There was a long delay before this game started as the teams waited for a storm that never did hit the ballpark, and then the game dragged out for quite some time and there was nearly a blown save before the Cubs finally won their fourth in a row to move to 47-45. They were 3½ games behind the Brewers in the N.L. Central.
Those are just the facts. This is also a fact: Wade Davis registered his 18th save, but in an ugly fashion that nearly blew what looked like a relatively easy 4-1 win. (And you can see the usually-stoic Davis almost crack a smile in the photo above when congratulated by Joe Maddon after the game.)
I’ll get back to Davis later.
Jon Lester began this game as if he had said to himself, “Well, if Jose Quintana can do that, so can I!” Lester allowed the first run of the game in the third inning after Javier Baez threw a potential inning-ending double-play ball into the Braves dugout. Javy or the Cubs might get a bill for the iPad you see being crushed here:
Ender Inciarte wound up on second, after which he stole third and scored on a single by Brandon Phillips. (Yes, it seems odd to see Phillips in a Braves uniform after all those years with the Reds.)
In the top of that inning with one out, Lester hit a double off the wall in right field. No, really, he did! [VIDEO]
And he hit that ball really, really hard:
Unfortunately, he was stranded. The Cubs got on the board in the fifth. Jason Heyward walked and Javier Baez singled. Both runners were wild-pitched up a base and then Ben Zobrist bounced this seeing-eye single up the middle [VIDEO].
Both runners scored and the Cubs had a 2-1 lead. Kris Bryant forced Zobrist, but the Cubs loaded the bases on walks. Then Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman saved at least two runs [VIDEO].
Kyle Schwarber smashed that ball hard down the line, but give credit to Freeman for outstanding defense.
The sixth inning brought entertainment for the Cubs, if not runs. With two out and Ian Happ on third, Lester drew a four-pitch walk. Then this happened [VIDEO].
The Braves weren’t holding Lester on first base, so he just took off for second. It was not only his first career steal, but his first attempt. That produced these fun facts:
Jon Lester: first #Cubs pitcher with an extra-base hit AND a stolen base in a game since Rick Sutcliffe 7/29/1988— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 18, 2017
By the way, not only did Sutcliffe steal a base in this game...— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 18, 2017
...he stole HOMEhttps://t.co/u4UjpG7O0G
And, this was a cool thing to do:
Cubs took a collection, were able to retrieve the second base that Lester stole. Money goes toward charity.— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) July 18, 2017
Zobrist was next to bat, and he hit a smash down the first-base line very similar to Schwarber’s — and Freeman did it again [VIDEO].
Give Freeman credit for his defense. He likely saved four runs Monday night with those two plays. The Cubs could have turned this one into a blowout; instead it went to the seventh still 2-1.
That’s five homers for Rizzo in his last 11 games, during which he’s hitting .268/.362/.683 (11-for-41). Fun fact:
First #Cubs HR by Atlanta Ballpark— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 18, 2017
SunTrust Park: Anthony Rizzo
Turner Field: Sammy Sosa
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium: Ernie Banks
In the next inning, the Cubs got what turned out to be the most important hit of the game. Happ had singled leading off the eighth, but was thrown out trying to stretch that into a double, upheld on review. One out later, Baez doubled and Addison Russell, pinch-hitting for the ninth time this year (1-for-7 with a walk previously as a PH), came to bat [VIDEO] against Akeel Morris.
Russell’s double just past Inciarte’s glove scored Baez to make it 4-1. That should be a (relatively) easy win, right?
Koji Uehara had a 1-2-3 eighth.
And then it was Davis’ turn, and he... well, let’s just say that this was not one of his finest moments in a Cubs uniform. He got Inciarte on a ground out, but two singles and a wild pitch made it 4-2. Another single by Matt Kemp made it 4-3, and the Braves sent Lane Adams — who spent the second half of 2016 in the Cubs farm system at Double-A Tennessee and whose baseball-reference.com page pictures him in a Cubs cap — in to run for him. Adams promptly stole second.
Davis got the second out, a fly ball to second. The Braves’ other Adams, Matt Adams, with whom we are quite familiar from his years with the Cardinals, was sent up to pinch-hit for Morris.
Maddon said there was no way he was going to let Adams hit. IBB him as the winning run.— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) July 18, 2017
“The book” says you never intentionally put the winning run on base in a situation like this, but I agree with Maddon. Adams came into the game hitting .291/.335/.609 in 46 games since he was traded to Atlanta, with 14 home runs. It was the right thing to do, even with Davis struggling. Dansby Swanson ran for Matt Adams.
And then Davis walked Sean Rodriguez, putting that potential winning run in scoring position. Yikes.
That brought up Johan Camargo, a Braves rookie who had been on this hot streak coming into Monday’s contest: 13-for-23 (.565) with five doubles in his last eight games.
Fortunately, Davis settled down enough to get Camargo to hit a routine fly ball to Zobrist in left, and the game was over.
To summarize: Not pretty, but a win’s a win and the Cubs will take it. More good things came out of this game: Lester’s outstanding outing, Lester’s hitting and baserunning, hits at important times (and there could have been more such hits if not for Freeman’s defense). Even good closers like Davis are going to have clunkers like this from time to time; fortunately, he had a three-run lead to work with. Since he threw 28 pitches in this one, hopefully the Cubs run out to a big lead Tuesday night and won’t need him.
Just so you don’t think I forgot about this, we should have a look at yet another tumbling catch into the seats by Schwarber:
Nice catch by Kyle Schwarber, even better assist by the officer in the front rowpic.twitter.com/eaPZKCoJa5— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 18, 2017
Yes, “yet another,” since he also did one of those May 7 at Wrigley Field.
Here’s the Atlanta view of the thousands of Cubs fans who invaded SunTrust Park for Monday’s game, at 41,256 the Braves’ seventh sellout of 2017, and the playoff-like atmosphere that engendered:
“Kind of that, or a road game,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers quipped. “That’s OK. We like that. A little more energy, that’s always fun, even though a lot of them were ‘Chitown’ fans. It’s always good energy. You prefer that over 10,000 people.”
John Lackey is expected to be activated from the disabled list to start Tuesday night in Atlanta. He’ll face Braves rookie lefthander Sean Newcomb.