If I had told you, back during spring training this past March, that I was going to write the following paragraph in September, you would have asked what planet I was from:
Cole Hamels, Dillon Maples, Jaime Garcia and Jorge De La Rosa combined to hold Reds hitters down until Ian Happ’s three-run homer provided all the Cubs’ runs in a 3-2 victory Friday night at Wrigley Field.
Wait, what? Friday night? Hamels? Maples? Garcia? De La Rosa? What year is this?
The answer to that question is: 2018, and this is the new normal for the Cubs, anyway. Three of those pitchers weren’t even in the Cubs organization at the All-Star break, and De La Rosa has been pitching for 15 seasons and never had a big-league save — until Friday night, that is.
This is perhaps the weirdest Cubs playoff contending season I have ever seen. Somehow, they keep winning, a credit to every single player on this roster. The Cubs’ #EverybodyIn slogan is being taken literally by the ballclub, apparently.
Lots to unpack here, so let’s go!
Hamels was outstanding for the first three innings. He got six quick outs, then allowed a single and a walk in the third. Anthony Rizzo took care of that inning [VIDEO].
Rizzo snagged Scott Schebler’s line drive for an easy double play.
But the Cubs couldn’t do much off Matt Harvey, who looked much like the Harvey of old, the guy who helped lead the Mets to the 2015 World Series. The Cubs did have a couple of doubles early, one from David Bote, one from Ben Zobrist, but stranded a bunch of runners in the first three innings.
Then Hamels uncharacteristically started giving up long balls. Back-to-back homers by Jose Peraza and Joey Votto began the fourth inning for a 2-0 Reds lead. Hamels then walked Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett singled. Kris Bryant, in left field, let Gennett’s ball get by hom for an error, putting runners on second and third. But Hamels struck out Phillip Ervin, and then Curt Casali grounded to short [VIDEO].
Javier Baez’s throw was offline, but Victor Caratini made a fine play reaching to tag Suarez out.
Defense helped save the day again in the fifth. Billy Hamilton led off with a single, but Hamels picked him off [VIDEO].
After Schebler singled, Peraza hit a line drive to Baez, who doubled Schebler off first to end the inning.
Hamels allowed two more hits in the sixth, but got the next three Reds hitters. The Cubs, however, were getting nothing off Harvey, who retired nine straight after Baez had singled and was safe at second on review on a Caratini ground ball.
Hamels hit pinch-hitter Dilson Herrera leading off the seventh but got the next two Reds, one on this fine catch by Happ [VIDEO].
That’s when the “Bad News Cubs” bullpen began to step up. Hamels was at 109 pitches, and Joe called on Maples to face Peraza, not the first guy I’d have wanted to see in that situation.
But Maples got Peraza to pop to second to end the inning. Maples, who can hit 97-98 with his fastball (without much control, though), threw nothing but sliders to Peraza.
And then, finally, the Cubs offense got going against Reds reliever David Hernandez. Caratini singled and then what looked like an absolutely routine double-play ball to Suarez hit by Bote was booted for an error.
When we look back on the story of the Cubs’ 2018 season, that error might be one of the biggest plays. Instead of two out and nobody on, the Cubs had the tying runs on base with no one out. Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella hit into a force play, putting runners on first and third.
And that was a great home run call by Len Kasper, too. Happ’s homer broke an 0-for-15 slump. Also:
The Cubs loaded the bases later in the inning when Bryant was hit, Zobrist singled and Daniel Murphy walked, but Baez flied to right to end the inning.
Then the next of the Cubs’ unexpected relievers entered the game.
Jaime Garcia had been awful in his first Cubs appearance, a start in the first game of the doubleheader at Washington last Saturday. And the first batter he was going to face was Votto. Lefty vs. lefty, I guess... except coming into this game, Votto had hit .386 (17-for-44) against Garcia lifetime with five doubles, two home runs and nine walks!
Somehow, it worked. Votto hit a line drive off Garcia, but right at Bryant. Garcia then struck out Suarez and got Gennett on a comebacker. Props to Garcia — he stepped up when the Cubs needed him most.
The Cubs went 1-2-3 in the eighth, and that brought in... De La Rosa. Who, as noted, had zero major-league saves in 425 previous major-league appearances.
This call was a bit more logical. De La Rosa had been very good in relief since the Cubs picked him up off the scrap heap last month and had allowed runs in just two of 12 previous appearances.
He got Ervin on a ground ball, then served up a double to right-center by Casali, who left for a pinch-runner. Another pinch-hitter, Tucker Barnhart, flied to Bryant. One out from victory!
Then he walked Hamilton. I don’t know what it is with Cubs pitchers, they simply don’t seem able to throw strikes to a guy with a lifetime .299 OBA who strikes out 20 percent of the time. Cubs hurlers have walked Hamilton 30 times in 301 career plate appearances (including twice in this game), more walks than any other team has given him.
That brought up Schebler, who had hit the ball hard twice (the Rizzo double play, and the running catch by Happ). He hit a medium-deep fly ball to center, Happ squeezed it, and the Cubs had their win, weird as it was.
It was the 46th come-from-behind win for the Cubs, which leads the major leagues. Fun fact:
#Cubs last 4 saves have been by 4 different pitchers— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 15, 2018
De La Rosa tonight
Chavez Sept. 6
Seven different pitchers (also Brandon Morrow, Brian Duensing and Steve Cishek) have saves for the Cubs this year. Oddly, Justin Wilson, who might be called on to close in Pedro Strop’s absence, has none, but I’m guessing soon, he’ll become the eighth such pitcher on the Cubs staff. (Comparison point: Last year, four Cubs pitchers posted saves. Three of them, Wade Davis, Justin Grimm and Koji Uehara, aren’t on the team anymore and the fourth, Mike Montgomery, is in the starting rotation.)
This win was a tremendous team effort. The Cubs are stepping up with guys you’d never have imagined on the team, much less giving this kind of performance under pennant-race pressure. It’s tremendous fun to watch (if a bit tense!), not to mention gratifying to see the kind of team Theo & Co. have put together. As it was put by Rizzo before this game:
#Cubs Rizzo: "We're playing for another ring, another championship and everyone's on board. Guys get hurt and it happens and you deal with it. Hopefully, we can weather the storm. I believe we have guys who can step up and get outs in big situations"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 14, 2018
He’s right, absolutely right.
The Brewers won Friday night to remain 1½ games behind, but the Cubs knocked another number off the division-clinching magic number, now at 14. The Cardinals lost to reduce their elimination number to 10.
It was a beautiful night at the ballyard, the crowd was festive and into the game, and the Cubs won. Maybe they should try more Friday night home games.
In the meantime, afternoon baseball returns to Wrigley Field Saturday at 3:05 p.m. CT. Jon Lester takes the mound for the Cubs and Cody Reed will go for the Reds. TV coverage Saturday is via NBC Sports Chicago.