This was the move that would do it, everyone said.
The Cubs needed a closer and Craig Kimbrel was out there and available, and June 7, Theo Epstein signed him to a three-year, $43 million contract with an option for 2022.
Twenty days later, he was on the mound at Wrigley Field. And the results have been... mixed. He’s had some lights-out saves and also some horrendous blown saves, and now more home runs allowed, nine of them. than in any previous season in his career, in just 20⅔ innings.
The most recent two of those home runs came on consecutive pitches to begin the ninth inning Saturday by Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong. Instead of celebrating a Cubs victory that kept them in the postseason hunt, we are lamenting another one-run defeat, the team’s fourth consecutive loss by one run and fifth straight loss overall, 9-8 to the Cardinals.
Let’s review this disastrous loss.
The Cardinals scored a run in the first inning on a triple by Tommy Edman and a groundout. Incidentally, Edman, who is a 3.1 bWAR player for the Cardinals and has been outstanding all over the field, was a SIXTH-round draft pick in 2016, 196th overall. That means all 30 teams passed on him five times. Where do the Cardinals find these guys?
The Cubs came right back with a vengeance in the bottom of the first. Nicholas Castellanos doubled with one out, his 58th of 2019 (21st as a Cub). He is just the 10th player in MLB history to hit at least 58 doubles in a season. Here’s the historic hit by Nicky Two Bags [VIDEO].
Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson then could not find the strike zone. He walked the next four hitters, pushing two runs across, and Jason Heyward hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
Doubles by Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber in the second and third, respectively, resulted in no runs scoring. Schwarber was thrown out at third base while Victor Caratini was at bat when the ball got briefly away from Molina [VIDEO].
The Cubs challenged, but the call was upheld on review.
The Cardinals had cut the lead to 3-2 on a pair of singles and a sac fly in the top of the third, and in the fourth, they pounced all over Jose Quintana and Danny Hultzen for three runs, taking a 5-3 lead before Duane Underwood Jr. entered and got a double-play ball to end the inning.
Then the Cubs came right back in the bottom of the fourth. Heyward walked to lead off the inning and was forced at second, but Ian Happ tied the game with one swing [VIDEO].
That ball: Crushed!
One more note about Happ’s homer: It was the fifth pinch-homer of his career — in 66 pinch-hit plate appearances.
It’s 5-5 after four and we have played two hours. David Phelps issued a walk and allowed a single in a scoreless fifth, at which time:
No wonder it was taking so long. (That’s not a complaint. This was a compelling baseball game from start to finish. It’s just an observation.)
The Cubs took a 6-5 lead in the sixth thanks to Nico Hoerner [VIDEO].
That didn’t last long, unfortunately. Kyle Ryan had thrown an efficient sixth, so Joe left him in to pitch the seventh, even though all righthanded hitters were due up. That didn’t work out. Ryan walked Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna homered to put St. Louis ahead 7-6.
The Cubs simply would not quit. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Ben Zobrist doubled.
Tony Kemp was sent up to bat for Ryan. [VIDEO].
Kemp appeared to have struck out, but a balk was called on Giovanny Gallegos, and so Kemp faced another pitch, which he hit out of the yard to give the Cubs an 8-7 lead. It was his eighth homer of the year, but first as a Cub.
Now the question had to be asked: Did the Cubs have any pitchers who could get six outs without blowing this lead?
Brad Wieck was the first man out of the pen, and though he walked one Cardinal and hit another, he got Goldschmidt to fly to center and struck out Ozuna and that is worth looking at [VIDEO].
Check out Wieck’s reaction when he K’s Ozuna. That was clutch pitching. Wieck, acquired from the Padres for Carl Edwards Jr., has been excellent as a Cub and should be a big part of the bullpen in 2020 and beyond.
The Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the eighth.
The top of the ninth, you already know about, so I don’t have to repeat myself here.
Carlos Martinez was called on to save the game for St. Louis. It was the fourth straight game (and fifth of six) in which he had appeared. Perhaps the Cubs could get to him.
Kris Bryant worked a walk. Tying run on base! Robel Garcia was sent up to bat for Albert Almora Jr., who had entered the game in the top of the inning for defense.
You know, I think I might have let Almora bat there. Garcia was a strong K candidate, and indeed, he struck out. Almora has more MLB experience and might have approached Martinez differently.
Zobrist hit a fly ball to right that got the crowd briefly excited, but it was handled routinely.
And then Javier Baez came out of the dugout to bat for Kimbrel. Javy hasn’t batted in three weeks, nursing a thumb with a hairline fracture. He’s already one of the most beloved players on this team. Could you imagine the legend if he had homered?
Unfortunately, Martinez struck him out on a 99 mile per hour fastball [VIDEO].
Strength against strength. Tip o’ the cap to Martinez.
And so, the Cubs’ postseason hopes are nearly done. They trail in the division by six games with seven remaining, so that’s essentially done. They are 2½ games behind the Brewers for the second wild card, pending Milwaukee’s game against the Pirates which is ongoing at the time of this recap. That’s still possible, but things will have to go better than they have the last five days.
It really was an outstanding baseball game, full of drama and great performances, and bad ones as well, depending on your perspective. And the running time of four hours, 24 minutes makes this game the longest nine-inning game in Cubs franchise history, breaking the 4:22 mark that was set May 11, 2000. It stands tied for the 12th-longest nine-inning game in major-league history. (You will not be surprised to learn that four of the games that are longer were Yankees/Red Sox games.)
The Cubs honored the 72-season history of WGN-TV before the game, on the occasion of their final telecast from Wrigley Field. WGN staffers also conducted the seventh-inning stretch:
A reminder that I will have a five-part series on WGN-TV’s history of televising Cubs games beginning here Monday, and ending Friday, September 27, the date of the last Cubs broadcast on Channel 9.
There is one more game to be played in this series, and at Wrigley Field for the 2019 season. That is, weather permitting, and that forecast doesn’t look good. I asked an MLB spokesman what they were considering for Sunday and here’s what he told me by email:
We are tracking the forecast and will make all reasonable efforts to play tomorrow if there is a window to get the game in. Monday, September 30th provides some flexibility and we would have conversations with clubs about the various options, taking into account that there is not a mutual off-day remaining.
Does this look like they’ll have a window?
Nope, doesn’t look that way to me either.
If they can get the game in, Yu Darvish will start for the Cubs and Miles Mikolas will go for the Cardinals. Game time is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on NBC Sports Chicago, with a national broadcast on TBS (blacked out in the Cubs market territory, should be available in the Cardinals market territory).