The Cubs put together a ninth-inning rally Saturday that called into mind their “We Never Quit” slogan from the World Series year of 2016.
And just about everyone was involved in the four-run rally that gave the Cubs a satisfying 5-2 win over the Brewers.
None of the first six Cubs batters in the ninth hit the ball out of the infield. After Tommy La Stella popped out, Victor Caratini beat out an infield hit and was sent to second on a throwing error. Jason Heyward — who’s shown much better patience at the plate so far this year — walked, his second base on balls of the game.
Javier Baez then hit a ground ball that could have been a game-ending double play, but Travis Shaw booted it and the bases were loaded.
Ben Zobrist, who was double-switched into the game in the eighth, then hit a dribbler down the first-base line. Brewers first baseman Eric Thames seemed indecisive about which base to throw to, and by the time he tossed to pitcher Jacob Barnes covering first, Zobrist was safe and the game was tied.
Ian Happ, who’s been in a horrific slump, lofted a ball the other way over a drawn-in infield to score two and give the Cubs the lead.
Kris Bryant was intentionally passed, bringing up the pitcher’s spot in the batting order. Joe Maddon sent Jon Lester up to — obviously — bunt.
You know, when Lester first came to the Cubs he wasn’t very good at anything except pitching baseballs. But he’s become a better fielder, he can even pick off a runner from time to time, he’s a passable hitter (for a pitcher) and he is an excellent bunter.
His safety squeeze scored Addison Russell (who had run for Caratini) to make it 5-2.
Brandon Morrow entered to throw the bottom of the ninth — the first time we’d seen him since he threw two pitches in the 17-inning game a week ago Friday, and the first ninth-inning save situation for the Cubs this year. He allowed a one-out single to Shaw, but then retired the next two hitters to post his first Cubs save. He threw 17 pitches (13 strikes), hitting 96 miles per hour, and seems exactly as advertised.
Now let’s unpack the rest of this thrilling win.
First, can we acknowledge that 3:05 is probably not the best time to start a game at Miller Park in April?
I mean, just look at this weird shadow:
That cannot be helpful to pitchers, batters or fielders, and if the game had been a 1:10 or 6:10 start (the Brewers’ usual Saturday game times), it wouldn’t have had as much impact. This game was requested by FS1 for a non-exclusive national broadcast, and thus the 3:05 starting time. It’ll be better Sunday at 1:10.
He threw six innings and allowed just two hits and a walk, striking out nine. He made just one mistake, serving up a home run to Thames in the third inning. At 94 pitches he probably could have come out for the seventh, but his batting order spot came up in the top of the inning, so a pinch-hitter was called for.
Let me get on my soapbox about the DH again — this is just one of the reasons I don’t want pitchers in the batting order. While the bullpen did a fine job in the seventh, they’re now rapidly becoming overworked. I’d rather have seen Darvish throw the seventh, or at least start the inning. The pinch hitter, Albert Almora Jr., wound up hitting into a double play, so that didn’t work out either.
Further, the Cubs had a golden opportunity to score some runs in the fifth inning with one out and the bases loaded. But Darvish was the scheduled hitter, and he wasn’t going to leave the game at that point. He struck out. That gives Darvish 34 career at-bats, 23 of which have ended by strikeout.
I acknowledge some strategy might be lost if the N.L. adopted the DH, although how much of pinch-hitting and double-switching is “strategy” and how much is “by-the-book” is open for debate. But it’s really time for the DH to be adopted across baseball. It’s time to end playing with two sets of rules.
Darvish’s pitching, though — that was excellent. I suspect we’ll see more games like this as the year goes on:
Darvish threw a 1st pitch strike to 18 of 21 batters he faced and induced 14 swinging strikes.— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) April 7, 2018
That's more like it.
As noted above, the Cubs had a chance to tie the game in the fifth. Tommy La Stella singled and Caratini doubled him to third. Heyward bounced a ball in front of the plate, gloved by Brewers pitcher Zach Davies, who threw home instead of getting the easy out at first and conceding a run. That’s when this happened:
That’s really, really close. To me (and to Len and JD) it looked like TLS had his foot on the corner of the plate before he was tagged. The play was ruled “call stands,” meaning they didn’t have clear visual evidence to overturn. I suspect the same thing would have happened if the call on the field had been “safe,” too.
Could the shadows have given plate umpire Chris Conroy trouble with the call? Maybe; you can see Conroy’s own shadow on home plate as he makes the “out” call.
Another note about Conroy: he missed a lot of ball-and-strike calls in this game. The @CubsUmp automated Twitter feed, which began tweeting again this week, says there were 10 missed calls Saturday afternoon, eight of which went against the Cubs. Ten blown ball-and-strike calls is a lot for any one game; usually there are maybe two or three.
The Cubs couldn’t score in the fifth inning, as detailed above, but Bryant tied the game in the sixth:
That’s 96 career homers for KB. Four more to 100, at which time he’ll tie Keith Moreland for 21st place on the Cubs’ all-time list... after only a little more than three seasons.
Bryant tripled in the eighth with one out for a three-hit afternoon, but was stranded. Until Saturday, KB was about the only Cub hitting consistently so far this season. And then that all changed in a spectacular ninth inning that was reminiscent of the terrific comeback in Game 4 of the 2016 division series against the Giants.
Sunday, the Cubs go for the series win with Jose Quintana on the mound. Last time Q threw in Miller Park, he tossed a magnificent three-hit shutout. He’ll be opposed by Chase Anderson. I’ll note again the apparent uniform luck this year: 4-0 wearing road grays, 0-4 wearing the blue alts. I hope the Cubs come onto the field wearing the gray jerseys Sunday. Game time is 1:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage Sunday is on WGN.