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Cubs 2, Pirates 0: Jose Quintana shows his stuff

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The lefthander put together one of the best starts he’s had as a Cub.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Two days ago, if you had told me the Cubs would get both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s games in and play nine full innings in both, I might not have believed you.

Helped out by pushing up the start time of Thursday’s game by 30 minutes and by a stellar pitching performance by Jose Quintana, the Cubs posted their first shutout of the year, 2-0 over the Pirates. They also had their first sub-three hour game of 2019, two hours, 38 minutes, though by the time a rain delay was added in the eighth inning Thursday evening, the game ended around 10:15 p.m.

Both Q and Pirates starter Joe Musgrove were dominant in the early innings. Q posted six strikeouts over the first three innings. One of those, of Musgrove, wound up in the Bucs pitcher reaching base when strike three bounced away from Victor Caratini. The Cubs, meanwhile, got a runner to second base just once over the first four innings, on a double by Caratini.

They also had two runners on with one out in the fifth, thanks to a walk to Jason Heyward and single by Daniel Descalso. With Caratini at bat, there were a couple of called strikes to which Joe Maddon took exception. So this happened [VIDEO].

You can see why Joe was unhappy, and he wound up getting himself tossed. Caratini wound up striking out, and the runners moved up by stealing bases. Quintana was the next hitter. The result, sadly, was predictable, though Q actually made contact while grounding out.

The Cubs had runners on second and third in the sixth when this bizarre play happened [VIDEO].

It was a contact play; Ben Zobrist was tagged out at the plate, but Javier Baez didn’t run. It appeared he was claiming the ball hit him and was a foul ball. Eventually Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli just tagged Baez and it was ruled a double play.

Q got the side in order in the sixth and seventh and wound up retiring 10 of the final 11 hitters he faced. This is the Q we saw in the very first start he made for the Cubs, July 16, 2017 in Baltimore, and also when he threw a three-hit shutout in Milwaukee, September 24, 2017. He worked quickly and threw strikes (64 in 99 pitches). More of this, please:

Not more of this, please: It started raining around the top of the seventh, off and on. But rain or not, that’s when the Cubs put together their winning rally. It had been windy all night, but the wind picked up around then and it was to the Cubs’ benefit. Heyward popped a ball behind shortstop. The wind took it toward the foul line, three Pirates converged under the ball, and it was dropped by Pirates shortstop Erik Gonzalez. Heyward wound up on second. Descalso singled in J-Hey to make it 1-0, and advanced to second on the throw to the plate.

Up next: Caratini [VIDEO].

Caratini’s double made it 2-0. David Bote, batting for Q, walked, but Zobrist and Kris Bryant were retired to end the inning. Then it started raining harder, about 45 minutes before forecasts said it was going to start pouring. The game was halted, even while Steve Cishek was running in from the bullpen to relieve Q.

An hour and nine minutes later, play resumed, and the game ended pretty quickly. Just one man reached base in the resumption: Starling Marte, who doubled off Cishek with one out in the eighth. Pedro Strop eventually retired the Pirates 1-2-3 in the ninth for his first save of 2019, the first save by any Cubs pitcher this year.

Bad news: Caratini left the game before the resumption, and here’s the reason:

Victor was off to a tremendous start this year: .571/.647/1.000 (8-for-14) with a home run. Losing him for any length of time will be a big blow to the Cubs and they would probably have to see if they can find a veteran backup somewhere. The only catcher in the Cubs system with any significant MLB experience is Francisco Arcia, who caught 40 games for the Angels in 2018. (And yes, that’s not really “significant” experience.) In the interim, I suppose that if Caratini has to hit the IL, Taylor Davis will be recalled simply because he’s already on the 40-man roster.

But overall, this was the kind of game we’d hoped to see from this pitching staff. Let’s hope they have at last settled down from the awful performances we saw on the season-beginning road trip.

About 8,000 or so were on hand at the revised first-pitch time and maybe 15,000 or so showed up in all. The Cubs did the right thing by moving the game time up. In general it’s not the greatest idea to have night games in early April (the White Sox, for example, played all of their first six home games in the afternoon), but rain could come at any time of day, so this was one way to try to beat it.

The Cubs have a fairly quick turnaround to an afternoon game Friday against the Angels at Wrigley. Cole Hamels will start for the Cubs and Tyler Skaggs goes for the Angels. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.

And we are told, at least for today, that it won’t rain.