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Reds 8, Cubs 6: The Great American Ball Park disaster

This game was going along quite well. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Remember yesterday? When I said that loss was the most dispiriting of the year?

I’m about ready to take that all back. In hindsight, sometimes blowouts are easier to take than something like Sunday’s 8-6 loss to the Reds, especially since the Cubs were cruising in this one with Mike Montgomery’s outstanding pitching and a five-run inning with a couple of key extra-base hits and that five-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh.

I mean... you really, really, really shouldn’t lose games like that. And yet, the Cubs did.

Montgomery was great through six with a low pitch count, just 72 pitches. And the Cubs had taken a five-run lead on a well-struck two-run double by Jason Heyward, which was followed by Anthony Rizzo breaking an 0-for-12 slump with this tremendous home run [VIDEO].

Rizzo's two-run blast

Anthony Rizzo caps a five-run frame. #EverybodyIn

Posted by Chicago Cubs on Sunday, June 24, 2018

That ball: Crushed!

Even though Montgomery was touched for a home run by Michael Lorenzen (a pretty good-hitting pitcher serving as a pinch-hitter), Albert Almora Jr. returned the favor in the top of the seventh [VIDEO].

6-1 with nine outs to go and Montgomery cruising. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, obviously. Montgomery allowed three straight hits leading off the seventh that made it 6-2. Still... four runs up with nine outs to go and the reliable Pedro Strop entering the game, since MiMo appeared out of gas.

Ugh. Strop had probably his worst outing of the year. Jesse Winker, who just destroyed the Cubs in this series, hit a three-run homer off Strop’s second pitch, with two of the runs charged to Montgomery, whose line (six innings, four runs) looks a lot worse than he pitched.

The carnage continued. The next four Reds hit safely off Strop, with the third of those hits (a single by Tucker Barnhart) tying the game, the fourth (a double by Joey Votto) giving the Reds a 7-6 lead. A strikeout, intentional walk loading the bases and line out to short followed, all of this with Strop still in the game. If he could have gotten the third out there, it still would have been a one-run game, but he walked Jose Peraza to make it 8-6.

Only then did Joe Maddon take Strop out of the game, after he had faced nine batters, seven of whom reached base. Four of them scored, raising Strop’s season ERA by more than a run, from 1.76 to 2.87. Randy Rosario, mercifully, got the final out and held the Reds scoreless in the eighth.

But you know how these things work. Innings like that can be utterly deflating, and even though the Cubs had six outs left, they went down more or less meekly. Willson Contreras did hit a one-out double in the eighth, but Amir Garrett struck out the side. Then Reds closer Raisel Iglesias took only seven pitches to take care of the ninth inning, and the Reds had their first four-game sweep of the Cubs since 1983.

Yikes. None of this is good, especially since the Cubs had leads in three of the four games and the previously very good bullpen couldn’t hold any of those leads.

And yet.

It’s just four games. The Reds came in a much better team than the one the Cubs had defeated regularly the last three years. They’ve got a decent offense and their bullpen is much improved over previous versions, and they have an actual big-league manager instead of the guy who really had no business in that position over the last few seasons. Give them credit. They wanted this series and took it.

Looking ahead to the Dodger series, the Cubs decided to give Jon Lester an extra day of rest, as he had thrown 119 pitches in his last start. And so:

Duane Underwood Jr., the Cubs’ second-round pick in 2012, will be making his big-league debut. This move (I presume, though nothing’s been officially announced yet) will be as a result of Tyler Chatwood spending three days on the paternity list, as he awaits the birth of his first child. The Cubs already made two other roster moves Sunday, placing Rob Zastryzny on the 10-day disabled list with back issues and sending Luke Farrell back to Triple-A Iowa and adding relievers Justin Hancock and Cory Mazzoni. Neither Hancock nor Mazzoni threw in Sunday’s game, so the Cubs should have a rested relief corps for the Dodger series.

And yet.

At this writing the Cardinals were doing the Cubs a favor by crushing the Brewers, leading 8-2 in the seventh. Presuming that holds up (and yes I know a certain other team blew a big lead Sunday), the Cubs will still trail the Brewers by just two games in the N.L. Central, still down just one in the loss column. Seasons have ups and downs; obviously this is one of the “down” times, but there is still more than half a season remaining and I believe this team will be just fine.

It would be nice if “fine” started Monday, though. Underwood’s opponent in the opener of the four-game series at Dodger Stadium will be Kenta Maeda. Game time is 9:10 Monday night, with TV coverage via NBC Sports Chicago (and ESPN if you’re outside the Cubs and Dodgers markets).

Hang in there. This one was ugly. But this, like all bad baseball stretches, will pass.