For all the crushing defeats handed to the Cubs by the Cardinals, for all the years we watched them go to the playoffs and win games seemingly using magic pixie dust, it was one of my greatest baseball pleasures to watch the Chicago Cubs dismantle the St. Louis Cardinals in one of the biggest blowouts they have put on their arch-rivals in the last few decades.
Yes, decades. Since 1993, there's been only one time the Cubs have scored 13 or more runs against the Cardinals before Friday afternoon -- this wacky 17-5 blowout in May 2014. Before that you have to go back to June 8, 1986 to find another game in which the Cubs beat the Cardinals by 11 or more runs (12, in that case) and no Cubs team has defeated the Cardinals by 11 or more runs at Wrigley Field since July 1, 1961, a 13-1 victory.
Until today, until Friday, until this 13-2 win over the Cardinals that extended their winning streak to 11 and pushed them to 32 games over .500, matching the high point of 2015. The last time a Cubs team was more than 32 games over .500 was in 2008, when they got to 35 games over. This one was a joy for every Cubs fan to watch, from the very first inning, which Jake Arrieta began by mowing the Cardinals down 1-2-3 with a pair of strikeouts.
Matt Szczur hit Adam Wainwright's fourth pitch for a double down the right-field line, and three pitches later the Cubs had a 1-0 lead on a Kris Bryant double. Addison Russell made it 2-0 three batters later by hitting another double.
Then the Cubs really teed off on Wainwright, who looks like a shadow of the pre-Achilles injury Wainwright, in the second inning. With one out, Szczur was hit by a Wainwright pitch, Bryant doubled again for a run, and after Jorge Soler singled in Bryant and Russell walked, Willson Contreras came to the plate:
So it was 7-0 before the second inning was over, and that was it for Wainwright, Mike Matheny's crew pretty much conceding the rest of the game by going to his bullpen early.
Jake ran into some long counts and faced more hitters than he otherwise might have in the second and fourth innings, partly due to errors by Bryant and Javier Baez. The Baez error helped lead to a bases-loaded situation in the fourth, with Jeremy Hazelbaker pinch-hitting for the second Cardinals pitcher, Seth Maness. Jake got him to fly to Contreras in left, ending the threat. St. Louis got on the board in the fifth with a solo homer by Stephen Piscotty, and Jake was allowed to start the sixth even though he'd already thrown 97 pitches through five.
He got the first two outs on comebackers, and then Randal Grichuk doubled into the left-center field gap. That was it for Jake, who left to a loud ovation. Justin Grimm, who needs to step up in the absence of Pedro Strop, did so, striking out Kolten Wong to end the inning.
And that's when the Cubs really started hitting.
Jerome Williams came into the game for the Cardinals. Yes, the same Jerome Williams who the Cubs acquired from the Giants when it was clear LaTroy Hawkins had to be traded back in 2005. The Cardinals are the sixth team he's pitched for since he left the Cubs late in 2006, and this is the kind of bullpen addition the Cubs used to make when they really couldn't find anyone else. Somehow Williams had thrown 7⅔ scoreless innings in four appearances for the Cardinals before Friday, but he was frighteningly awful in finishing out the last three innings of this one.
Szczur homered leading off the sixth. Three batters later, Soler homered, the third homer he's hit since his return from the DL last week in Oakland. In six games since he came back, Soler is hitting .429/.455/.905 (9-for-21) with a double, three home runs and seven RBI. I'm thinking he's going to be getting quite a bit more playing time if he keeps that up.
But the Cubs weren't done teeing off on Williams. In the seventh, Contreras led off with a single and one out later Baez hit a two-run homer making it 11-1:
After Chris Coghlan was hit by a pitch, it was Szczur's turn again. His two-run homer made it 13-1. It was the first multi-homer game of Szczur's career, his second career-three hit game (both this year), and his four runs scored were a career high.
Szczur has been very valuable to this team as a pinch-hitter, but Friday's performance shows that he can also be useful as a spot starter in the outfield, giving Dexter Fowler (as today) or others a break. I'm really happy for him -- he's worked very hard to get to where he is and all the work has paid off. He's an easy guy to root for.
It's entirely possible that the glorified batting-practice session Williams threw on Friday might be the last game of his career; certainly the Cardinals can find someone who can do better than that. I'd be just fine with them keeping him around to serve up more meatballs to Cubs hitters, though.
It was just the fourth time in Cubs history that they had hit at least four home runs off a single relief pitcher (the "L" indicates the pitcher's team lost). Here are the other three (the HR are the last number, in case the column headings don't appear):
|1||Andrew Lorraine||2002-09-02 (2)||MIL||CHC||L 4-17||3.2||9||9||9||3||2||5|
|2||Orville Jorgens||1936-07-26 (2)||PHI||CHC||L 5-18||4.1||10||8||5||2||1||4|
|3||Rube Marquard||1925-06-15||BSN||CHC||L 4-8||6.0||11||8||8||0||0||4|
Read those names here now and likely nowhere else. Fun fact about the five homers the Cubs hit Friday afternoon:
#Cubs have hit 5 HR in a game 4 times this season.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 12, 2016
3 of the 4 games were started by Jake Arrieta
A couple of minor glitches: Joe Smith gave up the Cardinals' second run, a solo homer by Jedd Gyorko with two out in the eighth. If he keeps pitching the way he has so far in a Cubs uniform, he won't be seen on any sort of postseason roster. And I was surprised Joe Maddon went to Travis Wood to throw the ninth. Wood leads the Cubs in appearances (57) and is currently second in the National League in games pitched. Seems like Wood should have been saved for a higher-leverage situation and Smith could have finished up.
But those are just minor quibbles in one of the most enjoyable Cubs/Cardinals games I've ever seen.
Given the dire forecasts of storms all day, the Cubs got lucky. It rained hard starting about 11 a.m., for an hour or so, but once that rain cleared, the grounds crew had plenty of time to get the field ready for an on-time start. Though it was cloudy and quite humid all afternoon, only one stray rainshower opened up over Wrigley Field during the game, for about 20 minutes in the sixth inning, and then it was gone again, allowing completion of the game without interruption. More storms are forecast for Friday evening, but after that, it looks like good weather for the rest of the homestand.
The win means that the worst-case scenario for the Cubs is to finish this series where they started, 12 games up on the Cardinals, and they have a chance to really bury them in the N.L. Central standings.