SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Before I get to the details of the Cubs’ excruciating 17-inning 2-1 loss to the Marlins, I need to say this:
Rob Manfred, do not ever take games like this away from us. These are the games that make baseball fun, the games people talk about for years after, the games that make new heroes.
Like Eddie Butler almost was. Butler threw seven innings of nearly spotless relief; with two out in the 17th, he allowed a single to Brian Anderson (and I have to say this about that name: If there are any more guys named Brian Anderson coming to the major leagues, they are going to have to change one of those names. They can either be “Brian” or “Anderson,” but not both. Just too many Brian Andersons!).
That was followed by a sharp ground ball by Cameron Maybin at an oblique angle to Javier Baez at shortstop. 99 times out of 100, Baez makes that play. Unfortunately, this was the 100th time, it went off his glove for a hit, and after 90 pitches, that was it for Butler.
He left to a standing ovation from the Cubs fans remaining in Marlins Park, and Brandon Morrow made his Cubs debut.
Two pitches later, the game was over, on Miguel Rojas’ single to center, as tough a pitcher’s loss as you’ll ever see (and another reason why individual pitcher wins and losses are so meaningless in modern baseball). Butler deserved better. He was magnificent, and though now he likely won’t be able to pitch for several days, he’s certainly cemented his spot in the Cubs bullpen, not to mention Cubs lore. It has been almost 29 years since a Cub pitched that many innings in relief, and like Friday night, it was a guy who often started a lot of games, and it was also in a long extra-inning road loss:
Eddie Butler (7.0 IP): longest #Cubs relief appearance since Scott Sanderson (8.0 IP) on 8/6/1989— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) March 31, 2018
The Cubs lost that game to the Pirates 5-4; it was one of only three losses in an 11-3 run that put the ‘89 Cubs in first place to stay.
One more note: This is the first Cubs game to go exactly 17 innings since May 15, 2003, a 4-2 win over the Brewers at Miller Park.
Back to this one. Kris Bryant put the Cubs in front in the top of the third:
It's like @KrisBryant_23 KNEW we wanted to see him hit a home run,. pic.twitter.com/zZYulh8ofq— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 30, 2018
In the bottom of that inning, after a one-out single and walk, former Cub Starlin Castro singled in the tying run.
And that’s where the game stayed, inning after inning after inning. Kyle Hendricks departed having thrown six good innings, allowing four hits, three walks and a run, a pretty good outing, though I’m sure Kyle would be upset about the walks, and in fact, plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt seemed to be squeezing the zone much of the night.
The Cubs didn’t have another runner past first base until the ninth, when Albert Almora Jr. singled with two out and Bryant was hit by a pitch. But Anthony Rizzo flied to center to send the game to extras. Rizzo wound up making the third out in three straight at-bats and was 0-for-7 on the night (one walk), not one of his better games.
Before Butler’s outstanding outing, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Wilson had combined for 3⅔ shutout innings, with three singles and four walks allowed. That was really the only bad thing the entire pitching staff did until the Marlins’ game-winning hit: too many walks, eight of them in all.
Give some credit to Jarlin Garcia, the Marlins rookie lefthander who threw six shutout innings in relief, allowing just one hit and two walks.
The Cubs had a chance to score off him in the 15th. Victor Caratini walked and Bryant singled. On a very close play, Bryant was called out at second on a force by Rizzo. Joe Maddon challenged, but it was pretty obvious the call on the field was correct. Willson Contreras — who had moved to left field when Caratini entered the game — was intentionally passed to load the bases. It looked like the Cubs might get at least one run home, but Jason Heyward hit into a double play which ended with a tag on Rizzo at the plate.
Do not blame Heyward for that. He hit the ball hard — just right at someone. Heyward’s first two games have been good, he’s hit the ball well, drawn a walk and in the 16th inning he made this outstanding play in right field:
Posting a defensive highlight in the 16th inning of a 1-1 game should go over well. pic.twitter.com/DMYGUe200P— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 31, 2018
These kinds of games are going to happen, when the entire offense shuts down. They could just as easily score 10 runs in Saturday’s game. Give credit to the Marlins relievers, they were very good, and so was the Cubs bullpen until that last inning.
Things could be worse: Last year’s N.L. champion Dodgers, who won 104 games, haven’t scored a run yet in two games this year, and have lost a pair to their arch-rivals, the Giants, both by 1-0 scores, both on solo home runs by Joe Panik. One of those homers was off the best starter on the planet (Clayton Kershaw), the other off the best closer on the planet (Kenley Jansen).
Now that would be worse. This Cubs team will shake this one off and come back ready to go Saturday evening, and it’s a good thing the third game of this series is a night game instead of an afternoon affair. I’m guessing Saturday’s game will be a lot quicker than the five hours, 18 minutes of game time this one took.
And yes, Rob Manfred, that’s five hours, 18 minutes of high drama and entertainment. Don’t ever, ever, ever take that away from us.
Since the beginning of 2016 — including this game — there have been exactly five major-league games that have gone 17 innings or longer. That’s about one-tenth of one percent of all games in that time frame... but these are the ones that get people talking about the fun they had watching, about unlikely heroes like Eddie Butler and Jarlin Garcia. It’s the kind of game that gets people interested in the story of baseball, the kind of game where people on Twitter were talking about maybe John Baker suiting up and pitching, or flying the Blackhawks emergency goaltender Scott Foster to Miami to participate, somehow, even though that would never really happen.
That’s the fun of games like this. You get that. I get that. I wonder if Rob Manfred ever will.
Announced attendance for Game 2 at Marlins Park: 12,034. Cubs averaged almost 14,000 fans for 16 Cactus League exhibitions this spring.— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) March 31, 2018
Hearing from friends at the game, it was again about 75 percent Cubs fans, and a surprising number of them stuck around until after midnight Eastern time to see the disappointing finish.
Saturday night, these two tired ballclubs will play again. Yu Darvish will make his Cubs debut. Odrisamer Despaigne was supposed to start for the Marlins, but he pitched the 17th inning of this game, so I suppose Don Mattingly will make another choice, although Despaigne threw only 11 pitches. Perhaps he could still start and give the Marlins a few innings.
Game time later today is 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage is via NBC Sports Chicago.