The Cubs won three to one against the Pirates on Friday and Pedro Strop got the save, but as Clint Hurdle said in his post-game interview, maybe he should share that honor with Ian Happ. The Cubs would not have won this game without some exceptional defense from the Cubs sophomore utility man who played in left field on Friday. It’s worth taking a closer look at all three plays.
First, let’s look at the tape [VIDEO].
Catch the first
The Cubs had a 3-1 lead and two outs in the third inning but Mike Montgomery was in a bit of a jam. He was facing one of the Pirates hottest hitters in Corey Dickerson with runners on first and second.
Dickerson hits a ball that should land in no man’s land in left, but Ian Happ isn’t really having no man’s land on this particular day.
You can see how far Happ has to go for this ball as he starts to leave his feet.
To put this in Cubs perspective, this ball is probably closer to where Javier Baez started out than where Happ started. It sort of blows my mind that Happ got to this ball.
Happ hits a knee just before he catches this ball, but that’s actually not the best part of this catch. The best part of this catch is the barrel roll he is about to do while he holds onto the ball. Check it out:
Of course he comes up with the ball.
That play saved a run, maybe two, because if Happ misses this ball after committing to laying out for it, it’s going to the wall. But it doesn’t matter, because Happ isn’t going to miss much on this particular day. I love how casually he bounces to his feet after this catch. Just another day at the office for Ian Happ.
You should really go back and watch that one on the video. He comes to his feet so easily. It’s great.
Catch the second
Mike Montgomery wants a spot in the rotation, and you can see him looking at the ball here with two outs and two strikes in the top of the sixth seeing a quality start in his grasp.
Colin Moran did everything he could get something going for the Pirates when he absolutely scalded a ball to left field.
Happ has a long way to go to get this ball and if it gets past him it’s possible Mike Montgomery’s day is over. Again, he’s going to have to leave his feet to have a shot.
While there isn’t going to be a fancy barrel roll this time, I think it’s pretty incredible how far he winds up from where he jumped to finally make this play. Check it out in the next two shots:
He has the ball here, but by the time he comes to a rest, he’s basically on the warning track. There was a lot of force behind this dive:
Oh, and again, Happ is going to leap to his feet like a cat.
Happ even has the presence of mind to toss the ball into the stands and provide a lucky fan with a souvenir:
But he’s not done yet.
Catch the third
This was the biggest spot of the game. The Cubs were up by two with two outs in the ninth and Moran on third. The Pirates had a dangerous hitter in Josh Harrison at the plate. The Cubs were relying on Pedro Strop to close this game out, since Brandon Morrow was unavailable.
This was also, by far, the hardest catch of the afternoon for Happ. I couldn’t get his precise jump point for starting his route. This was as close as I could get. I’m going to spoil the result here, because I’m pretty sure you already saw it. He’s going to end up diving and catching this ball on the corner area of the track. That is a long way to go.
This would be a great catch if it were no outs in the fourth inning, but it’s two outs in the ninth, so it’s incredible.
But what’s even more incredible is how this ends up, because Happ launched himself at this ball with way more velocity than any of the screenshots did him justice, look at where he initially lands:
And then look where the force of this dive takes him.
I need to point something out about the warning track at Wrigley Field. I know it looks like sand. It is not sand. When I was on the Wrigley Field tour last year I learned that the warning track is made out of crushed brick. So as Happ slides across the warning track, he’s sliding across crushed brick. Ouch.
So, to recap, Happ dove for a ball with so much force it carried him about 15 feet into crushed brick. Oh, and that catch ended the game.
Talk about an exclamation point.
Who loved it more?
This is the best defensive game Ian Happ has ever played for the Chicago Cubs. It was a revelation, honestly. He saved the game, twice and added another highlight reel catch because he could. So really, the only question I have left is this: who loved it more?
Or the fans?