If you had forgotten how intense September baseball can be, Monday’s 4-3 Cubs loss to the Brewers was a stark reminder.
Really, this game should have been won, except that a couple of the Cubs’ usually reliable late-inning relievers forgot how to throw strikes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked in the tying run in the eighth, and Steve Cishek issued a walk and hit two batters in the ninth, and the Brewers scored the winning run without hitting the ball out of the infield when Christian Yelich grounded to Kris Bryant with the bases loaded and one out. Instead of going home — the usual procedure when that happens — Bryant, very close to the base when he got the ball, thought he could turn a double play. It wasn’t an unreasonable thing to do, but Yelich beat the relay and the Brewers won the game.
There were some good things that happened here, so let’s have a look back. The Cubs scored a run in the first inning thanks to some more Javier Baez excitement. Baez singled with one out, and then Anthony Rizzo followed with a single... but that wasn’t all [VIDEO].
Javy never hesitated going from first to third, and when Lorenzo Cain bobbled the ball briefly in center, he just kept going. A good throw might have gotten Baez at the plate, but the throw came in high and the Cubs had a 1-0 lead.
Cole Hamels was again very, very good, keeping Brewers hitters off balance into the fifth. Orlando Arcia was on first base with a single and two out when it appeared Hamels picked him off. A throw was dropped at second base by Daniel Murphy and Arcia was safe. Two singles later, the Brewers had a 2-1 lead. The pickoff play was originally ruled a stolen base for Arcia. Later, the official scorer changed it to an error on Murphy, making the two runs unearned... but after that, yet another scoring change was announced, calling a balk on Hamels. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scoring change twice on one play while the game was going on, but that put the runs back in the “earned” category. The runs counted regardless, and the Brewers nursed the 2-1 lead into the eighth.
And that’s when things got September-intense. Ian Happ led off the Cubs eighth with a walk and two outs later, stole second.
Anthony Rizzo made that stolen base moot [VIDEO].
Rizzo’s 24th homer of the year gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead. It was the first home run ever by a lefthanded hitter off Josh Hader, who entering this game had held LH hitters to a .109 BA (14-for-128) in his career. In fact:
Anthony Rizzo is the first lefty to homer off Josh Hader at any professional level since Jesse Winker (then on the AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos) took him deep on August 14, 2015.— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) September 3, 2018
Hader’s @BiloxiShuckers lost to @BlueWahoosBBall 1-0.
So that’s really good! And then Edwards entered, gave up a couple of dinky little singles, and after that simply could not find the strike zone. He walked Ryan Braun on a very close 3-2 pitch to load the bases, then walked pinch-hitter Mike Moustakas and the game was tied.
Joe Maddon was not happy with plate umpire Gabe Morales’ calls and got himself ejected. After CJ was removed for Cishek, he had some words with Morales and was also tossed, though at that point he was out of the game anyway.
Here’s what I think. Some of those pitches were close, others weren’t. The Cubs weren’t the only ones complaining about Morales’ strike zone; the Brewers dugout was also barking at him. What I don’t understand is why MLB would assign a crew with an umpire as inexperienced as Morales (this is just his second full year) scheduled to work the plate in a series as playoff-important as this one. They’ve got to do better scheduling than this for umpires.
Victor Caratini singled with two out in the ninth and was replaced by Terrance Gore, who every single person in Miller Park knew was going to take off for second. Didn’t matter, as Gore stole the base easily. He wound up stranded when Ben Zobrist flied to center. You could see the frustration on Zobrist’s face, he knew he had just missed sending that ball out of the ballpark.
And then, the bottom of the ninth, where Cishek couldn’t find the strike zone and Chavez got the ground ball he wanted, but... well, you know what happened.
The good news is that Hader, who threw 35 pitches, is probably not going to be available for Tuesday’s game:
Craig Counsell on the Josh Hader question: “We’ve got to get him proper rest to have him recover to pitch well the next time he pitches. That’s how it has to be. That’s how it’s always going to be.” pic.twitter.com/4UMLdy19SS— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) September 2, 2018
Hey, I’m trying to look for positives in this loss. The Brewers moved to within four games of the Cubs with their win, though they still trail by five in the loss column. Good news: The Cardinals blew a 3-1 ninth-inning lead in Washington and lost to the Nats 4-3 in 10 innings, so they remain 5½ games back of the Cubs. Magic numbers: 21 to eliminate the Brewers, 20 to eliminate the Cardinals.
The series in Milwaukee will continue Tuesday evening. Mike Montgomery will start for the Cubs and Wade Miley will go for the Brewers. Game time Tuesday is 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.