When Craig Kimbrel was introduced to Chicago media after signing with the Cubs, one thing he specifically mentioned as a factor in signing was the passionate nature of Wrigley Field crowds and Cubs fans:
“One thing that’s important to me as well is being able to play in front of a fanbase that is as passionate about this game as I am,” Kimbrel said in his introductory press conference Friday morning. “I did get to experience that in Boston and it’d be hard to leave that kind of passion each and every night — especially in the role that I am [as closer].
”I’m a very adrenaline-based player. And knowing that each and every night, those seats are gonna be full, it definitely played a huge part in the decision.”
You’re gonna love it here, Craig. Kimbrel’s first appearance and save opportunity came on a picture-perfect summer afternoon in Chicago in front of a full house that erupted into a standing ovation just watching him warm up on the video board. Then there was another ovation when he entered the game, and most stood for the entire ninth inning.
Talk about adrenaline: I’m guessing Kimbrel’s was going like crazy during his outing, in which he struck out the first hitter he faced (hitting 97 on the Wrigley pitch speed meter), getting a ground-ball out, then allowing a double and a walk before Anthony Rizzo ended the game with a diving tag of first base on a ground ball by one of Kimbrel’s closest friends in baseball, Freddie Freeman.
And all of that was just a great ending to a terrific afternoon of baseball at Wrigley, featuring a Cubs comeback from five runs down. That’s the biggest comeback win of the 2019 Cubs season, a 9-7 victory over a very good Braves team, and although the Cubs managed just a 5-5 homestand, they maintained their one-game lead in the N.L. Central as they completed the season’s mathematical first half with a 44-37 record.
But that’s just the end of this enjoyable contest, so let’s rewind to the beginning.
Tyler Chatwood had an easy 1-2-3 first inning and Kyle Schwarber gave the Cubs the lead after just three pitches [VIDEO].
Fun fact time!
Kyle Schwarber 5 leadoff HR this season is most by a #Cubs player since Dexter Fowler (7) in 2016— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 27, 2019
But Chatwood regressed into his old, bad ways. He issued a walk leading off the second, then a single put runners on first and third. He got an out at the plate, but another single by noted Cub-killer Ozzie Albies tied the game. And then a hit batter, a double and a three-run homer by Freeman put the Braves ahead 4-1 in the third. Chatwood walked two in the fourth and after a wild pitch, Dansby Swanson singled in both runners to make it 6-1.
It felt like one of those “this game is over” moments, but as it turned out, that wasn’t the case at all.
Braves starter Bryse Wilson retired nine of 10 batters after Schwarber’s home run, but unraveled in the fourth. Anthony Rizzo led off with a walk and Javier Baez doubled him to third.
J-Hey’s single up the middle made it 6-3. Heyward took third on a single by Victor Caratini and scored on a wild pitch, and now it’s a ballgame at 6-4.
Carlos Gonzalez followed Caratini, ran the count to 3-1 and thought he had walked twice, only to have plate umpire Nic Lentz call both pitches strikes. CarGo threw his bat down both times and the second one got him tossed [VIDEO].
And, CarGo? As you could see on the video above, and also below, the umpire was correct:
Pitches 5 and 6, strikes 2 and 3, were perfectly placed by Wilson. I have to think that the Cubs are looking for a replacement for Gonzalez, who simply doesn’t look like he can hit anymore. It was a worthwhile thing to do, to see if he had anything left, but it doesn’t appear so.
Chatwood managed to get through the fifth inning, after another walk, thanks to a double play. He threw five innings, allowed six hits and four walks and six runs... and thanks th the Cubs rallying, he gets a “win” for that. I have to believe Chatwood is better suited for bullpen work.
The rally that put the Cubs ahead happened in the fifth. With one out, Kris Bryant hit a ball to right-center than went in and out of Nick Markakis’ glove for a two-base error. Anthony Rizzo bounced a ball down the left-field line that bounced into the seats for a rule-book double and it was 6-5. One out later, J-Hey again! [VIDEO]
That ball was well-struck, for a triple, Heyward’s second hit of the game. He’s hitting just like he was in St. Louis in 2015, the year that convinced the Cubs to sign him. So, maybe it took 3½ years, but looks like the Cubs finally got the guy they thought they were getting pre-2016.
The game’s now tied, but Caratini quickly untied it. [VIDEO]
That ball: Crushed!
Victor’s second homer of the year — and first at Wrigley in 2019 — gave the Cubs an 8-6 lead.
Now it’s up to the bullpen, and with Kimbrel now set at closer, that backs up all the other relievers to earlier innings. Steve Cishek replaced Chatwood. He hadn’t pitched in the sixth inning since April. Unfortunately, he immediately made the score 8-7 by serving up a home-run ball to Albies, who just wears Cubs pitching out. Glad we don’t have to see him again this year, until perhaps October. But Cishek then struck out the next two hitters and ended the inning on a fly to center.
The Cubs got the run right back in the bottom of the inning. Daniel Descalso singled leading off. No, I am not making that up. Descalso was in a 2-for-29 slump before that hit. He took third on a single by Addison Russell and scored the Cubs’ ninth run this way [VIDEO].
A passed ball charged to Tyler Flowers gave the Cubs their two-run lead back.
Brandon Kintzler threw a 1-2-3 seventh. Pedro Strop threw a 1-2-3 eighth. Expect to see those sentences frequently in recaps from here on out. Those are roles those guys are accustomed to, and they do them well, perfect setup men for Kimbrel.
The Cubs also went down 1-2-3 in the seventh and eighth, setting up Kimbrel for his dramatic first appearance as a Cub, which is where we came in.
You can tell Kimbrel’s still a bit rusty. His velocity dipped as the inning went on, and he threw 20 pitches, more than he threw in any of his four outings for Triple-A Iowa. So I wouldn’t expect him to be available Friday night in Cincinnati, and it might be a while before he’s used in back-to-back games.
Between the comeback win and the beautiful summer weather at Wrigley Field Thursday, the complaint department is absolutely closed and locked up tight tonight. Fun fact about Kimbrel now being a member of the Cubs:
10 of the 29 pitchers with 300+ career saves have pitched for the #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 27, 2019
As noted, the comeback from five runs down was the biggest of the season. You surely remember the previous high, coming back from four runs down in the first inning against the Cardinals May 4, the Taylor Davis game, and also on June 8, when St. Louis scored four in the top of the first but the Cubs won 9-4.
And so the Cubs will now enter an 11-week stretch in which they play just 26 home games, from just after the All-Star break through just after Labor Day. They have not played well on the road this year and that’s going to have to improve for them to continue in first place in the N.L. Central. The Cubs showed some excellent offense in Thursday’s comeback, but I still have the sense they need to add some hitting from outside the organization. The single trading deadline of July 31 is just five weeks away, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, the Cubs begin a nine-game road trip Friday in Cincinnati. Cole Hamels will start for the Cubs against Sonny Gray for the Reds. Game time is 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via WGN (and on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Reds market territories).