The Cubs had clinched the N.L. Central overnight, when the Giants beat the Cardinals in San Francisco. A postgame celebration was planned for Friday, and it might have been kind of lame had the Cubs lost, but Miguel Montero took care of that with a walkoff homer.
The Cubs were 94-53 after this win and led the division by 18 games.
Just about the time I figured the Cubs’ planned on-field celebration of their National League Central title would have to be a bit subdued due to a second straight loss to the Brewers, the Cubs’ makeshift, spring training split-squad lineup produced a stirring ninth-inning game-tying rally, then a walkoff homer from Miguel Montero for a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Brewers in front of a delighted sellout crowd at Wrigley Field.
For those of you who think Miggy isn’t going to make the postseason roster -- of course he is. And he’s started to be a hot hitter just at the right time, entering October. And of course you’d like to look at that homer again, and the celebration that followed:
On a day when the wind was blowing out strongly to left and center field, that was the second Cubs homer of the afternoon. It was the third walkoff homer of Miggy’s career and his second as a Cub, and I couldn’t be happier for him in what’s been a rough season.
Montero wasn’t even supposed to play in this game; he entered in the fourth inning when Jorge Soler departed with what was described as “right side tightness.” He’s day-to-day. Willson Contreras, who had been catching, moved to left field and Montero came in to catch. At the plate he was 1-for-3 (the homer) plus a walk. That means that since August 20, Montero is hitting .382/.462/.618 (13-for-34) with two doubles and two home runs. Perhaps the back issues that sent him to the DL earlier in the year are finally settled and he can contribute to the Cubs in October.
There was a forecast of rain, though nothing more than sprinkles fell on this extremely windy afternoon. The Brewers were the first to take advantage; homers by Orlando Arcia and Ryan Braun (the latter bouncing off the top of the batter’s eye lounge in center field, 450 feet from the plate) gave them a 2-0 lead off John Lackey.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were getting baserunners early but hitting into double plays. DPs ended both the first and second innings. Tommy La Stella hit a ball that looked like it might carry for a home run leading off the third, but Keon Broxton made an outstanding catch. Unfortunately, he was also injured on the play:
It was reported that Broxton fractured his right wrist in running hard into the unforgiving brick wall behind the ivy. That’ll likely end his season. I hope he’ll fully recover and be OK for next year.
The Cubs tied the game in the fifth. Chris Coghlan singled and Albert Almora Jr. hit his third home run of the season but first at Wrigley Field. I saw security with the fan who caught that ball, presumably he exchanged it for some swag.
The game continued tied into the seventh, when Scooter Gennett hit a two-run homer off Lackey to make it 4-2 Brewers. Lackey threw reasonably well, 69 strikes in 105 pitches, and got victimized in part by the wind. It was the first time he’d allowed three homers in a game in more than two years. But given the fact that these outings are more playoff tuneups than anything else, I thought Lackey did fine, especially being stretched out over 100 pitches for the first time since coming off the DL earlier this month.
The Cubs had a brief seventh-inning rally when Almora and La Stella singled, but Almora was caught too far off second base for an out, and then David Ross, who got a nice ovation on coming to bat, pinch-hit for Lackey with runners on first and second. He hit into another inning-ending double play, the Cubs’ fourth GIDP of the afternoon. They went out 1-2-3 in the eighth and this one looked like it would be chalked up to the “L” column.
Props to Felix Pena for throwing two scoreless innings, retiring the final six hitters he faced, which set up the game-tying bottom of the ninth. Usual Brewers closer Tyler Thornburg wasn’t available after throwing 33 pitches Thursday night, so Carlos Torres entered to close. Torres has been a thorn in the side of Cubs hitters since he was with the White Sox back in 2009 (career vs. Cubs entering Friday: 1.97 ERA, 1.156 WHIP in 18 appearances covering 32 innings), but this inning was to belong to the Cubs.
Contreras doubled down the right-field line and Coghlan singled him in to make it 4-3. It was Cogs’ third hit of the day, producing this fun fact:
Chris Coghlan: first 3-hit game by a #Cubs first baseman NOT named Anthony Rizzo since Mike Olt 9/7/2014— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 16, 2016
Almora hit a sharp line drive right to Braun for the first out. Then TLS reached on a ball that bounced off Chris Carter’s glove at first base and there were runners at first and second. Munenori Kawasaki was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Then the only true everyday regular to appear in this game, Addison Russell, came to the plate. He hit a sinking little ground ball to Gennett, who threw to the pitcher covering. Russell’s headfirst slide [VIDEO] (this is not normally advisable, but it worked here!) just beat the throw and Coghlan scored the tying run. Russell has a knack this year with the bases loaded, perhaps why Joe sent him up there:
Most hits with Bases Loaded this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 16, 2016
9 Addison Russell #Cubs
7 Gregory Polanco
7 Yonder Alonso
7 Edwin Encarnacion
7 Starlin Castro
With only one out and the bases still loaded there was still a chance to win in the ninth. Matt Szczur hit a fly to center not deep enough to score a run, and Javier Baez hit a comebacker, and on we went to extras. This game was providing far more entertainment value than you might have expected out of a post-clinching lineup, and among the bleacher denizens Friday was Theo Epstein, though I did not see him. He was sitting in the front row closer to center field, from what I heard, and here’s what he said about his bleacher experience:
Theo on watching the #Cubs game from the bleachers: "To enjoy the real Wrigley Field and sit out there and feel the breeze ... 1/2— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 16, 2016
"... and be among the fans was wonderful. It was even better than I thought it would be." #Cubs Theo 2/2— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 16, 2016
Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the top of the inning, all swinging, on just 11 pitches, and that set up Montero’s heroics. It took just three Blaine Boyer pitches for Miggy to loft his shot into the bleachers, and here’s who caught it:
You likely saw his grab on TV — that’s Jeff’s usual seat right in the corner of the left-field well. As you can see in the photo, he was pretty happy about the whole thing.
As were we all with the result, which, among other things, reduced the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the best record in the N.L. to nine. Joe Maddon will certainly get many of his regulars rest over the next two weeks, but I’m also certain he’ll have his players focused on winning enough to claim that best record, so they can have home field throughout the N.L. playoffs.
And then there was the party; Cubs players came back on the field, waved a W flag, put on the traditional postseason caps and T-shirts, saluted the crowd, and then went back into their own clubhouse (first party in the clubhouse this year, after having most postgame win celebrations in the “party room”) to savor what they’ve accomplished over the last six months.
Which, no doubt, has been spectacular. There is more work to do, as Maddon said Thursday:
#Cubs Maddon after Thu game: "This is just the first step. We have much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 16, 2016
And, hopefully, more and even bigger celebrations to come.