Let’s get this out of the way right now.
This was a strike, Jordan Baker.
Perhaps I have not made myself clear.
That pitch was strike three, Jordan Baker.
Another look at the pitch that led to John Lackey and Willson Contreras's ejection. Pitch No. 5 was called a ball. pic.twitter.com/0ig39dsAC0— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) September 15, 2017
You know, some of the things we see on the @CubsUmp Twitter account are borderline calls that could go either way; I’ve argued for automated ball-and-strike calls and we can debate whether certain pitches are balls or strikes.
But oh my, Jordan Baker, that pitch by John Lackey was right down the middle of the plate to Carlos Martinez.
I mean, Martinez walked away from the plate because he knew Lackey had struck him out:
Everyone on freaking planet Earth knew that was strike three to Martinez, except Jordan Baker called it ball three — and the next pitch was hit for an RBI single making it 2-1 Cardinals, which is why John Lackey and Willson Contreras got so upset. You can’t blame them, but Len and JD are correct in what they say on that video clip. You can’t lose your cool like that in a pennant-race game, and though it seemed clear to me that Contreras didn’t throw his mask at Baker, it did hit him in the leg:
When Contreras slammed helmet, it hit ump. Maddon: "Willie's passionate, emotional, and I love him for it. But that was not his intent"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 15, 2017
Given the egregiousness of the horrendous call, perhaps this won’t result in any suspension, or at least not a long one. Lackey sums it up best:
#Cubs Lackey on umpire: "He missed the pitch. It's a big spot in a huge game and he missed the pitch."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 15, 2017
Any regrets? Lackey: "Not really, no. It was a pretty big spot right there. It cost me a big league win. Those don't grow on trees." #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 15, 2017
Say what you want about Lackey: He isn’t afraid to speak his mind and stands up for what he believes in. And Joe Maddon likes that about him:
Would Maddon have liked to seen a different response by Lackey? "Impossible. I could say I'd like to see that but why would I think that?"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 15, 2017
You know, there might have been a time when a Cubs team, faced with a situation like this, would have folded, lost the game and fallen out of contention.
Not this bunch, though. Not the “We Never Quit” Cubs who won the World Series in 2016. Instead, they put together a seven-run sixth against Martinez and won in an 8-2 rout. The seven runs off the Cardinals’ ace were the most scored on him this season.
Now let’s head back to the beginning of the game and look at it from the start. Lackey, who has had first-inning woes going back to last year, served up a homer to Tommy Pham on the game’s seventh pitch. But then Lackey settled down and retire eight straight Cardinals, one of them on this slick play by Javier Baez:
Can’t make it look any smoother than this. pic.twitter.com/YGjo18ZtcW— MLB (@MLB) September 15, 2017
But Martinez was dominant early on. He retired the first 10 Cubs in order, hitting 98 on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter and striking out five of those 10, looking like he might have no-hitter stuff.
Kris Bryant took care of that with one out in the fourth:
KB’s 27th home run, to the opposite field, tied the game 1-1. Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a single by Contreras, and with two out, Jon Jay singled.
Gary Jones sent Rizzo... oh, Gary, that was not a good idea. He was thrown out easily. The Cubs could have had the bases loaded with Jason Heyward at bat; instead the game was still tied.
The fifth-inning kerfuffle involving Lackey and Contreras, I described above, so I’ll pick it up after the ejection of those two.
Matt Carpenter is the scheduled hitter after the ejections. The Cubs ran through a lot of the bullpen Thursday night, and it’s only the fifth inning. Who do I see running out from the pen? Justin Wilson.
This sight did not fill me with confidence, and I’m sure you know why. Wilson had one job: retire Carpenter and end the inning with the Cubs down only 2-1.
Credit where credit is due: Wilson ran the count full on Carpenter, who then fouled off two pitches.
And then? And then? Well... credit where credit is due, Wilson struck him out on a cutter. Nice work. Do it more often, Justin.
The Cubs had a chance at scoring in the bottom of the inning. Heyward reached on an error and one out later, Tommy La Stella hit for Wilson and walked. But Ben Zobrist hit into a double play to end the inning. Carl Edwards Jr. threw a 1-2-3 sixth and that’s when the Cubs bats came alive.
Bryant singled and Rizzo walked to lead off the sixth, and then Alex Avila, who wasn’t even supposed to be in this game, singled in the tying run. One out later, Jay popped a short fly into left [VIDEO]. Rizzo scored to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Heyward walked, and Javier Baez drove in a run with a little ground ball that Martinez couldn’t handle and then made a throw home that Yadier Molina couldn’t handle.
Ian Happ, batting for CJ, was the next hitter:
Two runs scored, making it 6-2, but the Cubs weren’t done. Zobrist lofted a run-scoring fly to center and Bryant, batting for the second time in the inning, singled for the second time in the inning and the Cubs had a seven-run frame that gave them an 8-2 lead.
That’s the way good teams respond to tough situations like this one.
Then it was up to the Cubs bullpen to finish things off. Pedro Strop allowed two hits in the seventh, but thanks to a heads-up play by Javy, who took a bounce off the wall on the second single and threw Stephen Piscotty out at second, no runs scored.
Then Justin Grimm got in trouble with two hits allowed in the eighth. Again, this was a chance to see if Grimm could salvage anything from his awful season, and the answer appears to be “no.” This gave Joe Maddon a chance to see Wade Davis in his first multi-inning appearance of the year, though not in a save situation. Maddon has said he will likely want Davis to be ready to do that in the postseason, so this was a good opportunity to try it.
Davis issued a walk to load the bases, but got out of the eighth with a fly ball to center, that was knocked down a bit by a wind blowing off Lake Michigan. Then he threw a 1-2-3 ninth to end it. 25 pitches isn’t unreasonable for four outs, and you also want to see how he reacts after going off the field and sitting in the dugout while the Cubs bat. Since Davis hadn’t thrown since Sunday, this should still make him available for the next two games against the Cardinals, since the Cubs have Monday off.
On perhaps the nicest weather day of the entire season at Wrigley — low 80s, low humidity, unlimited sunshine, gentle breeze — the 38,464 who paid certainly got tremendous value for their entertainment dollar. That crowd pushed the season attendance over the three-million mark at 3,002,639 with five dates remaining. The Cubs will likely come up a bit short of last year’s total of 3,232,420.
The win, the Cubs’ fourth straight, and the way they did it certainly told the Cardinals that the Cubs would not fold in a tough pennant race. They increased their lead over St. Louis to four games and no matter what happens in Milwaukee with the Marlins and Brewers tonight, the magic number for division clinching drops to 14. If the Marlins can beat the Brewers, it will be 13.
Good times. Hoping for perhaps fines and not suspensions for Lackey and Contreras when all is said and done with the mess Jordan Baker created, and no, I’m not afraid to say that. Please, Rob Manfred. Bring on the robot umpires. It’s way past time.
The Cubs go for the series win and their fifth consecutive victory Saturday afternoon. A reminder that Saturday’s game will be at 3:05 p.m. CT, changed from the original schedule’s 12:05. Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs and Michael Wacha for St. Louis.