The Cubs had a “victory lap” win over one of their favorite teams to beat, the Reds. They improved to a season-high 22 games over .500 at 91-69, and led the N.L. Central by six games.
The weather was beautiful Friday at Wrigley Field, the atmosphere was festive — the Cubs ran a highlight video from this year and celebrated the division title pre-game — and I have to tell you, I can’t recall any game over the last three years that I cared less whether the Cubs won or not.
And the lineup the Cubs put on the field, a handful of regulars and the rest bench players and Triple-A guys, was designed for that occasion. With the team rolling in from St. Louis about 1:30 a.m., Joe Maddon firmly anchored all his everyday players to the bench. Not even when relief pitchers Felix Pena and Hector Rondon came to bat did any of them get up to pinch hit, and Rondon even got an infield single for his effort, after review, his first big-league hit [VIDEO].
Hector Rondon's first career hit... Exit velocity of 39 MPH at a -7 degree launch angle.— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 29, 2017
This game, which the Cubs appeared destined to lose after Jose Quintana got touched up for five hits in a four-run Reds fourth, entered the “W” column anyway. Ian Happ’s three-run homer in the eighth inning produced the winning margin in a 5-4 Cubs win over the Reds, their 91st win of the year. The victory improved the Cubs’ record in one-run games to 26-17. The .605 winning percentage in such games is the second-best in MLB this year (Mariners, .650, 26-14).
The win actually might matter, believe it or not. The Yankees also won Friday afternoon, their 90th. If the Cubs and Yankees meet in the World Series, the Cubs would have home field if they finish with more victories, and remember that the Yankees have the tiebreaker due to their series sweep at Wrigley back in May. The Cubs also closed to within one win of the Red Sox, who have 92 entering Friday night’s action.
Quintana started out great. He retired the first 11 men he faced, five by strikeout, before Joey Votto lined a double down the right-field line with two out in the fourth. Q was probably not going to throw more than five innings anyway, but he got hit hard in the fifth, and after a Phillip Ervin single with two out gave the Reds a 3-2 lead, Quintana was replaced by Pena, who walked Zack Cozart and allowed an RBI single to Votto to make it 4-2.
The Cubs had scored a pair in the second, one on a safety squeeze by Quintana and the second run on a sacrifice fly by Jon Jay. But after the Reds took that 4-2 lead, and Joe Maddon replaced Willson Contreras with Rene Rivera and Jay with Taylor Davis, it appeared as if the Cubs were saying, “Oh well, this one doesn’t matter.” Incidentally, when Jay left the game, Happ moved from third base to center field. This was Happ’s first professional start at third base (he’d played one inning there August 26 in Philadelphia), and he handled a pair of chances in the early inning flawlessly. This could give Maddon the option of playing him there if needed — hopefully, nothing happens to Kris Bryant that makes that necessary, but it does make Happ a more flexible player.
The Cubs got good relief work from Rondon, who worked a 1-2-3 seventh, and Rondon returning to good form is absolutely critical for postseason success. If Hector is back to where he used to be, that gives Joe at least five reliable relievers against the Nationals.
Brian Duensing allowed one hit in a scoreless eighth, and then the Cubs got to work in the bottom of the inning. Ben Zobrist singled with one out, and Davis followed with another single. A wild pitch while Kyle Schwarber batted moved the runners to second and third, but Kyle struck out.
That brought up Happ:
Ian Happ with a 3-run homer to take the lead in the 8th! pic.twitter.com/pJGRwlJhu2— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 29, 2017
That ball was hit about the only way anyone was going to get a ball into the bleachers Friday afternoon, with a 15 mile per hour wind blowing straight in:
Hit hard, on a line only 52 feet off the ground. Well struck, and the Cubs had the lead.
Joe really, really didn’t want to use Wade Davis in this game, so Justin Grimm had his first real ninth-inning save opportunity in more than two years, since he got the last out August 8, 2015 against the Giants.
It wasn’t all that pretty. Scott Schebler hit a popup on which Davis, Mike Freeman and Schwarber converged, and Schwarber wound up making a Willie Mays-style basket catch, appropriate on this, the 63rd anniversary of his famous catch in the World Series.
Tucker Barnhart hit the ball hard, but right at Zobrist in right field for the second out.
Then pinch-hitter Adam Duvall, who has tremendous power, lofted a medium-deep fly ball to Happ in center, and the Cubs put another win away. It’s always satisfying to see those, even in games where it doesn’t matter whether they win or not and the game’s being played very much like you’d play a spring-training game, for practice and evaluation.
I want to give a shout out to BCBer The Deputy Mayor of Rush Street, who joined us in the bleachers for what he said was his first time out there in many years. It was nice to meet him, and he says that now that the Cubs have won when he’s there, he’ll probably come back again next year. BCBer Ryan W. Kasten joined the Deputy in sitting with us in the bleachers.
It was announced pregame that Jake Arrieta would not start Sunday but instead would likely throw a simulated game sometime next week. Here’s who’ll take the Sunday start, no surprise:
Meanwhile, on Saturday the Cubs go for their fourth straight win with Jon Lester on the mound in an important postseason tuneup start. Jackson Stephens will go for the Reds.