This game was looking like several other games on this trip. The Cubs were getting outstanding starting pitching, but with no offense to speak of.
The Cubs finally broke up any thought Steven Brault might have of a no-hitter with an infield single by Addison Russell in the fifth.
And then Jon Lester showed all of us what championship caliber pitching really is.
In the bottom of the fifth, Lester issued a walk, Erik Gonzalez reached on an error by Kris Bryant, and then Lester walked Brault. Bases loaded, nobody out.
Now don’t lie. You were thinking the same thing I was thinking right then: “This game is over.”
But Lester would not let that happen. He got Kevin Newman on a fly to right that was too shallow to score a run, struck out Bryan Reynolds and ended the inning on this easy fly ball to center [VIDEO].
And then, the game still scoreless, it happened again in the sixth. A leadoff walk was followed by another error by the usually sure-handed Bryant. But Lester then induced a double-play ball and then struck out Elias Diaz to end the inning [VIDEO].
Check out the reaction from Jonathan Lucroy, too. He’s pumped!
KB, after a fashion, made up for those errors big-time in the top of the seventh [VIDEO].
That was Bryant’s 25th homer of the season, making it the fourth 25-homer season of his career. He joins Ron Santo (eight) and Aramis Ramirez (seven) as the only Cubs third baseman to accomplish that feat.
And then, Lester began putting runners on base in the bottom of the inning. Adam Frazier doubled and Pablo Reyes walked. That’s when Joe Maddon called on the long-absent Tyler Chatwood — Chatwood’s first appearance in nine days.
Still, I want to pause here to give props to Lester. That was outstanding pitching, twice getting out of jams that had happened in part due to fielding errors. Lester’s been called a “bulldog” many times, and he’s almost certainly the best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs.
Back to Chatwood. He struck out Newman. Then Reynolds hit a sinking liner to left. Your turn to shine, Ian Happ! [VIDEO]
That’s great defense. If he misses that ball, two runs score. Chatwood hit the next Pirates batter, loading the bases with two out, but got Josh Bell to ground out to end the inning [VIDEO].
In the eighth, Happ led off with a single and one out later went to third on a single by Jonathan Lucroy. Chatwood, batting next, was trying to lay down a bunt. That’s when Diaz tried to pick Happ off. [VIDEO]
The bad throw went into left field and Happ scored to make it 2-0.
Chatwood threw a 1-2-3 eighth and the Cubs could not score in the ninth. Chatwood had thrown so well through his first two innings, but walked the leadoff hitter in the ninth on four pitches. Joe Maddon called on Rowan Wick.
Wick, throwing at 97 miles per hour, got three soft groundouts and the Cubs had a hard-earned 2-0, four-hit combined shutout, the Cubs’ first shutout since a 2-0 win over the Cardinals July 31. It was Wick’s first major-league save, and in my opinion, he’s pitched himself into high-leverage setup opportunities. There isn’t anyone else in the Cubs bullpen (save Craig Kimbrel when he returns) who can throw that hard, and Wick has risen to the occasion numerous times, a great pickup for Theo & Co. in the offseason (by trade from the Padres for Jason Vosler, a great example of getting value for someone who was blocked in the Cubs system).
Chatwood, too, ought to be used more often in key situations. He’s earned it.
The win breaks the Cubs’ four-game losing streak, and if the Reds can defeat the Cardinals Saturday night, the Cubs will be back in a first-place tie. The Brewers, a game behind the Cubs, will face the Nationals in Washington Saturday evening.
The Cubs and Pirates now both head to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of the Little League World Series. They will take part in events for the LLWS Sunday afternoon:
And then the teams will meet at BB&T Stadium, home of the Williamsport Crosscutters of the NY-Penn League, for MLB’s annual Little League Classic Sunday night at 6:10 p.m. CT. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Mitch Keller will go for the Pirates. TV coverage Sunday will be on ESPN.