Just when you had your head down thinking sad thoughts — and don’t deny it, you were, I was — Javier Baez lifted the spirits of a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field, his teammates, and every Cubs fan watching or listening Sunday afternoon.
Javy’s three-run homer, the 100th of his career, sent the Cubs to a 5-3 win over the Mets and a hard-earned split of the four-game weekend series.
The game began on time, even with forecasts of storms in the area, and when lightning was reported not far away from the ballpark, this happened:
Players warming up. Seating area being cleared. So, ¯ \_(ツ)_/¯ #Cubs pic.twitter.com/vhdkLF8qSP— Al Yellon (@bleedcubbieblue) June 23, 2019
Note the timestamp on that tweet — just 20 minutes before the scheduled game time. But it never did rain at Wrigley, not then, anyway, and the tarp was quickly pulled up and the game started at 1:23, more or less on time.
Cole Hamels allowed hits in the first two innings, but also induced double-play balls in both innings to keep the game scoreless. And then Hamels helped himself. Jason Heyward and David Bote singled, with Heyward taking third on Bote’s hit. Hamels, who was a decent hitter (for a pitcher) while in Philadelphia, has been lousy at the plate as a Cub. Coming into this game: 5-for-49 (.102) with 18 strikeouts.
But he hit this ball quite nicely [VIDEO].
Hamels’ RBI single — off a pretty good pitcher, Jacob deGrom — gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, Hamels gave that lead back in the fourth on a solo homer by Pete Alonso, who with his 27th home run broke the Mets’ rookie record set by Darryl Strawberry in 1983. With half the season left, he’s got a shot at the MLB rookie record (52) set by Aaron Judge two years ago. Give Alonso credit, he’s an impressive player and the likely N.L. Rookie of the Year.
In the fifth, Tomas Nido homered off Hamels and after Juan Lagares doubled, deGrom matched his counterpart with an RBI single to make it 3-1 Mets.
The Cubs sliced that deficit to one in the bottom of the inning. With two out, Kris Bryant doubled and Anthony Rizzo was the next hitter [VIDEO].
Rizzo’s hit made the score 3-2, but I need to say something right here. Even though that ball got to the wall, it took an easy bounce to J.D. Davis and he threw Rizzo out easily trying to take second.
I love Anthony Rizzo for everything he’s done for this team. But he’s nearly 30 and if he had any baserunning speed, he doesn’t anymore, and I know Joe Maddon preaches aggressiveness on the basepaths. But that wasn’t the time to try that, and I think Rizzo ought to be somewhat more cautious going forward.
Hamels and the Cubs bullpen then shut down the Mets almost completely after the fifth inning. They retired 12 of the last 13 Mets to bat. The only baserunner was an eighth-inning walk issued by Steve Cishek.
The Cubs, though, couldn’t do anything in the sixth or seventh. Baez ran the Cubs out of a possible run-scoring situation in the sixth by being thrown out trying to steal, and Albert Almora Jr. hit into a double play to end the seventh.
It had rained, lightly, for a couple of innings in the middle of the game. A grounds crew member came out between innings in the fifth to show the umpires what appeared to be an iPad, probably with a radar screen on it. Smartphone radars showed the rain would pass quickly, which it did, and the sun returned just in time for the Cubs’ winning rally. (An omen, perhaps?)
Kyle Schwarber led off the inning with a single and Bryant flied to center. Rizzo walked, and the Mets made a mound visit to Seth Lugo, who had thrown 39 pitches, the most he’d thrown in a game since April. And yet... they left him in to throw to Javy.
You’ve likely heard the old saying, “It’s better to take a pitcher out one batter too early than one batter too late.” Thank you, Mets, for taking Lugo out one batter too late. [VIDEO].
Javy’s 100th career homer was his 19th of the season. Fun facts!
Career games to 100 HR— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 23, 2019
Kris Bryant: 487
Ernie Banks: 500
Javier Báez: 602
Billy Williams: 611
Ron Santo: 708#Cubs
Javier Báez is the 36th player whose 100th career home run came in a #Cubs uniform.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 23, 2019
Of those 36, he's the 6th whose 100th was a go-ahead HR in 8th or later.
Those 6:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 23, 2019
Javier Báez today (3-run HR in 8th, gave Cubs 5-3 lead)
Alex Gonzalez 9/9/2002 9th inning walkoff
Jody Davis 4/21/1987 broke 4-4 tie in top 9
Leon Durham 5/6/1986 9th inning walkoff
Ernie Banks 6/9/1957 broke 3-3 tie in top 8
Kiki Cuyler 8/31/1932 10th inning walkoff
Pretty good company there, Javy. Also, this is fun:
Congrats to @Cubs Javier Báez on his 100th career @mlb home run. Here are all of his home runs tracked by @statcast since 2015. pic.twitter.com/5crRsUZ9Yk— Daren Willman (@darenw) June 23, 2019
And here’s a good summary of Javy’s entire at-bat:
Marley sings, "Don't worry, about a thing. Every little thing, is gonna be alright."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 23, 2019
Baez steps up to plate and drills a three-run homer to right field. Admires, drops bat casually. Fans chant M-V-P! Does curtain call with dirt-caked jersey hanging out. Howls along with crowd.
The Cubs got some more baserunners in that inning on a double by Heyward and a walk by Bote. That, incidentally, makes two straight three-hit games for J-Hey, who is now hitting .264/.356/.432. The .780 OPS is, at the moment, his best since his 2015 season in St. Louis. Even though Bote and Heyward pulled off a double steal as Victor Caratini struck out, the Cubs could score no further, and so Pedro Strop entered to protect a two-run lead.
Strop had not pitched since giving up the game-winning homer to Eloy Jimenez on Tuesday, and he looked stronger in this one, with better velocity. He struck out the first two hitters he faced and then Dominic Smith fouled off three straight 3-2 pitches in a 10-pitch at-bat before flying to right to end it, giving Strop his ninth save.
Nothing is a “must-win” at this stage of the season, but it felt like the Cubs really needed that after two straight defeats at the hands of the Mets, one frustrating and one a blowout. The win kept the Cubs in first place by half a game over the Brewers, who defeated the Reds Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals, who trailed by one game entering Sunday’s action, will be on Sunday Night Baseball against the Angels.
The Cubs will host the Braves for a four-game series beginning Monday evening at Wrigley Field, and summer weather will at last arrive for these four days. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs Monday and Julio Teheran gets the call for the Braves. Game time is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.