The Cubs hadn’t played extra innings over their first 25 games of the 2019 season, and then they chose a getaway-day Sunday afternoon in Phoenix to go past nine innings for the first time. And when they go extras... man, they go extras.
Before I get to all the details, here’s a story about this game that turned out to be really important in the end:
Chicago Cubs third baseman David Bote wasn’t supposed to be in the starting lineup Sunday. But that was before manager Joe Maddon got a nudge to give the nod to the hot hitter.
”The process worked well,” Maddon said. “I had him [Bote] listed to not play, but he’s had a couple good games, and in discussion with a couple of veteran guys, they agreed.”
While Maddon was coy as to which veteran came to him with the idea, one who had to give his blessing was Ben Zobrist, who had the day off Saturday and was slated to start Sunday.
”It’s a selfless kind of a move,” Maddon said. “That’s what we’re looking for. I like the fact they feel comfortable enough to come in here and discuss with me. It was pretty much what we wanted to happen to begin with, and it happened.”
Zobrist wound up coming into the game anyway because it lasted so long. He hit this two-run double in the 15th inning [VIDEO]:
It was Zobrist’s first extra-base hit of the 2019 season. You might recall an extra-inning double he hit in some game back in 2016 that turned out to be pretty important.
And that happened after Tyler Chatwood — Tyler Chatwood! — had also hit a double [VIDEO] (off his onetime high-school classmate Matt Andriese, according to Jim Deshaies).
The Cubs scored again in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Kris Bryant. That run turned out to be important in a wild and wacky 6-5, 15-inning win over the Diamondbacks, though not until the D-backs had scored a pair off Kyle Ryan and Zobrist had to make a warning-track catch to end it [VIDEO].
Let’s unpack this one from the beginning.
The Cubs took an early 2-0 lead in the third. Kyle Schwarber walked and advanced to second on an attempted sacrifice. One out later, that bunt didn’t matter when Kris Bryant stepped to the plate [VIDEO].
KB’s opposite-field blast, his third of the year, was his fourth extra-base hit in his last five games. He seems back to his usual self after a very slow start.
Willson Contreras made it 3-0 in the fourth inning [VIDEO].
That ball didn’t go very far, just getting over the left-field wall, but look at the height on Willson’s homer:
Jose Quintana was sailing along, too. In addition to getting his first hit of the season, he’d allowed just three hits and one run through five innings, the one hit being a solo homer by Eduardo Escobar. But after a one-out single in the fifth, Escobar homered again off Q and the game was tied. Still, I thought Quintana had a solid outing, not walking anyone and throwing 56 strikes in 84 pitches (67 percent).
Brad Brach relieved Q and nearly gave up another run, allowing a pair of walks around a single to load the bases, but then struck out Carson Kelly to end the inning.
Steve Cishek allowed a two-out walk to Ketel Marte but then picked him off first base. The D-backs challenged, but the call was upheld [VIDEO].
The Cubs got a two-out single off Archie Bradley in the eighth, but could not score. Cishek came back to throw a second relief inning, and seemed even stronger, striking out the side. This is a good sign — after a rough outing the other night against the Dodgers, this is a strong comeback outing from Cishek, who has allowed three runs in two different appearances this year, but is unscored-upon in the other 10.
Pedro Strop threw a scoreless ninth and 10th, striking out a pair. Brandon Kintzler followed with a 1-2-3 11th. The Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the 12th but could not score, which put Kintzler out there for another inning. He got out of a jam with a nice double play started by Javier Baez.
Contreras tried to start up some action in the 13th. He was hit by a pitch, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and tried to catch the D-backs by surprise by breaking for the plate on a routine toss-back from catcher to pitcher. He was thrown out, but not by much — it was a worthwhile risk at that point, in my view. He just didn’t get quite enough of a secondary lead.
Dillon Maples entered to throw the 13th. He got the first two men out easily, then walked the bases loaded... for Chatwood to come into the game. But Chatwood struck out John Ryan Murphy to end the inning, with his fastball touching 98. The Cubs again had a chance to score in the 14th, but failed, and Chatwood got through a scoreless 14th, though he issued one walk.
After the Cubs’ three-run rally in the 15th, Ryan tired after two out and allowed three hits and two runs, forcing Joe Maddon to use the last guy in the bullpen, Allen Webster, who got Nick Ahmed on that long fly to Zobrist to end it. It was Webster’s first major-league save.
The Cubs offense did not cover itself in glory in this one. So many opportunities were wasted; the Cubs went just 2-for-15 with RISP, and those two hits were both in the 15th inning, Albert Almora’s single after Chatwood’s double, and Zobrist’s double driving them both in.
The Cubs have now completed their season series against the D-backs, winning four of six. It should be noted that the only games the D-backs have lost among their last 14 are the four to the Cubs. Arizona’s been hot and the Cubs found a way to cool them off. This Cubs team is finding ways to win, and that seems important.
The game went so long that it ended only a few minutes before the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game (Astros over Indians 4-1). There was some discussion between Len and JD during the marathon about having ties or the dreaded “runner on second” if a game goes beyond 12 innings.
Let me say, as I have previously, that games that go 13 innings or more are a fairly rare event in baseball, and as Len correctly said, they become epic games that fans talk about for a long time. Ending them in ties? Not in favor of that. The “runner on second” thing, I’m opposed to ever seeing in the big leagues.
Games of 13 innings or more amount, in general, to approximately one percent of all games played. Last year there were 39, or about 1.5 percent. In 2017, 24, exactly one percent. In 2016, 32, or about 1.3 percent. There have been five so far this year, including Sunday’s, so we’re on pace for about the same percentage in 2019. This is a solution in search of a problem, but if MLB does want to do something about it, my suggestion stands: Any team that plays 13 innings or more gets to add a pitcher for their next game, without a corresponding roster move. That would help ease bullpen fatigue without changing the fundamental way the game is played.
Fortunately, the Cubs have Monday off, so that will give the pen a day’s rest. They’ll then begin another interleague series, in Seattle against the Mariners, so they’ll have use of the DH for a couple of games. That might also help the pen, as there won’t be any need to pinch-hit for pitchers. Tuesday’s game will be at 9:10 p.m. CT and feature a pitching matchup straight out of 2009, Cole Hamels vs. Felix Hernandez . TV coverage Tuesday is via NBC Sports Chicago.