After another loss in Colorado dropped the Cubs to .500, they won the first game of a three-game set at Busch Stadium to put them back over the break-even mark at 18-17. But they had now dropped to fourth place, ahead of only the Pirates. In the close race they trailed by just 1½ games.
Also, Eddie Butler made his Cubs debut in this one.
Admit it — you expected to see a headline to this recap that read “The Butler Did It” or something similar.
Too obvious, I thought. If Eddie Butler keeps pitching the way he did Friday night — six shutout innings, two hits allowed — maybe I’ll do it, just once.
But Willson Contreras was just as much responsible for the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Cardinals as Butler was, and then he nearly threw the game away in the ninth inning. He had been in a 7-for-46 slump (.152) over the last couple of weeks, but in the second inning, he gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead with a solo homer [VIDEO].
That solo shot — crushed!
.@Cubs Willson Contreras HR was hit 109.5 MPH... Hardest home run he's ever hit— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 13, 2017
It was his first homer since April 22, and second of the year in St. Louis, as he had homered on Opening Night there.
Contreras extended the lead to 2-0 with a homer in his second at-bat of the game:
It was the first multi-homer game of Contreras’ career. And, that homer was crushed even harder than the previous one:
Willson Contreras follows up his hardest HR with his... hardest HR 113.6 MPH. https://t.co/RnMoGg8BNY— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 13, 2017
Meanwhile, Butler was disposing of Cardinals hitters with relative ease. He got into a bit of trouble in the first inning with a pair of two-out walks. That brought Chris Bosio out for a chat. It seems likely Butler was a bit overamped in his first big-league start for the Cubs. Whatever Bosio said to him must have worked; he got Yadier Molina to hit into a force play to end the inning.
After that Butler was nothing short of outstanding. He allowed just one more walk and two singles. No other Cardinals runner got past first base off Butler, and after he had a nine-pitch sixth inning that left him at 94 pitches, I thought Joe Maddon might leave him in to at least start the seventh. The 94 pitches, though, was a season high for Butler and I suppose Joe wanted to be careful with him.
In the early going on Friday night Cubs starter Eddie Butler has hit 95 mph or higher on the radar gun several times. Entering the game no Cubs starter had reached 95 mph on a pitch this season. (ESPN Stats and Info).
That’s both impressive and depressing. This Cubs rotation isn’t really known for velocity, but Jake Arrieta had often hit 95 in previous years. Hopefully this won’t be a season-long issue.
Tommy La Stella wasn’t supposed to start this game. In fact, he was the third player Joe had written into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Kris Bryant was scratched just before game time due to illness, and his replacement in right field, Jon Jay, left after one at-bat due to back spasms. At that point TLS came into the game and Ben Zobrist moved from second base to right field.
Even Len and JD were surprised when Jay stepped to the plate in the first inning, and here’s why:
#Cubs Maddon talked to Bryant on dugout steps before game started, and realized KB wasn't able to play. "It was literally last second"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 13, 2017
La Stella responded with one of his better games as a Cub. He doubled in the third inning and then, off Cardinals lefty reliever Brett Cecil, homered in the seventh [VIDEO].
It was the fifth homer of La Stella’s career, and the first he’d hit off a lefthander. That blast gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead and things were looking good.
Carl Edwards Jr. gave one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning on a solo shot by Randal Grichuk. Then C.J. walked pinch-hitter Greg Garcia and his former teammate Dexter Fowler.
That’s when Contreras made one of the bigger plays of the game:
The pickoff of Fowler ended the Cardinals’ threat in the inning. Could you tell Willson was a little excited?
Koji Uehara threw a 1-2-3 eighth and then it was up to Wade Davis in the ninth.
Molina led off the inning with a single, but Davis got Aledmys Diaz to hit into a double play. Grichuk drew a two-out walk and stole second.
Then Davis struck out Kolten Wong. Game over, right? Unfortunately, no [VIDEO].
I’m not sure exactly where Willson was throwing that ball, but Anthony Rizzo couldn’t handle it. The error was charged to Contreras and allowed Grichuk to score, making it 3-2. That was the first run scored off Davis this year, though as an unearned run Davis’ ERA remained at 0.00.
Davis, who seems completely unflappable on the mound, calmly struck out Matt Adams on three pitches to end it and post his eighth save. Thankfully, that made Contreras’ error just a footnote to this victory — and helped him to an early birthday celebration. Willson turns 25 on Saturday.
Beyond Contreras, the best thing about this win was obviously Butler’s fine outing. He’ll certainly stick in the rotation for a while based on that. Butler was very good in spring training this year and also in five starts at Triple-A Iowa. Maybe he’s figured things out and tapped into the talent that made him a No. 1 pick by the Rockies. If so, the Cubs got themselves another solid starter at a very low cost (minor leaguer James Farris and some international slot money).
The Cubs’ win ended the Cardinals’ six-game winning streak and was their third win in four tries in Busch Stadium this year. The crowd of 47,601 was the third-largest regular-season crowd in the park’s history and seemed, as usual, to have a large and vocal contingent of Cubs fans.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, again no Bryant:
#Cubs Bryant not expected to play Saturday. Hit with illness right before Friday's game started— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 13, 2017
As for the other banged-up Cub, Addison Russell, he did pinch-hit Friday (and drew a walk). Russell’s issue is with his shoulder, so the team doesn’t want him in the field for now, but he should be available to pinch-hit again Saturday.
Saturday afternoon’s game (3:05 p.m. CT) will feature a pitching rematch of Opening Night — Jon Lester vs. Carlos Martinez.