Finally, a game that doesn’t have us all on the edges of our proverbial seats all afternoon or evening.
Jose Quintana’s magnificent pitching and some timely hitting, including a two-run homer by Ben Zobrist, led the Cubs to a 5-0 win over the Brewers. That reduced the Cubs’ magic number to eliminate Milwaukee to two, and with the Cardinals’ loss to the Pirates Sunday, St. Louis’ elimination number for the division title is also two.
Quintana threw a complete-game shutout, the first for a Cub since Kyle Hendricks shut out the Marlins August 1, 2016. It was (of course) his longest outing as a Cub (and longest overall since May 2). He allowed just three singles and a walk and struck out 10. In fact, Quintana became the second Cubs starting pitcher to even throw in the ninth inning this year. Jon Lester threw a complete-game win (allowing one run) May 23 against the Giants. Sunday, just two Brewers runners got past first base off Q, both on stolen bases. Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana both stole second after reaching base; both were stranded.
Chase Anderson of the Brewers, who has tied Cubs hitters in knots before (he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against them May 17, 2016 until Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant homered off him), matched Quintana through three innings. The Cubs broke through in the fourth when Jon Jay led off with a single. Bryant was next:
RBI double for Kris Bryant. pic.twitter.com/0iBUxVbwnz— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 24, 2017
Jay scored without a throw, and with two out in the bottom of the inning, he flashed some glove:
Kyle Schwarber sat this one out, and I’m pretty sure I know why: Joe Maddon wanted his best outfield defense out there, and it paid off with that catch, one of the best of the entire season.
It was still 1-0 in the seventh when Willson Contreras legged out an infield single that was reviewed and ruled “call stands,” another awfully close play that was reviewed in this series, which had eight reviews overall.
Zobrist, who entered this game 5-for-11 against Anderson, was next:
Zobrist’s first home run since August 29 made it 3-0, just the second time either team had more than a two-run lead anytime in the series.
The Cubs extended their lead by two more runs when Jay singled (his second hit of the game, eighth of the series, and 10th in his last five games), Bryant walked and Anthony Rizzo came to bat:
2-run double for Rizzo. 5-0 Cubs pic.twitter.com/xvLg9a21Qi— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 24, 2017
Rizzo’s two-run double made it 5-0, and even though Rizzo eventually got picked off second base, that made the lead comfortable. The two RBI tied Rizzo’s career season high at 109; he’s also tied for his career high in home runs, so he’s got seven games remaining to break both of those marks. Rizzo has already set career highs in runs and walks this season.
I was a bit surprised when Quintana took his at-bat in the eighth and came out to throw the ninth, but he was dealing so well that it was certainly the right thing to do, and he dispatched the Brewers easily in the ninth, giving the entire bullpen the day off. He threw 116 pitches (72 strikes) for his second career complete game and shutout (previously: July 24, 2015 against the Indians). One more note on Quintana’s shutout:
José Quintana: first #Cubs CG shutout by a lefty since Rich Hill 9/16/2006, snapping streak of 537 starts by Cubs lefties (546 w/playoffs)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 24, 2017
Here’s the boxscore for that 2006 game. It was at Wrigley Field. The last Cubs lefthander to throw a complete-game shutout on the road was Glendon Rusch, who did it June 2, 2005 in San Diego. You might also remember this key shutout exactly 14 years ago today, September 24, 2003, thrown by Shawn Estes in Cincinnati. Those, plus the one by Quintana Sunday, are the only three CG shutouts thrown by Cubs lefthanders on the road since 1988.
So the Cubs win the series and push the Brewers to the brink of elimination. Two more Cubs wins eliminates both the Brewers and the Cardinals. If the Cubs win Monday in St. Louis, the Cardinals will be eliminated, but the elimination number for the Brewers will be one, since Milwaukee has the day off. Thus the first possible division-clinching date for the Cubs is Tuesday. With the losses by the Brewers and Cardinals, the Diamondbacks have clinched a wild-card spot. The Brewers and Cardinals, though, remain in the race for the second wild-card spot.
The win also brought the Cubs back to a season-high tying 19 games over .500 and clinched a winning road record with the 41st road win. That makes three straight years with a winning record away from Wrigley Field.
It should be fun in St. Louis the next four days, with lots of Cubs fans in the stands hoping to see a division-clincher. Monday’s series opener will feature Jon Lester against Luke Weaver.
Good times. #LetsGo