The matchup I wanted to see stood on the mound and at the plate at Wrigley Field in the ninth inning Friday night.
The Cubs trailed by two. There was a runner on first base. And Javier Baez was at bat, the one Cub I thought could hit one of Corey Knebel’s 99 mile per hour offerings, if he could just get his bat on it. It was the one time I actually wanted to see Javy try to hit a 900-foot home run.
Baez did put some good swings on Knebel’s offerings, but struck out to end the game and the Cubs suffered a tough 2-0 loss to the Brewers, cutting their division lead in the N.L. Central to four games.
John Lackey threw a pretty good game. Unfortunately, he gave up two long extra-base hits in the first inning, a leadoff double by Eric Thames and a two-run homer to Ryan Braun, who, as has become traditional at Wrigley, was booed loudly throughout the contest. Braun’s home run sliced through a pretty strong wind blowing off Lake Michigan. It was his 300th career home run:
Players to hit 300th career HR vs #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 9, 2017
BRAUN, Granderson, I. Rodríguez, Pujols, G. Carter, T. Pérez, McCovey, Mays, Hodges & Snider
But after that, Lackey shut the Brewers down quite well. In his remaining six innings, he allowed just two more hits and two walks (one intentional) and struck out nine. From the second through the seventh, only one Brewer reached second base: Keon Broxton, who blooped a single into right with one out in the second inning and stole second.
The Cubs certainly had their chances. Ben Zobrist led off the second inning with a double down the left-field line, a ball that sliced past third baseman Travis Shaw looking quite similar to Ben’s double in the 10th inning of Game 7 last November. Zobrist advanced to third on a one-out wild pitch, but was stranded.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo singled with two out in the third, but Zobrist stood and watched a pitch go straight down the middle for strike three to end the inning. That was a pitch that a hitter really has to at least try to foul off.
Two more runners were on base in the fifth, via Jon Jay being hit by a pitch and Bryant drawing a walk. Jay had reached third on a stolen base and wild pitch.
Rizzo was next, and he crushed a baseball that looked like it was headed for the seats.
The wind knocked it down and Broxton caught it. The Cubs didn’t have another baserunner until the eighth inning, when Jay led off with a walk. The next three Cubs went down in order in that inning, and then came the ninth, when Jason Heyward’s two-out single led to the Javy at-bat I previously mentioned.
The Cubs’ bullpen did a good job of keeping the game close. Brian Duensing issued a two-out walk but otherwise did fine, helped out by a nice catch by Jay.
In the ninth, Hector Rondon helped himself defensively in a 1-2-3 inning:
Hector Rondon catches the comebacker. pic.twitter.com/fMt785cdzT— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 9, 2017
Hector’s reaction was perfect, as if to say, “How dare that baseball invade my personal space!”
This was a tough loss considering the circumstances, but Cubs pitching presented the team with a really good chance to win: two runs allowed in nine innings, a fine outing from Lackey and good relief work. Give credit to Jimmy Nelson (who left the game after jamming his shoulder returning to first base awkwardly after he singled) and three Brewers relievers for shutting the Cubs offense down. Late-inning relief has been one of Milwaukee’s strengths this year, and Nelson has become one of the more underrated good starters in the National League.
About the Friday night game: It was... a night game. It didn’t feel any different than any other night game played on any other day of the week. There weren’t any incidents in the stands, the neighborhood seemed as if there was a bit more traffic than usual but nothing that couldn’t be handled, and in general — as I have written many times — there’s absolutely no reason that the city of Chicago shouldn’t allow the Cubs to play games on Friday nights in circumstances like this one, when they are playing a night game in another city the day before.
You might have seen a lot of red in the stands at Wrigley Friday. Those were thousands of red-clad University of Georgia football fans, who are in the area to see their team play Notre Dame Saturday night. Most of them left after the seventh inning, creating the odd sight of a nearly half-empty Wrigley Field in the late innings of a close game against a division rival.
The Cardinals also won Friday night, so both St. Louis and Milwaukee now trail by four games. That isn’t optimal, but one more day ticked off the calendar, and the Cubs do still have the chance to win this series.
Saturday’s contest is at 3:05 p.m. CT. Mike Montgomery will go for the Cubs and Chase Anderson for the Brewers.