Taylor Davis. I mean... how unlikely a hero is he?
He was drafted by the Marlins out of high school in a round (49th) that doesn’t even exist anymore. They didn’t sign him. Three years later the Cubs signed him as an undrafted free agent. Before 2017 he was a good organizational guy, hitting reasonably well but nothing special, the catcher who was always around just to help out, the kind of player you figure would eventually go into coaching or managing (and he still might).
A couple cups o’coffee in the big leagues in 2017 and 2018 and many (myself included) thought he might be designated for assignment off the 40-man roster before Opening Day this year. But there he was, catching at Triple-A Iowa when Victor Caratini’s hamate bone was broken, and as he was on the 40-man... up he came, to back up Willson Contreras and really, not play much at all. Davis was recalled April 12. He didn’t play for eight days, and didn’t start for 15.
And then, there was this game, started by Yu Darvish, and the consensus has been that Contreras and Darvish don’t mesh well, so there’s Davis, catching Darvish.
Darvish... man, I don’t know what to say about him. He threw the same number of pitches that Kyle Hendricks did on Friday. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good, because he did that in four-plus innings instead of nine. He walked five, gave up six hits including a long home run to Jose Martinez, and departed to loud boos after walking the first two hitters in the fifth. The Cubs trailed 5-1 at the time, and had run themselves out of a possibly bigger inning in the first after Kris Bryant hit an RBI single after Daniel Descalso reached third on a single and a rare two-base error by Dexter Fowler. Descalso, incidentally, apparently tweaked his ankle on that play:
Cubs announce that Descalso exited with left ankle soreness, which came up while rounding first base in the first inning.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 4, 2019
Anyway, in the fourth the Cubs started hitting Michael Wacha, which you had to figure they would, because they had done so routinely over Wacha’s career. Javier Baez and David Bote singled, and Albert Almora Jr. tried to bunt his way on. He was retired, but the runners advanced. That was important, because the Cardinals intentionally passed Kyle Schwarber to pitch to Davis.
I mean... that was the logical thing to do, because Davis entered the game 5-for-23 in his big-league career with one extra-base hit (a double) and seven strikeouts, and Wacha had retired him easily in the second inning.
Not in this at-bat, no, not this time. Taylor Davis, come on down! [VIDEO]
Fun fact time!
Last 3 #Cubs with a grand slam for their first career MLB home run— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 4, 2019
Taylor Davis tonight
Kevin Tapani 7/20/1998
Champ Summers 8/23/1975
Esteemed research historian Ed Hartig here. Says Rene Rivera was last player to hit a grand slam for his first #Cubs HR, 9/2/17.— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) May 4, 2019
Taylor Davis becomes the seventh player in MLB history and the first @Cubs player to hit a game-tying grand slam for his first career home run.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) May 4, 2019
The last player to do it was Will Middlebrooks on May 6, 2012. #EverybodyIn
And yes, my friends, that ball was freaking crushed!
Darvish, having been taken off the hook, proceeded to get himself into another jam in the fifth, walking the first two hitters he faced. But the bullpen got out of it, even though Allen Webster loaded the bases by hitting Yadier Molina. Kyle Ryan relieved Webster and got two groundouts (including a force at the plate) to end the inning.
The Cubs bullpen, in fact, did an outstanding job Saturday. Webster, Ryan, Brad Brach (struck out the only two hitters he faced), Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop threw five innings, allowed two hits and a walk, hit one batter and struck out seven. This has been the bullpen’s pattern over the last few weeks, and they held the Cardinals down.
Cardinals relievers were doing the same to the Cubs, allowing just two baserunners (on walks) from the fifth through the seventh). Then Baez came to bat to lead off the eighth. Javy blooped a ball toward the right-field line that Kolten Wong attempted a catch on as he was crossing the foul line. Wong dropped the ball, which was called foul. The Cubs challenged, thinking Wong had touched the ball in fair territory, but it was ruled “call stands,” which was followed by loud booing... which was ridiculous, seriously, this is why we have the review system. It was close, but I didn’t see any replay that was definitive enough to change the call.
Javy shrugged, went back to bat, and decided a pop-fly double wasn’t good enough for him [VIDEO].
Javy’s 11th of the year, another opposite-field shot — he’s getting good at that — gave the Cubs a 6-5 lead.
There was a little kerfuffle in the ninth after Strop entered. Jose Martinez apparently thought he had called time, but plate umpire Larry Vanover called “strike one.” It took Molina and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to prevent Martinez from being suspended. He was pretty angry. And — he might have been right:
Weird sequence here at Wrigley: Martinez was asking for time as he was getting situated in the box and wasn't even looking up as Strop delivered that pitch - which was called a strike (and shouldn't've been) and he was irate after— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 4, 2019
Anyway, after all that, Martinez struck out. So did Molina. Fowler was the next hitter, and doesn’t it seem like he’s made the last out in quite a few Cubs/Cardinals games the last couple of years?
He did it again today, as Strop nailed down save number four [VIDEO].
The Cubs thus defeated the Cardinals 6-5 in a game they really had no business winning, their sixth consecutive victory. Thanks, Javy; thanks, bullpen; and thank you, Taylor Davis. Taylor might never hit another big-league homer, but this one was very, very important, in front of a full house at Wrigley against the Cardinals. It doesn’t really get much better than that.
Former Cub-killer note: Paul Goldschmidt, who routinely devastated Cubs pitching while with the Diamondbacks, was 0-for-5 in this one and now is 0-for-9 for the series with four strikeouts. His lifetime BA at Wrigley Field has fallen from .337 to .304 during this series so far.
This game wound up so well that I’m going to defer any further discussion about Darvish and his future. But it will have to be addressed, and soon.
The Cubs move to within half a game of St. Louis for first place in the N.L. Central and are now one ahead of them in the loss column. They’ll go for the sweep, and sole possession of first place, Sunday evening at 6:05 p.m. at Wrigley. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Adam Wainwright goes for the Cardinals in the Cubs’ first appearance on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball for this season.