I took until late July to make it to a Cubs pipeline game this season. The South Bend side I finally made it to see is a bit injury-wracked. Nonetheless, they were half an hour away, and I had nothing specific going on. The weather was about perfect. Here is a bit of a closer look at the South Bend win over the Beloit Snappers on Monday, July 22.
Beloit’s starter Richard Guasch dragged an ERA of over 7 into the noon start. Early on, it looked like it. The manager’s first visit as he hit ball six, though the third pitch was a foul liner down the right field line just beyond the side fence to a group of kids. Nobody was bounced on the head, though it appeared possible. After three hitters, the bases were loaded by walks. Hitting fourth, a bit of curiosity kicked in. Right-fielder Jonathan Sierra swung through a 2-2 pitch, and the ball skittered to the backstop for an apparent early run. The home plate umpire Edwin Jimenez ruled the ball contacted Sierra after the swing. He was out, and nobody else could advance on the dead ball. The play was confusing enough that I needed to see the play-by-play to know for sure. You’ve seen this movie before. The next two hitters fanned, as well, and the scoring opportunity went awry.
South Bend’s Riley Thompson did what you expect from a pitcher who has gone five complete in 11 of his 15 previous starts. He went five innings, and improved on a 2.85 ERA. It wasn’t always an aesthetic joy, but he’s mainly better than the guys he’s against. Thompson fanned two and walked one in the first. After a very quiet road second came the first big inning. Thompson retired the first two in the home second in rather routine fashion. A two out walk was followed by an infield single. After a mound visit, a tapper back to the mound may or may not have been deflected by Thompson. Either way, second baseman Clayton Daniel mishandled it, and the bases were loaded. A 140-foot line drive near the right field line made the score Beloit 2, South Bend 0. It extended to 3-0 on a passed ball.
If strikeout/homer/strikeout/strikeout is a good inning, Thompson left on a high note. The homer was legit, with right fielder Jonathan Sierra taking four full strides before slowing as he realized he wasn’t going to jump 20 feet to keep the game 3-0. It extended to 4-0. Thompson fanned seven, and walked two, allowing four hits in five innings. It was a workmanlike outing, as I’d have expected. As he left the mound, he was behind with only one of four runs earned.
The South Bend sixth started with a single up the middle. It was a base hit regardless to whichever field, as long as there wasn’t a fielder in the area. In which case, it’s a hard-luck out. Third baseman Fidel Mejia ran up a 2-0 count before base umpire Kevin Mandzuk called a rather questionable checked-swing call. The fourth pitch was wide, and Mejia turned the 3-1 pitch into a two-run homer. The game was close, again.
Snappers reliever Rafael Kelly took over in the fourth, and was more impressive than the starter Guasch. After a one hopper to the pitcher’s throwing hand (a reasonably impressive play), the earth began to crumble for Kelly and the Snappers in the sixth. First baseman Luke Reynolds singled to left. Cole Roederer (who fanned twice against Guasch) drew his first of two walks. Catcher Rafelin Lorenzo doubled, and for a fleeting moment, I was able to watch Cole Roederer run. If the bat develops, he’ll be very fun to follow the next few seasons. The double cut the lead to 4-3, and the game was about to be decided. Yonathan Perlaza hit a one-hopper to the first baseman, who was positioned two steps from the pillow. He tossed to the plate, and he was very late. The throw wasn’t bad, but Roederer is quick enough to make that a regrettable decision.
A popular topic on Twitter is #NeverBunt. Many people seem to want to turn baseball, even more, into strikeouts or homers for everyone. As Rafael Narea stepped to the plate, the lead run was on third. The first pitch was a safety squeeze. Narea, who was very solid with the glove on about four different chances, was flashed the same sign after bunting through the first try. He found that sweet spot where the pitcher couldn’t field it, the second baseman couldn’t get to it, and the first baseman was of no real use, either. The bunt got the run in, and a bad throw on an infield hit that followed by Clayton Daniel extended the lead to 6-4. You can dismiss bunts all you want, but the player who is able to handle his bat to get a runner in from third is more valuable than the similar player who can’t,
Relievers Ivan Medina and Carlos Vega closed the game out in 12 hitters over four innings. Neither were initially memorable, but 12 up, 12 down is what it is. South Bend will likely miss the playoffs in both halves. But for injuries, they could have made it in either half. Either way, it was fun to make it out to a game, and discuss bullpen innings usage with a Brewers fan as a game progressed. It had been too long. The final score was South Bend 6, Beloit 4.