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Cubs 4, Nationals 3: David Bote comes through under pressure, hits ultimate grand slam

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It really doesn’t get better than that in a regular-season game.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

In the nearly 25 years that elapsed in between Rick Wilkins hitting a walkoff grand slam for the Cubs on August 30, 1993, and Jason Heyward accomplishing the feat earlier this year, June 6 against the Phillies, the Cubs had done it just once, by Alfonso Soriano in 2009.

And now the Cubs have two of them in just a bit more than two months, with Sunday night’s hit by rookie David Bote winning the game over the Nationals 4-3, and topping Heyward’s by being an “ultimate grand slam.” I’ll explain that in a moment, but first, you’d certainly like to watch that again, wouldn’t you? This video includes the key plays of the entire inning, with Pat Hughes’ radio call. [VIDEO]

That ball was absolutely crushed!

Now. What is an “ultimate grand slam,” you ask? It’s a walkoff grand slam hit with two out and the team behind by three runs. It’s been done only 29 times in major-league history, including Bote’s Sunday night (that link has the first 28). This Hardball Times article from 2013 has more detailed descriptions of the first 27 of them. The last one before Bote’s was in 2014. And only six of those have been by pinch-hitters.

But wait! There’s more!

That Ron Santo slam was one he loved to talk about. It happened September 25, 1968, and Ron was having vision issues due to his diabetes. He used to say of that hit, “I saw three baseballs and swung at the middle one.”

But wait! There’s still even more!

To have all this happen in a game that, through eight innings, was a masterful pitcher’s duel, is almost beyond description. “Magical”? Sure, but the emotions that go through everyone’s head, from player to broadcaster to fan, are so much more than that.

That pitcher’s duel was everything we might have hoped for from Cole Hamels and Max Scherzer. Hamels, who seems completely rejuvenated since joining the Cubs, threw seven innings and was touched for baserunners just once: a leadoff walk in the second, followed by a single advancing the runner to third by Cub-killer Daniel Murphy, who has a .413 lifetime BA at Wrigley Field, though that seems like it should be about .813. A sacrifice fly followed, and the Nats had a 1-0 lead.

That was it, though. Hamels retired all 21 of the other Nationals he faced, the last 18 in a row, a magnificent performance. Likely he could have gone longer, but Joe Maddon lifted him after 98 pitches (61 strikes). He struck out nine, and the 1-0 lead on only one hit had me scrambling to look up the last time the Cubs lost a game despite allowing just one hit. It’s been a while: July 19, 1975, and the 2-1 loss to the Padres was on a pair of bases-loaded walks, the only hit didn’t even happen in that inning.

Going to say this right here and now, subject to change: For me, Cole Hamels gets the ball in Game 1 of any Cubs postseason series.

Meanwhile, the Cubs couldn’t do anything with Max Scherzer, brilliant as he often is. Through six innings, he’d allowed a pair of singles and neither runner got past first base. Finally, in the seventh, Albert Almora Jr. ripped a two-out double down the left-field line, and Scherzer appeared to lose the strike zone, going to a 3-0 count on Kyle Schwarber before the Nats sent him to first base intentionally. But Scherzer struck out Willson Contreras with his 106th pitch, fooling him badly on a changeup, and the game went to the eighth, still 1-0.

Carl Edwards Jr. replaced Hamels and struck out two of the three hitters he faced.

Tommy La Stella led off the last of the eighth, batting for Edwards, and laced a single to left, his 17th pinch hit of the season, just three short of the franchise record. But he was stranded when Javier Baez hit an infield grounder and was called safe on the field, but the play was overturned on review [VIDEO].

Man, that’s awfully, awfully close, and sometimes on plays like that they’ll say they don’t have conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field. That time, the review crew apparently did, and on the game went to the ninth.

Former Nat Brandon Kintzler began the inning and simply wasn’t good. Trea Turner ripped a one-out triple down the left-field line — one out, because Addison Russell made this terrific catch [VIDEO].

If not for that, the inning might have been even worse. Anyway, Kintzler followed that by walking Juan Soto.

Joe Maddon came to the mound and I thought he was going to summon Justin Wilson, who had been warming, to face Bryce Harper. Instead, though, the mound visit was simply to tell the club that they were going to walk Harper to load the bases and have Kintzler face Ryan Zimmerman.

Bad choice, as it turned out; Zimmerman bounced a single up the middle, scoring two runs and sending a lot of the crowd home. (Many regrets there, I’d think.) Kintzler did not have a good series against his former teammates, facing seven of them and allowing six of them to reach base (four walks, two hits).

Wilson then did come into the game and retired the next two hitters to end the inning.

And that set up the last-of-the-ninth heroics, which is where we came in.

There really cannot be a better feeling, at least in a regular-season game, to have a ballgame that is nearly hopelessly lost turned into victory in an instant, to have this game go from a tough loss to the best game of the season in just a few seconds. This is the kind of game we live for as fans, to have grumbling turn into joy in a moment’s time. You watched the game, no doubt, and perhaps you had that feeling yourself, wherever you were watching on whatever device you were using. The feeling at the ballpark, sharing that with thousands of other people, is indescribable, an amazing moment and game that I will never forget.

One last Bote note: In 91 plate appearances, he is now hitting .329/.418/539 (25-for-76) with five doubles, a triple, three home runs, 11 walks and 18 (!) RBI. Even with that small sample size, that’s worth 1.4 bWAR and 1.2 fWAR. The bWAR figure ranks 10th among N.L. rookies — but the other nine all have at least 262 PA, compared to Bote’s 91.

Will it last? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly clear to me that Bote is a quality major-league hitter and the Cubs are fortunate to have him.

And one last game note: It was the Cubs’ 37th come-from-behind win this year, which took over the major-league lead from the Red Sox (36).

The Cubs picked up a full game on the Brewers with the win, as Milwaukee dropped its Sunday game in Atlanta and lost two of three to the Braves while the Cubs were winning the series at Wrigley against the Nats. So that gives the Cubs a full three-game lead over the Brewers, and I should note that the Cardinals, who swept the Royals over the weekend, are just 5½ games behind. The Cubs and Cardinals don’t meet again until the final three games of the regular season, though, while the Cubs and Brewers have eight more meetings.

The first two of those eight will be Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, after the Cubs enjoy a well-deserved off day. It took me a while to settle after that game, I can only imagine how long it must have taken the players to get to sleep.

Jose Quintana, who has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Brewers, will go for the Cubs Tuesday, and Jhoulys Chacin starts for Milwaukee. Game time Tuesday is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on NBC Sports Chicago.


UPDATE: Here is my scorecard from the game (link opens .pdf).