“Never quit” is one of the most important mottoes of the Cubs teams of the last couple of years.
And indeed, they showed some of that Monday night at Wrigley Field, turning a 6-0 deficit into a close game and bringing the tying or lead run to the plate in the eighth and ninth innings. In the end it wasn’t enough and the Cubs lost to the Giants 6-4.
No, not “yay.” The late innings of Monday’s loss had something of a feel of Game 4 of last year’s division series against the Giants. A San Francisco lefthander, this time Ty Blach, tying Cubs hitters in knots until the late innings, then a furious comeback attempt.
Last October, it worked. Tuesday’s deficit was too big to overcome, as the Giants hit four solo homers, three of them off John Lackey. Lackey thought he threw well:
"It's been awesome," Lackey said sarcastically of the 15 mph breeze blowing from the southwest toward center field. "Honestly, I threw the ball better (Monday) than my last three (starts)."
Whether that’s true or not, it could have been worse if not for two outstanding defensive plays in the first inning. First, Addison Russell on a ground ball by Christian Arroyo [VIDEO].
Next, Albert Almora Jr. on a fly ball hit by Brandon Belt, seemingly headed to the gap in right-center:
Here’s how good that catch was, according to Statcast:
This is the kind of defense the Cubs played last year and the kind of defense that’s been absent a lot of 2017. It pleased Joe Maddon:
Maddon: "We had really good at-bats, played our defense. That's what I'm looking for, more of that." #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 23, 2017
But the Giants kept piling up the runs and the Cubs ran themselves out of a couple of rallies. Javier Baez was thrown out trying to steal with one out in the third and the Cubs down 3-0. Ben Zobrist tripled moments later.
And in the sixth with the score 5-0 Giants, Almora blooped a one-out single to right and appeared to momentarily think he could take second. Not a good idea, Albert! He was caught in between bases and tagged out.
The first mistake would have resulted in at least one run, the second took a one-out, one-on situation and made it two out, nobody on.
And then Kris Bryant struck out to end the sixth inning. Maybe:
Bryant, who rarely says anything about umpiring calls, was visibly unhappy with that one by Doug Eddings, and I can’t say I blame him.
Blach, meanwhile, was frustrating Cubs hitters. He struck out only three* (asterisk because of the Bryant K noted above) over the first seven innings, but got eight outs on ground balls and Zobrist was the only Cubs baserunner beyond first base.
Then came the eighth. Jason Heyward led off with a single and Baez was next [VIDEO].
Just like that, it’s 6-2. Ian Happ batted for Brian Duensing, who had relieved Lackey in the sixth (and thrown pretty well, incidentally). Happ tripled. This started the traditional Bruce Bochy Parade of Relievers. Derek Law came in to face Zobrist and he followed with another two-run homer [VIDEO].
Now it’s 6-4. Jon Jay batted for Almora and singled, bringing the tying run to the plate. Law got Bryant to fly to center, and Bochy brought in lefty Steven Okert to pitch to Anthony Rizzo. Okert hit him, the 10th time Rizzo’s been hit this year. That put the tying run on base and Bochy summoned Hunter Strickland to pitch to Willson Contreras.
With rain beginning to fall and energy, at last, in the ballpark, crowd mostly on its feet... Contreras hit into an inning-ending double play.
Maybe that at-bat goes differently if it’s 5-4 instead of 6-4, obviously impossible to know. Hector Rondon had allowed the fourth Giants homer of the night, hit by former Cub Justin Ruggiano in the top of the eighth.
Zac Rosscup made his first big-league appearance since 2015 in the top of the ninth, retiring the only two hitters he faced. One of the outs was on this outstanding defensive play by Rizzo [VIDEO].
New Giants closer Mark Melancon entered for the ninth. During the time Melancon was having good years closing for the Pirates, the Cubs were one of the few teams able to solve him. With two out, Baez singled, again bringing the tying run to the plate. Javy went 3-for-4 on the night and is 7-for-11 with two homers in his last three games.
The batter was Happ. Could it be? Could the kid just brought up from Iowa a few days earlier be the hero?
It wasn’t to be. Happ struck out, Posey dropped the ball but threw him out at first base and the game ended.
So: Good defense, timely late-inning hitting. Those things are good.
Digging yourself a five-run hole in the first five innings: Not good, especially once again giving up a first-inning run and putting the team behind before they even come to bat. Cubs pitching has now allowed 46 first-inning runs this year, which is nearly twice as many as they’ve allowed in any other inning (third inning, 24). This isn’t the only reason the team is struggling to stay over .500, but it’s one of the biggest factors. Of those 46 runs:
#Cubs have allowed 13 first inning HR this season; 4 of them leading off games— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 23, 2017
Obviously that isn’t good either. Stop doing this and I suspect a big part of the problem has been solved.
Once again, rain is in the forecast Tuesday. The Cubs swapped a couple of spots in their rotation for this game. Originally Kyle Hendricks was supposed to go Tuesday night, but he’ll pitch Wednesday and Jon Lester will go on his normal four days’ rest against Johnny Cueto.
You might remember that was the Game 1 matchup in the division series last year, and those two pitchers would have rematched in Game 5 if the Cubs hadn’t had the miracle rally in the ninth inning of Game 4 in San Francisco.
Weather permitting, should be a good one. Reminder! Tuesday’s game starts an hour earlier than usual at 6:05 p.m. CT, at the request of ESPN, which is making this a national broadcast.