BALTIMORE — The Cubs hit five home runs Friday night, matching their season high, and defeated the Orioles 9-8.
So all’s well, right?
Four of those home runs came in the first three innings and the Cubs raced out to an 8-0 lead. But when the Orioles put up single runs in the third and fourth, this annoying thought kept running through my head: “Please don’t blow an eight-run lead.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Cubs did. I’ll get to all of that, because despite the win, the complaint department is definitely not closed. But first, let’s have a look at Addison Russell’s home run, the one that bailed out all his teammates:
Addison Russell lines a go-ahead solo home run over the left-center-field wall, giving the Cubs a 9-8 lead in the top of the 9th inning!!! pic.twitter.com/PM7HNk6u3J— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 15, 2017
At first, that ball didn’t look like it was going to make it into the seats, but the line drive just kept rising and landed four rows deep. As the headline says: Thanks, Addy!
Now let’s rewind this game to its happy beginning. The Cubs came out swinging their bats strongly against Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Ben Zobrist doubled down the left-field line, a hit reminiscent of his 10th-inning double in Game 7. One out later, Anthony Rizzo singled and then Willson Contreras began the homer parade:
Willson Contreras launches a three-run home run to center field to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning!!! #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/ZK0WciZiz3— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 15, 2017
That ball: Crushed!
July 15, 2017
Gausman’s very next pitch was also sent deep into the left-field seats by Kyle Schwarber, landing in nearly the same spot as Willson’s:
Kyle Schwarber belts a solo home run to center field to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning!!! #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/Bu0lPA8qs6— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 15, 2017
433 feet to the opposite field is really, really impressive:
July 15, 2017
4-0 after one inning became 6-0 after two when Zobrist went deep [VIDEO] after Russell had doubled.
And 6-0 became 8-0 one inning later thanks to Jason Heyward:
Jason Heyward crushes a two-run home run over the right-field wall to give the Cubs an 8-0 lead in the top of the 3rd inning!!! #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/QTRcBx5SQp— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 15, 2017
Heyward had a really good night at the plate with the homer and a double. If J-Hey can get going offensively in the second half, that’s a huge boost.
So it’s 8-0 and we’re still only in the third inning. What... could... possibly... go... wrong?
Plenty, as it turned out, and I present to you this game as evidence that Mike Montgomery really shouldn’t be a starting pitcher. He retired the first six Oriole hitters easily, five of them on ground balls, and then former Cub Welington Castillo homered off him leading off the third. Two outs later he hit a batter and gave up a double to Manny Machado that was snagged by a fan in the front row in left field after bouncing on the warning track. After a lengthy discussion among the umpires and both managers, the original call stood — why this didn’t just go to review is beyond me — and no further runs scored. But Montgomery struggled again in the fourth, issuing two walks and giving up one more run.
Still, it’s 8-2 in the fifth. What could possibly go wrong?
After two more hits, one of them yet another ground-rule double in the fifth, Joe Maddon had seen enough. Montgomery was removed after 86 pitches that produced just 13 outs. Justin Grimm was summoned, and he’d been very good since his recall from Iowa in late May.
Not Friday night, though. Grimm gave up three singles sandwiched around a walk, the last of those hits a two-out, two-run hit by Joey Rickard, and it’s 8-6.
While all this was going on, the Cubs were simply not good. They had just three baserunners between the fourth and eighth innings, and just one (on Heyward’s fifth-inning double) got past first base. Ian Happ got himself picked off in the eighth.
And Cubs relievers simply could not stop walking Orioles hitters. Pedro Strop walked two in the sixth, to the point where Joe had to call on Brian Duensing to get him out of that inning, which he did with a popup. Carl Edwards Jr. — two more walks in the seventh, though CJ got himself out of it by striking out Adam Jones.
Then it was Koji Uehara’s turn, and the former Oriole got a smattering of polite applause from the Baltimore fans on entering the game. Jonathan Schoop dumped a pop-fly single that Heyward nearly made a great sliding catch on, and then Koji served up a no-doubt-about-it home run ball to Mark Trumbo, and the game was tied.
Despite Uehara’s 87 mile per hour fastball, he’d allowed just one home run this season before Friday night (to Joey Votto of the Reds, nearly two months ago on May 16).
It’s not that homer that bothers me so much. It’s all the walks and the failure of Cubs pitchers to throw strikes. Before Wade Davis came in to nail things down after Russell’s homer, Strop and Edwards in particular had trouble throwing strikes (Pedro, seven in 16 pitches; CJ, 13 in 24 pitches). And Montgomery struggled with command much of the evening, and really, I think, serves this club better in a bullpen role.
Anyway, Russell’s homer with one out in the ninth bailed out his teammates and Davis (17th save) struck out two of the three Orioles he faced to end this very, very long game (three hours, 42 minutes) that began after a 49-minute rain delay during which it wasn’t raining all that hard. Had the rain that delayed the start happened during play, they probably would have played through it. Given the delay and the length of the game, probably two-thirds of the crowd departed before it ended at 11:36 p.m. Eastern time, and the remainder, mostly Cubs fans, cheered loudly when Davis struck out Johnny Giavotella for the win.
One note about Davis’ 1-2-3 inning — he got some defensive help from Heyward on the out that wasn’t a K:
Jason Heyward isn’t fair. pic.twitter.com/EGvSWqzpbI— MLB (@MLB) July 15, 2017
I’ll have more to say about Camden Yards later in the weekend, but my first thoughts are that it hasn’t changed much in the 14 years since I’ve been there, except for some upgrades to the video boards. Orioles fans were pleasant, staff was attentive and overall, going to this ballpark is still the excellent experience I remember. There was lots of blue scattered around the orange-clad Orioles crowd, and I expect a larger Cubs fan contingent for the Saturday and Sunday games.
The Brewers also won Friday night, so the Cubs still trail by 5½ games in the N.L. Central. You didn’t really expect help from the Phillies in Milwaukee this weekend, did you?
Saturday night’s contest ought to be interesting. Jake Arrieta, who has not pitched in Baltimore since he was traded to the Cubs four years ago, will get the start for the Cubs. He’ll face Orioles lefthander Wade Miley.