It figured that a game that included a first-inning grand slam, a mediocre outing from a starting pitcher that turned dominant, a stolen base from said starting pitcher and some miserably bad bullpen work from the Cubs would end on a wild pitch, didn’t it?
That’s only a quick summary of the Cubs’ wacky 7-6 win over the Reds Wednesday night, so let’s get right to it.
John Lackey, who had been so good since his return from the disabled list about a month ago, began as if he needed to go back on the DL. He loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the first. A run scored on a sacrifice fly, and it might have been worse except — and for the second straight day! — the arm of Kyle Schwarber:
Kyle Schwarber throws out another runner at home. pic.twitter.com/2xobNspcJU— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 17, 2017
That accurate throw completed a double play and minimized the damage to Lackey.
Then the Cubs began the task of dismantling Homer Bailey. Bailey had come into the game having been all kinds of awful so far this year and he continued that trend by mimicking Lackey, loading the bases with nobody out on singles by Ben Zobrist and Schwarber and a walk to Kris Bryant.
Anthony Rizzo was next:
Talk about efficiency: 10 pitches into the game, the Cubs had four runs. Fun facts about Rizzo’s slam:
#Cubs: 2nd first-inning grand slam this season (Also Báez May 18 vs Reds)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 17, 2017
First time #Cubs had multiple first-inning grand slams in same season since 1999 (both Gary Gaetti)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 17, 2017
Lackey got himself into trouble again in the second inning with a leadoff single and walk, but got out of it with a pop fly, a nicely done throw home by Rizzo and a fly to left.
And then Lackey somehow became a totally different pitcher. After the second inning he allowed just one hit and retired the last 10 batters he faced, including this snag of a line drive off the bat of Joey Votto:
Lackey snags Votto's comebacker. pic.twitter.com/6htdL0WrIl— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 17, 2017
Pretty good reaction from a guy who’ll turn 39 in a couple of months.
That came one inning after Lackey, who is a notoriously bad hitter, singled up the middle with two out, and with the Reds not paying attention to him, stole second base:
The first stolen base of John Lackey's career. pic.twitter.com/WAFjYQGNjQ— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 17, 2017
Not only was that the first steal of Lackey’s career, it was his first steal attempt. It might have helped lead to more scoring, as Ben Zobrist followed with a walk. Unfortunately, Lackey, in unfamiliar ground on second base, got himself picked off after ball four (called safe on the field, it was overturned on review). Fun fact about Lackey’s steal:
John Lackey (38 y, 297 d): oldest #Cubs pitcher to steal a base since Greg Maddux (40 y, 29 d) 5/13/2006— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 17, 2017
The Cubs added runs in the third (RBI single by Alex Avila) and sixth (pinch-hit RBI double by Tommy La Stella) and seemed to be cruising, entering the seventh inning with a 6-1 lead.
This was when Hector Rondon decided to have one of his worst innings of the year. He retired the first two batters easily. Up came Reds rookie Phillip Ervin, who had made his big-league debut against the Cubs in April in Cincinnati.
He smashed a home run that bounced off the top of the bleacher wall just below my section and out onto Waveland. It’s only 6-2, so that’s not too bad.
Aside here: Someone threw a baseball — and it wasn’t the actual ball, see below — back onto the field from Waveland. It came pretty close to hitting Schwarber in the head, and Kyle looked none too happy about that. Maybe it’s time to retire this practice. Or at least be more careful!
Also, I hope that ball made its way back to Ervin:
Whoever got Ervin's HR ball in LF, he wants it. It's his 1st ML hit and HR. Thanks. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 17, 2017
Anyway, Hector immediately gave up another single and another home run, this one to Zack Cozart, and it’s now an uncomfortable 6-4. Brian Duensing was summoned to pitch to Joey Votto, and he got Votto to hit a ground ball to Rizzo to end the inning.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were going down meekly, 1-2-3 in the seventh. Duensing allowed a leadoff double to Eugenio Suarez in the eighth, then got Scooter Gennett to ground out.
That’s when Joe Maddon brought in Carl Edwards Jr. to pitch to pinch-hitter Adam Duvall.
For all of Joe’s quirks and unconventional strategies, his management of the bullpen is often strictly by-the-book. Despite the fact that Duensing has very good reverse splits this year — right-handed batters are hitting .185/.241/.296 against him — Joe went by the “you can’t have a LHP face a RHB in this situation” mantra that almost all managers will do, reflexively.
CJ ran the count full on Duvall and then served up a 97 mile-per-hour fastball that Duvall deposited in the bleachers to tie the game.
Personally? Duensing was doing pretty well, I thought. Just leave him in the game.
The five-run blown lead stood until the bottom of the ninth as Wade Davis threw a 1-2-3 ninth. The last of those three outs meant that Joey Votto stood on deck with a 1-for-4 night, his streak of reaching base at least twice snapped at 20 games, one game short of Ted Williams’ 1948 record.
Javier Baez led off the last of the ninth with a hustle double to left-center and Jon Jay, batting for Davis, walked.
On an 0-1 count, Reds lefty Wandy Peralta appeared to hit Zobrist with a pitch. The umpires disagreed, saying Zobrist offered at the pitch showing bunt. That got Joe tossed, and he has rarely looked that angry. Zobrist eventually hit a comebacker that did advance the runners, so now it’s second and third with one out. Albert Almora Jr., who had come in on a double switch replacing Schwarber in the lineup, struck out.
Bryant was next, and Blake Wood’s first pitch to him bounced in the dirt, away from Tucker Barnhart, and Baez scampered across the plate with the winning run.
And I haven’t even mentioned the off-and-on little rainshowers that dotted the late innings, none of them heavy enough to hold up play, although they might have made the field a bit wet. That could have affected Jason Heyward in the eighth, when Suarez’ double sailed just above his outstretched glove, a play Heyward normally makes. If Heyward catches that ball, there are two out and none on when Duvall comes to bat and maybe Duensing stays in the game, or maybe CJ gets him, and the Cubs win the game without that ninth-inning rally.
About being ejected, Maddon said:
#Cubs Maddon still livid post game. "I've been playing good in the sand box. That [call in the 9th] was wrong."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 17, 2017
More #Cubs Maddon: "That impacted the game. ... Everything's different. The world rotates differently at that point"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 17, 2017
Don’t know about the whole world, but the game did change, a bit at least. The Cubs won, but they’re going to need better bullpen work going forward in this tight division race.
Speaking of which, the Brewers won Wednesday afternoon, defeating the Pirates, and the Cardinals blew a two-run ninth-inning lead and lost to the Red Sox, so the Cubs now lead Milwaukee by 1½ games, St. Louis by 2½ and Pittsburgh by 5½. As the Cubs complete their series against the Reds Thursday afternoon, the Cardinals and Pirates will begin a four-game series in Pittsburgh (to me, the optimal result of that series would be three Pirates wins) and the Brewers have Thursday off before they start a three-game set in Denver against the Rockies Friday night, the first game of a 10-game trip that also has them playing three in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
So this is the time when the Cubs need to begin putting some distance between themselves and their division rivals. But they will need to put together better relief work to accomplish that.
Thursday afternoon, the Cubs go for the series win with Jon Lester on the mound. He’ll be facing our old friend Scott Feldman. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.