grimm entered and struck out Bell, but then walked Andrew McCutchen to make it 5-2. That's when Russell made one of the best catches I have ever seen:
On my scorecard, I put a check mark next to particularly notable defensive plays. But plays like that get an ! on the card. I give out maybe one or two of those a year. Given the situation -- two runs likely would have scored -- that play was absolutely amazing. Here's more on that play:
Addison Russell's amazing catch!— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 1, 2016
Distance covered: 107ft !!!
First step: 0.2 seconds
Top speed: 19.3 MPH@Cubs
#Cubs Russell on his catch: "It was more like running and like a one-legged jump slide."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 1, 2016
Here's more on Russell's grab via Statcast:
Best catch of the year? Probably, and as I said above, one of the best I've ever seen at Wrigley. That kept the lead at three, and the Cubs extended it to 6-2 with a run in the seventh on a walk to Anthony Rizzo, Heyward's second hit, and a sac fly by Russell.
What happened next shows where the Cubs bullpen really misses Pedro Strop (who won't be back till late September) and Hector Rondon (who could be back next week after he's likely headed for a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa this weekend).
Travis Wood struck out Starling Marte leading off the eighth inning, but then allowed a double and a walk before Jordy Mercer brought both runners in with another double. Felix Pena put out the fire (incidentally, nice work, Felix!), but now it was 6-4, and that meant Aroldis Chapman would have to enter for the ninth inning, throwing for the third consecutive day.
Chapman retired the first two hitters he faced, the first on a nice play by Javier Baez on a ground ball, the second on a strikeout.
But then Pirates hitters were able to time some 100-plus fastballs from Chapman. Marte singled and went to third on two wild pitches. Francisco Cervelli singled Marte in to make it 6-5, and Chapman walked Rodriguez on four pitches (in the process, wild-pitching Cervelli to second). It's the first time Chapman has ever thrown three wild pitches in a game.
That set up an epic at-bat by Mercer. Chapman got him down 0-2. Mercer fouled off four pitches in a row, then ran the count to 2-2, then fouled off two more pitches before Chapman got him to swing and miss at a slider to end it. Check out the pitch breakdown:
That Mercer vs Chapman AB was pretty crazy... Here's the velocity breakdowns Mercer was fighting off pic.twitter.com/jc9F5GaWKv— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 1, 2016
Chapman posted his 32nd save (12th as a Cub), but after appearing in three straight games and throwing 31 pitches Wednesday, he's probably not available tonight. Overall Cubs pitchers combined for 205 (!) pitches, which obviously isn't optimal. But a win is a win.
Summing this one up: including a couple of two-game sweeps, that was the 14th series sweep for the Cubs this year, and they end August 22-6, tied for the best August in franchise history (1932). Also:
Best #Cubs winning percentages in a month— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 1, 2016
(1946-present; min. 20 games)
.786 AUG 2016 (22-6)
.773 APR 2016 (17-5)
.750 May 1977 (21-7)
And, looks like Bryant is a strong candidate for Player of the Month:
Kris Bryant finishes August .383/.472/.748— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 1, 2016
with 29 Runs, 10 HR, 22 RBI in 27 Games#Cubs
Tommy La Stella returned to the team, and the starting lineup, Wednesday night. He went 0-for-2 before being double-switched out for Baez. There was some applause for him, and no booing that I could hear, when his name was read during the lineup announcement, and the same when he came up to bat. Reading this Tribune article with his comments about his departure from the team, I honestly still can't figure out why he did what he did. However, he's back, has apparently settled matters with his teammates and management, and if he can help the Cubs win a game or two down the stretch or in October, well, that works for me.
Many thanks to Matt Garza (yes, Matt Garza!) for his fine pitching Wednesday night that helped the Brewers defeat the Cardinals. That, and the Cubs' win, dropped the Cubs' division-clinching magic number to 16, and it also did this:
The 15-game lead is also the Cubs' largest of any kind since they finished that 1907 season with a 17-game lead. They also reduced the magic number for clinching the N.L.'s best record (over the Nationals) to 22.
And this weekend, the Cubs see a potential October opponent when the San Francisco Giants come to town for a four-game set, beginning Thursday with a night game. Mike Montgomery goes for the Cubs and old friend Jeff Samardzija for the Giants.