The Cubs and Pirates wore cool Negro League throwbacks for this game, which again brought the Cubs back to the .500 mark at 33-33. Now, however, they trailed the first-place Brewers by 2½ games in the N.L. Central.
The Cubs’ 9-5 win over the Pirates Friday evening was again one of those games, and the Cubs have had a few of them this year, where you think: If they do come back and win the N.L. Central, this is a game you could look back at and say, “That all started right here.”
Let’s begin at the end, since that was the fun part. Trailing 4-3 and having had only two baserunners from the third through eighth innings, the Cubs put together a six-run rally that was highlighted by some really good situational hitting, something that’s been mostly missing this year.
Jason Heyward led off with a double. Then Willson Contreras did this [VIDEO].
That’s a really good piece of hitting, inside-outing the ball to right field. Cubs hitters did a lot of this in 2016, calling it their “B hack,” in other words, shortening up their swing and going with the pitch. They haven’t done that as much this year and it was great to see Contreras do just that.
That tied the game. Tommy La Stella followed with a single and Contreras was held at third. Kris Bryant was given a Manfred to load the bases, and then Jon Jay was sent up to hit for Koji Uehara. The Pirates countered with lefthander Tony Watson. That didn’t work out well at all for the Bucs [VIDEO].
Jay sent Watson’s first pitch into left field for an RBI single to give the Cubs the lead. It was his 10th pinch hit of the season. The Cubs’ team record is 20, set by Thad Bosley in 1985, tied by Dave Clark in 1997. Jay has a real shot at breaking that mark.
Anyway, it’s now 5-4 Cubs but they’re not anywhere near done. Anthony Rizzo singled in runs number 6 and 7, and after another out with the bases still loaded, Kyle Schwarber hit into a force play scoring run number 8.
Rizzo is now on third and Schwarber is on first for Addison Russell [VIDEO].
Watching Schwarber lumber around third base and make a really nice slide around Francisco Cervelli on Russell’s long double to complete the scoring made me imagine that’s what Babe Ruth must have looked like in similar situations. No, really!
Baseball legend Babe Ruth running the bases back in the day...tags third & he's heading home! #MLB #GIF #FlashbackFriday pic.twitter.com/aAjm47GJ6I— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) June 16, 2017
You know, all of what I’ve written just up to here would have made a great game recap all by itself, but this game had lots of weird happenings before the first inning was over, so let’s rewind back to that.
Leading off for the third straight game, Rizzo hit what appeared at first to be a home run. It was initially called fair on the field, then the umpires conferred and signaled “foul.” Joe Maddon asked for a crew chief review (remember, home run reviews are different from the other parts of the review system and not subject to challenge), upon which it was “call stands.”
That brought Joe Maddon out of the dugout and man, was he upset! [VIDEO]
Maddon was ejected — after three pitches! — and so had to watch the rest of the game in his throwback duds from the visiting manager’s office. Here’s why he was so upset:
#Cubs Maddon: There's no way you can tell me that was the right procedure. The instant replay system was neutered in the 1st inning tonight— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 17, 2017
1st base ump called the ball fair, then they conferred and thought it was foul. Then, they look at replay. ... MORE #Cubs 1st— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 17, 2017
Once call is changed to foul, burden of proof is stands or confirmed. They didn't see enough to overturn foul call so it stands. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 17, 2017
Maddon has a fair point. The review could have been asked for by Clint Hurdle after the initial call of “fair.” If it’s “call stands” after that, then Rizzo would have had his third consecutive leadoff homer. But by changing the call before the review... well, you see Maddon’s point, I think.
To be fair (so to speak), the ball did in fact appear to be foul on the video, so they got the call right.
Rizzo eventually walked, Ian Happ singled and Schwarber hit what looked like a bloop single to left. But Rizzo had to hold in between bases to make sure the ball would drop and was forced at third. After another force out, Heyward walked to load the bases.
Happ scored on a wild pitch and then Contreras came to bat [VIDEO].
Contreras’ two-run double made it 3-0. He did have a shot at third base but a good throw from Gregory Polanco to Jordy Mercer to David Freese got him. At the time it didn’t seem that significant, but when the Cubs entered the ninth losing 4-3...
Anyway, the wackiness continued in the bottom of the first [VIDEO].
Eddie Butler had to have the long sleeves on his undershirt cut off. White undershirts aren’t allowed for pitchers, because hitters might have a tough time seeing a white baseball come out of that background. Why a white undershirt was left out for Butler (or any of the pitchers, for that matter) is beyond me, although it turns out Butler knew this was going to happen:
#Cubs Butler knew wouldn't be allowed to wear white long sleeves under throwback uni. "We figured it wasn't going to last long"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 17, 2017
Butler actually pitched very, very well, which is really encouraging. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and came within one out of posting a quality start. He got some defensive help from Heyward in the first [VIDEO].
And he got a replay review call in his favor in the second when he picked off McCutchen [VIDEO].
Josh Bell hit a long home run off him in the fifth to make it 3-1, and after Butler gave up a single and a walk in the sixth, Bell tripled to tie the game.
That brought in Pedro Strop, who got Andrew McCutchen to hit a weak little ground ball toward third base. TLS made a nice play on it but his throw was too late to get McCutchen and the Pirates had a 4-3 lead.
After that, though, the Cubs’ bullpen did an excellent job of holding the Pirates down. Justin Grimm, who’s been really, really good since his recall from Triple-A Iowa, threw a 1-2-3 seventh and Uehara a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts, setting up the Cubs’ victorious ninth.
Here’s where I’m going to open the complaint department door just a tad. While the Cubs were posting the six-run ninth — during which the Pirates made two pitching changes — they could have sat Wade Davis, who was warming up for a potential save opportunity, down and got someone else up. Closers often struggle a bit in non-save situations and this outing was no exception for Davis, who gave up hits to the first three batters he faced, making it 9-5. Eventually the bases were loaded on a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate with only one out. Carl Edwards Jr. did get up at this point.
Davis struck out Josh Harrison and Polanco to end it, but he struggled through a 31-pitch inning, meaning he might not be available for Saturday night’s game.
But in general this was excellent entertainment, and the ninth-inning rally was just about the reverse of what happened to the Cubs in New York Thursday night, where a close game was broken open by a five-run Mets rally. Best of all in this game was the fact that just about everyone contributed offensively.
Rizzo, in particular, is on one of his patented hot streaks. He’s having an excellent June (.354/.500/.667, 17-for-48, three home runs) and since being moved to the leadoff spot he’s hitting .308/.400/.846 (4-for-13) with two home runs and two walks. I suppose Joe Maddon will continue leading him off as long as the team is generating runs with that lineup and winning games.
The Cubs thus return to the .500 mark — again. It’s the 14th different time they’ve been at exactly .500. Maybe playing in PNC Park will allow them to get over and stay over the break-even point. They’re now 16-8 at PNC since the start of 2015 (including the 2015 wild-card game). The Brewers won in extras Friday night, so the Cubs still trail by 2½ games, though they’re down only one in the loss column.
Many people didn’t seem to care for the Cubs’ throwback uniforms (from what I saw on Twitter) but I liked them. They commemorated a little-known part of African-American baseball history and were faithful to the original design, although at first it appeared Contreras didn’t get the memo about the matte-finish black batting helmets:
@UniWatch @PhilHecken Wilson Contreras was on deck with his standard blue helmet. Someone caught it before he got up to the plate... pic.twitter.com/kNakkIIvpJ— Todd Pratt (@ToddPratt7) June 16, 2017
Saturday evening, the Cubs go for a series win. Jake Arrieta takes the mound for the Cubs against the Pirates’ Ivan Nova.