They improved their record to 66-41 after this win and led the N.L. Central by nine games.
And so it was exactly in that manner that the Cubs won the game, with the bases loaded and Willson Contreras at the plate. Ramos didn't have much command at all in the ninth, and his wild pitch scored Matt Szczur with the winning run in another wild game where the Cubs came back from being down two runs down going into the bottom of the the ninth, the second time this homestand they had overcome a multi-run deficit in the ninth inning.
Prior to Sunday the Cubs had only one walkoff win this year. Now they've got three, and after seeing them frustrated by a mediocre Tom Koehler most of Wednesday afternoon, this one was particularly gratifying.
John Lackey got into first-inning trouble. This seems to be a theme among Cubs starters recently, and then they settle down. Lackey gave up hits to two of the first three hitters he faced and trailed 1-0 after just eight pitches. One of those hits was a double by Christian Yelich on which Contreras turned the wrong way; whether a more experienced left fielder would have made that catch is uncertain.
But then Lackey breezed through the next five innings, helped by some outstanding defense. To wit:
- This outstanding leaping grab by Anthony Rizzo in the second inning:
- This slick double play started by Ben Zobrist that ended the third inning:
- This running grab by Contreras to end the sixth inning:
The Cubs tied the game in the sixth. Rizzo singled with one out, was wild-pitched to second (one of four wild pitches the Marlins threw on the day), went to third on a groundout and scored on a single by Contreras. Contreras then made a nifty Javier Baez-style slide and stole second:
But he was stranded, and on the game went to the seventh.
Unfortunately, Lackey got himself in trouble by hitting Derek Dietrich. Perhaps angry at himself for doing that, he served up a home run to Jeff Mathis -- who came into the game hitting .227 and had one home run in 88 at-bats this year. That made it 3-1. Overall Lackey's outing wasn't bad, three runs in seven innings, no walks and eight strikeouts. Oh, and two doubles. Fun facts about Lackey's doubles:
John Lackey's 5th career double.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2016
One of those 5 came off Jake Arrieta (5/7/2015) #Cubs
John Lackey: first #Cubs pitcher with 2 doubles in game since Ismael Valdez 5/24/2000. First with 2 XBH since Travis Wood 4/21/14 (2B, HR)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2016
John Lackey: first #Cubs pitcher with 2 hits in a game, where no other teammates had multiple hits since Travis Wood 7/28/2013— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2016
John Lackey (37 y, 285 d): oldest #Cubs pitcher with a multi-hit game since Greg Maddux (39 y, 87 d) 7/10/2005— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2016
John Lackey (37 y, 285 d): oldest #Cubs pitcher with 2 extra-base hits in a game since Grover C Alexander 2B, 3B, HR(38 y, 114 d) 6/20/1925— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 3, 2016
I could go on with this sort of thing all evening, but you want to hear about the rest of the game.
Joe Smith made his Cubs debut in the eighth, trying to hold the game to a two-run deficit. He got Martin Prado to fly to left, and then my friend Dave, right as usual, said, "I don't like this matchup," with Yelich to be the next hitter. Sure enough -- Yelich sliced a homer into the right-field bleachers to make it 4-1 and silence the full house. Smith gave up two more hits before Joe Maddon removed him for Carl Edwards Jr., who struck out Mathis to end the inning.
So far, two of the three Cubs relief acquisitions -- Smith and Mike Montgomery -- have not made positive impressions here. Hopefully that changes going forward.
The bottom of the eighth started with a Dexter Fowler single, followed by another single by Kris Bryant, sending Fowler to third. That's when another Marlins wild pitch, this one by ex-Cub Fernando Rodney on ball four to Rizzo, scored Fowler to make it 4-2. Ben Zobrist sacrificed the runners to second and third, and that got Aroldis Chapman loosening up along with Justin Grimm, recalled Wednesday when Jason Hammel was placed on the bereavement list. But Contreras struck out and Jason Heyward grounded to short to end the inning.
Grimm got two easy outs and then gave up an infield hit to Dee Gordon and a walk before he struck out Yelich to end the ninth.
And that's when the fun really started.
Miguel Montero, 0-for-3 in this game and in an 0-for-12 slump, slammed a double down the right-field line. Baez singled him to third and Szczur walked to load the bases. Fowler hit a fly to right, and Giancarlo Stanton seemed to have a bit of trouble with it in the sun. He caught it, and conceded the Cubs' third run and Baez going to third -- but he didn't notice Szczur trying to take second. Szczur was safe, and that was a key baserunning move, because it took away any force play, and a base hit would win the game.
But Bryant struck out for the second out -- or did he?
Rizzo was intentionally walked to load the bases, and that brought Zobrist up again. Ramos still couldn't find the zone, running the count to 3-0. He threw a strike and then walked Zobrist to force in the tying run.
That brought up Contreras. By this time Ramos had thrown 33 pitches, the most he had thrown in any appearance this season. He threw strike one, and then pitch No. 35 went about two feet wide of Mathis, slamming into the rotating ad sign behind home plate loudly enough to be heard in the bleachers, over the delirious crowd, cheering as Szczur crossed the plate with the winning run:
It really was an amazing atmosphere at the ballpark during the eighth- and ninth-inning rallies. Even Joe Maddon noticed:
#Cubs Maddon saluted fans for 9th inning rally. "So much energy. ... I just want to recognize them"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 3, 2016
I can't say enough about this team. They really do never give up. They work counts, work at-bats and even when things don't go their way, they somehow find ways to win. The late-June, early-July skid is looking more and more like a blip in a season that could wind up as something historic. The Cubs are now 14-6 since they won the final game before the All-Star break, and if the Cardinals lose to the Reds Wednesday night, their lead in the N.L. Central will be back to double digits. It'll be no worse than nine games, and the team is back to 25 games over .500 for the first time since June 29, the day they completed a sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati.
Combine all this with a gorgeous, sunny (although a bit hot, nearly 90 degrees) afternoon at Wrigley Field, and that makes for a perfect baseball day. Ichiro Suzuki became kind of an afterthought; two hits short of 3,000, he pinch-hit again, for the third straight day, and was again robbed by a fine defensive play, a catch of a sinking liner by Baez.