The slogan for this Cubs team for several years now has been “We never quit.”
That was never in evidence more than during Thursday’s 6-4, 10-inning win over the Nationals, a game in which they overcame some sketchy fielding and baserunning and came from behind twice to win, on a smaller scale somewhat reminiscent of the last game they’d played in Nationals Park previous to this one, the wacky Game 5 win in the 2017 division series.
It was their 44th come-from-behind win this year.
And at the center of the winning rally, once again, was David Bote. The Nats have to be wondering how to ever get him out in the late innings.
I’ll get to that, but first, let’s unpack the rest of this four-hour game.
Things were going along well early. Kyle Hendricks had two strong innings, getting swings and misses on his changeup, a good sign, and the Cubs put two runs across in the third inning. Javier Baez singled, followed by what looked like an ordinary ground-ball single to right-center by Anthony Rizzo. Most runners would have stopped at second on that hit, with Bryce Harper running after the ball. Not Javy — he did himself some more El Mago [VIDEO].
Baez never stopped running, and Harper’s throw was way off line. Rizzo was credited with a double, and it was 1-0. Ben Zobrist singled in Rizzo to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, a throwing error by Javy helped lead to a three-run Nats inning that gave them the lead. Harper reached base and scored on a double by Anthony Rendon, who took third on the throw in. That turned out to be moot two batters later when Mark Reynolds took Hendricks deep for a 3-2 Nats lead. It was the first home run served up by Kyle since seven starts ago, August 4 against the Padres. The error made all three runs unearned.
The Cubs tied the game in the fifth. Daniel Murphy led off with a single and wound up on third on a single by Rizzo and wild throw by Rendon. That throw was significant, as Zobrist hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-3.
But the Nats came right back in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead again. Spencer Kieboom led off with a single, was sacrificed to second, took third on an infield out and scored on a single by Trea Turner.
So now it’s 4-3 Nats and Joe Maddon decided to bat for Hendricks in the top of the sixth, to try to generate some offense, even though Hendricks had thrown only 74 pitches (52 strikes). Kyle Schwarber did his part by drawing a walk, but he was stranded.
That left things up to the Cubs bullpen. Fortunately for the Cubs, it also left things up to the beleaguered Nats bullpen, as Strasburg was pulled by Dave Martinez with two out in the sixth after 111 pitches. That’s credit to the Cubs, who ran a lot of long counts and had six hits and three walks off Strasburg, making him run up that big pitch count.
Randy Rosario allowed three hits in his 1⅔ innings of work, but didn’t allow a run; give him credit for this pickoff [VIDEO] of Victor Robles, and also to Steve Cishek for striking out Turner to end the seventh.
The Cubs tied the game again in the eighth. Kris Bryant led off with a single and went to third on a single by Albert Almora Jr., who took second on the throw. That brought Willson Contreras to the plate [VIDEO].
Bryant scored to make it 4-4, but Almora strayed too far off second base and was thrown out. Contreras likely would have been safe at first, and this helped kill a potential bigger rally. Terrance Gore was sent in to run for Contreras and promptly stole second base. This despite the fact that everyone in the ballpark knows Gore is going the first chance he gets. That’s because he’s really, really, really fast [VIDEO].
Terrance Gore's still got it.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) September 7, 2018
His sprint speed on that SB just now: 30.7 ft/sec, above the elite 30 ft/sec mark.
He beats a nice throw from Spencer Kieboom, whose 1.91 second pop time was a good bit faster than the MLB avg to 2B (2.01).
Gore is going to be on the postseason roster for just this purpose. Book it.
One out later, Tommy La Stella was hit by a pitch, but both runners were stranded when Murphy flied to center.
Carl Edwards Jr. entered to throw the last of the eighth and, as been the case for him in a number of his recent outings, he had trouble throwing strikes. He walked Harper, got Rendon on a fly to right and then ran a 3-1 count on Robles before he doubled. Now the Nats have two runners in scoring position and only one out, and CJ was removed for Justin Wilson.
I have been hard on Wilson much of the time he’s been a Cub, so let me give him kudos for this outing. This was outstanding pitching by Wilson — he struck out Reynolds and got Wilmer Difo on a line drive to left, hitting as high as 96 miles per hour on his fastball. This is the Justin Wilson the Cubs thought they were getting last year. If he keeps this up, he will become an important piece of the bullpen down the stretch and in the postseason, and with Brandon Morrow’s status still uncertain, this could be really important.
The Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the ninth and Pedro Strop entered to throw the last of the ninth, a measure of how important Joe Maddon felt this game was, using his closer in a tie game on the road in the ninth inning. Strop set down the Nats 1-2-3 and on they went to extras.
Almora doubled with one out, and that brought up Bote, who seems to relish these types of situations [VIDEO].
Bote’s hit split Robles and Harper and scored Almora with the lead run.
David Bote in 21 plate appearances this season in 9th inning or later:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 7, 2018
.421/.476/1.053, 3 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI#Cubs
I’m thinking Bote makes the postseason roster for production like this.
At this point the Cubs had gotten down to the final position player on the bench — Taylor Davis, who’s really here only as a reward for longtime service in the organization and to serve as a third catcher, mostly in blowouts. And yet, here he is, pinch-hitting in extra innings in a key situation... and he came through! [VIDEO]
The look on Davis’ face as he stands on first base after his RBI single scored Bote is priceless. “Did I really just do that?”
That helped take pressure off, a two-run lead going into the bottom of the 10th against the heart of the Nats order felt a lot better than one run.
Jesse Chavez was summoned for the save. He promptly walked Turner to lead off the inning, just the second walk issued by Cubs pitching on the night. But he got Harper on strikes. That’s good! Rendon then singled. That’s not good!
But Chavez, who seems totally unflappable on the mound, struck out Juan Soto and got Reynolds to hit a fly ball to center, and the Cubs had a hard-fought win. Chavez now has three saves as a Cub, as many as he had with all eight of his previous teams combined in his 11-year career. If Maddon really does have to mix-and-match at closer during the postseason, I think he’s got several pitchers who are up to the task.
Great work by the entire bullpen in this one: five shutout innings, five hits, two walks, six strikeouts.
The Cubs increased their lead by half a game over the Brewers and Cardinals, both of whom had Thursday off. They now lead Milwaukee by 4½ games and St. Louis by five, and the magic number over both has dropped to 18.
The Cubs and Nats will play the second of the four-game series Friday evening, weather permitting. Jon Lester will go for the Cubs and Joe Ross for the Nats. Game time is 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage again will be via NBC Sports Chicago. Also, if you’re keeping track of the Cubs’ pursuers in the N.L. Central, the Brewers will host the Giants at Miller Park (7:10 CT) and the Cardinals are at the Tigers (6:10 CT).