Ben Zobrist was supposed to be in the Cubs’ starting lineup Tuesday night.
Except he was a late arrival in Cincinnati, and for the oddest of reasons:
As for Zobrist, his odyssey started when an auto rental company could not find his reservation.
"And every other place we went, there was nothing," said Zobrist, who eventually arrived at Great American Ball Park an hour before the game. "It took about 1 1/2 hours to get anything available."
Zobrist said the car shortage was due to people who rented cars to see the eclipse Monday. Zobrist's misery was compounded by traffic and some accidents on Interstate 65.
Zobrist and his family live in Nashville in the offseason, and he’d apparently spent the Cubs’ off day Monday there. Normally, it’s about a four-hour drive from Nashville to Cincinnati, but Zobrist’s late arrival meant that Ian Happ started the game for the Cubs at second base.
It all worked out when Zobrist pinch-hit for Hector Rondon in the seventh inning. He delivered:
2-run double by Ben Zobrist to take the lead! pic.twitter.com/EwmYMiVFvg— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 23, 2017
Ben’s two-run double highlighted a four-run seventh that gave the Cubs the lead. They added five more in the eighth and defeated the Reds 13-9, their fourth win in a row, and moved to a season-high 10 games over .500.
This game didn’t start out well. John Lackey was tagged for single runs in the first, second and third innings and Homer Bailey, who the Cubs had pounded last week at Wrigley Field, limited them to one hit over that span. But Bailey suffered some sort of shoulder issue around the end of the third and departed.
That set the stage for the Cubs to begin a comeback. In the fifth, Lackey led off with a walk. It was the second time he had walked in this game, and that in itself was significant. Lackey became the first Cubs pitcher to draw two walks in a game in almost 19 years, since Kevin Tapani on September 5, 1998.
Jon Jay and Kyle Schwarber singled to load the bases, and Kris Bryant hit a fly ball deep enough to center to score Lackey. Anthony Rizzo grounded into a force play to make it 3-2, and then two more walks re-loaded the bases for Jason Heyward:
The Cubs tied the game, but Happ was thrown out to end the inning. That was one of three hits on the night for Heyward, a good sign, I think.
The tie lasted only a few minutes, as Lackey allowed a pair of singles in the bottom of the fifth. With two out, he ran the count to 2-2 on Eugenio Suarez. One strike away from getting out of the inning, Lackey served up a three-run homer to Suarez to give the Reds their three-run lead back.
The Cubs plated one more in the sixth. Javier Baez singled and went to second on a wild pitch and then... well, watch:
Aggressive base running by Javy Baez pays off this time. pic.twitter.com/d4QMmkMs1d— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 23, 2017
Len Kasper said the throw from Billy Hamilton hit Baez; I couldn’t tell whether that was the case or whether it was just a bad throw that got away. Baez scored to make it 6-4.
And then the Cubs opened up on Reds relievers Michael Lorenzen and Wandy Peralta in the seventh. All of the scoring happened with two out, too. Rizzo walked with one out and Happ made the second out. Alex Avila and Heyward singled to load the bases, and that brought up Javy:
Great AB by Javy Baez to tie it. pic.twitter.com/uATKbpK1fc— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 23, 2017
That at-bat, right there, was perhaps the best one I’ve ever seen from Javy. Down 0-2, he laid off three pitches that in some at-bats we’d have seen him flail at for strike three. He then fouled off a pitch before the broken-bat single to right that tied the game. Well done, Javy.
That was followed by Zobrist’s double to give the Cubs the lead 8-6.
The Cubs’ offense really took off on beleaguered Reds reliever Blake Wood in the eighth. Wood walked the bases loaded and then three straight singles scored three runs, everyone moving up a base at a time. A wild pitch scored a fourth run, and after Javy struck out, a ground out by Zobrist made it 13-6, so Ben wound up with a three-RBI night after his rental-car nightmare.
The Cubs’ parade of runs brought this commentary from Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman:
Thom Brennaman is not happy. pic.twitter.com/VtOgdVUR3g— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 23, 2017
What “has to stop”, Thom? The Reds aren’t good, and you should know it. That kind of commentary is an insult to your audience. Thom and his dad are an embarrassment to baseball broadcasting, in my opinion.
One slight discordant note: Bryant was hit by a pitch near his wrist in the ninth inning. He stayed in the game to run the bases, but was taken out for the bottom of the ninth. X-rays were negative, but don’t expect to see KB tonight:
Bryant unlikely to play Wednesday, frustrated because HP not too far from left pinkie he hurt 5 weeks ago. No follow up X-rays scheduled— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) August 23, 2017
With the Cubs out of position players, this meant Avila had to go to first base, Rene Rivera behind the plate, and Rizzo to...
That's Anthony Rizzo now playing third base. pic.twitter.com/Ba4lZy5JxG— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 23, 2017
Rizzo didn’t handle any chances in his inning at third base, but that led to this fun fact:
#Cubs Anthony Rizzo is the first left handed thrower to play first, second, and third in the same season since Hal Chase in 1908.— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) August 23, 2017
Felix Pena, who had thrown a scoreless eighth, was left in to throw the ninth with a seven-run lead. This was probably not a good idea, though I see why Joe Maddon did it, trying to save the rest of the pen. Pena wound up serving up two home runs, a solo shot to Jesse Winker and a two-run homer by Suarez, his second of the game, bringing the Reds to within four runs. I imagine Wade Davis began to loosen up, which shouldn’t have had to happen in a game like this.
But all’s well that ends well, I suppose. The Cardinals were crushed 12-4 by the Padres and dropped to 4½ games behind the Cubs and the Pirates lost for the second straight night to the Dodgers and now trail by eight games. The Brewers came from behind to defeat the Giants 4-3, and so they remain 2½ back, with one more game checked off this year’s calendar. And the win kept the Cubs’ winning streak in games started by Lackey going, now at eight.
One more fun fact for this one:
#Cubs: last time scoring 13+ runs in a game without a home run? 8/23/2000 (15-5 at Astros)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 23, 2017
The Cubs will know what the Brewers did in their game with the Giants Wednesday before they begin in Cincinnati, as that game begins at 2:45 p.m. CT. The Pirates host the Dodgers and the Cardinals host the Padres in night games.
And the Cubs continue their series against the Reds in Cincinnati at 6:10 p.m. CT, with Mike Montgomery facing Asher Wojciechowski.