The Cubs’ six-game winning streak was broken by the Cardinals in the first game of this Wrigley series, but they came back and won the Saturday contest. It was the team’s 50th win of the year, bringing them to 50-46. They were now just one game behind the Brewers in the N.L. Central.
Would you have sent Kris Bryant?
The Cubs had just completed a wild comeback from a 2-0 deficit with a pair of hits in the bottom of the eighth, the second an RBI single by Bryant. Now he’s on first base with two out and Anthony Rizzo loops a ball into left-center field [VIDEO].
Gary Jones never hesitated sending Bryant around third. Obviously, the Cubs know Dexter Fowler’s arm well and decided to take a chance. Had Yadier Molina held on to the ball, it would have been a really close play. But he couldn’t, and Bryant scored what turned out to be the winning run in a pulsating 3-2 Cubs win over the Cardinals, perhaps the best game of 2017 and one that had Wrigley Field rocking with a near-playoff atmosphere. (Also note the feet-first slide by KB!)
Before the Cubs’ eighth-inning rally this had been a magnificent pitchers’ duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright. Lester retired the first 17 Cardinals he faced before — because baseball! — Wainwright broke up the nascent perfect game with a clean single to right field.
Meanwhile, Wainwright was nearly as good. Bryant singled in the first inning and Jason Heyward lined a triple down the right-field line with two out in the second, but after that, Wainwright set down 15 straight Cubs before Kyle Schwarber reached on an error with two out in the seventh. All baserunners for both teams — and there were only four of them — were stranded through seven innings of a tense 0-0 tie.
Lester hit Molina to lead off the eighth, but then got Luke Voit to hit into a double play. It looked like he might post eight shutout innings, but that’s when Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk ripped back-to-back homers off Jon. DeJong is a story that most of baseball has ignored; he’s now hit 11 home runs in his first 45 major-league games, and has played good defense at both second and short. And Grichuk just kills the Cubs; that was his second homer in as many days in this series and his ninth career home run against Cubs pitching in 133 career at-bats.
Even with the two homers allowed, Lester’s outing was outstanding. Look at all these things he accomplished Saturday:
10+ K games by #Cubs Lefty— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 22, 2017
10 Jon Lester
10 Ken Holtzman
9 Hippo Vaughn
Most games with 10+ K and no walks#Cubs lefties (1913-present)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 22, 2017
3 Jon Lester
2 Ken Holtzman
1 José Quintana
1 Ted Lilly
1 Steve Wilson
And look who is on the second list — he’ll get his chance to move up on that one Sunday. Also, check out what Cubs starters have done since the All-Star break:
#Cubs starting pitching since all-star break (8 games):— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 22, 2017
2.16 ERA, 50.0 IP, 30 Hits, 45 K, 9 BB, 0.780 WHIP
That’s the kind of pitching we saw from Cubs starters in 2016. If they can keep this up, really good things will happen.
Anyway, the Cubs went to the bottom of the eighth against a clearly tiring Wainwright. Heyward hit a ball really hard to left, but right at Tommy Pham. Jon Jay singled, and then pinch-hitter Ian Happ was called out on strikes. C’mon, Adam Hamari, that wasn’t a strike:
Hamari blew six calls in this one according to @CubsUmp, three “in favor” of each team. But really, bring on the robot umpires.
Anyway, Ben Zobrist followed with a double, scoring Jay to make it 2-1 and that was it for Wainwright.
Mike Matheny summoned Matt Bowman to face Bryant, who singled in Zobrist to tie the game. Naturally, no righthander is going to be allowed to face the lefty-hitting Rizzo, so Brett Cecil entered. Cecil has not had a great year for St. Louis, and Rizzo ran the count full before delivering his game-winning single.
Wade Davis (19th save) set down the first two Cardinals before issuing a pair of walks, putting the potential tying and lead runs on base and sending a shudder through the capacity crowd, nearly all of whom stayed till the end of this one. And with the next hitter being Molina, you can imagine the nervousness of Cubs fans.
Nothing ever seems to bother Davis, though, and he calmly struck out Yadi to end the game and even up this series.
As I said above, this one felt almost playoff-type in its intensity, certainly from crowd reactions to various situations in the game. Give Bryant a lot of credit for playing in this game when it had been stated he might not play at all this weekend; he had two hits including that key single in the eighth, and didn’t seem restricted at all, either at bat or in the field.
And I can’t say enough about Lester, who showed ace-like form all afternoon. Here’s the last of his 10 strikeouts [VIDEO].
Now, let’s return to the question I posed at the top of this recap, and hear Joe Maddon’s thoughts:
#Cubs Maddon on Bryant: "KB being able to play was the difference in today's game." 1/2— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 22, 2017
More #Cubs Maddon: "The combination of [Rizzo's] hit and [Bryant's] speed -- I don't think anybody else scores on that"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 22, 2017
#Cubs Maddon on Bryant: You can't underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup and there it was"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 22, 2017
And Joe is correct about all of that. My first thought is that I wouldn’t have sent him — but they did, and it worked, and that’s why those guys are paid the big money to make those decisions. It was a wonderful comeback win and at least right at this moment, feels important. Whether it is in the end remains to be seen.
So the Cubs now have a chance to win this series with Jose Quintana making his Wrigley Field debut Sunday night. The ballpark should be rocking for ESPN’s national broadcast. Michael Wacha goes for the Cardinals.
And perhaps the eighth inning won’t be so crazy tomorrow.