I would not have believed it had I not personally witnessed it.
If you watch baseball for a very long time, you will see things you have never seen before, and things that seem impossible.
A week ago, would you have even thought possible the Cubs losing five straight games by one run? And in all but one, they’d either have the lead or were tied in the ninth inning?
It just doesn’t seem real, but here we are after another awful defeat, 3-2 to the Cardinals. The loss mathematically eliminated the Cubs from the N.L. Central race and essentially took them out of the wild-card race, too, four games back with six remaining.
This sort of losing has not been seen by any living Cubs fan. The last time any Cubs team lost five consecutive games by one run was July 21-30, 1915, when they did it six straight times. That team had been in first place, too, earlier in that season, but wound up 73-80.
This year’s Cubs have already clinched a winning record, for whatever that’s worth, and even in their current state are likely to sweep the Pirates, who are on a nine-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored 87-26 (!), not that it will matter.
All of this ruined yet another splendid outing from Yu Darvish, who has been the Cubs’ best and most consistent pitcher for most of the second half.
I would not have given very good odds 24 hours ago that this game would even be played. But given that it was important in the playoff chase, and also the Cubs’ final home game of the season, MLB let it be known that they wanted it played unless there had been severe weather or a torrential downpour. Neither happened; the sun actually made an appearance for a while in Chicago in the morning, but by game time a light rain began to fall and pretty much continued throughout. Games have been played in worse conditions. I was reminded of Bart Giamatti’s words from his essay “The Green Fields of the Mind”:
as soon as the chill rains come
The rains weren’t “chill” on this day, temperatures were in the 70s, but they might as well have been. The whole day felt like fall. (I’ll run more from Giamatti’s essay after the season’s over, as is my tradition here.)
Darvish dominated the first inning, a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts.
The Cubs put a run on the board in the bottom of the inning. Nicholas Castellanos singled with one out and Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch. A single by Kyle Schwarber loaded the bases, then this happened [VIDEO].
A rare passed ball by Yadier Molina made it 1-0 Cubs. Darvish continued his strikeout path through the second and third and also got some defensive help from Schwarber in the second [VIDEO].
A solo homer by Paul DeJong that landed on Waveland Avenue tied the game in the top of the third.
The Cubs had their chances in the second, third and fourth, but three double plays took them out of rallies, and the DP in the third took Bryant out of the game [VIDEO].
That is likely as bad as it appeared:
Kris Bryant exited today's game with a sprained right ankle.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 22, 2019
Initial X-rays did not reveal a fracture. pic.twitter.com/VpXCCbF8jp
Does that sound familiar?
Kris Bryant will have an MRI on Monday's off-day on his sprained right ankle. He will travel with the team to Pittsburgh and the Cubs expect to have more info on the injury before Tuesday's game.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2019
I suppose, but it feels as if KB’s probably done for the year. At least he has a scooter he can borrow. (Trying to lighten up the atmosphere around here.)
Darvish struck out two more in the fifth and sixth and then the Cubs took the lead thanks to Big Stick Nick [VIDEO].
The numbers below are, of course, combined between the Tigers and Cubs, but Castellanos has had an incredible offensive season:
Nick Castellanos now has 27 HR, 58 2B and 100 R.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2019
Only Todd Helton (2000) and Chuck Klein (1930) have previously hit those marks in a single season.
The 27 homers are a career high for Nick. Here’s hoping he likes it well enough in Chicago to sign long-term with the Cubs. He’s been spotted with his wife walking to the ballpark on Waveland, the two of them walking their dog. He goes to work and she walks back to wherever they are living in the neighborhood. Stick around, Nick. We love you here.
Darvish finished the seventh and eighth, allowing a single in each, but no runs. The Cubs had a chance in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Anthony Rizzo singled and Javier Baez ran for him. Castellanos hit the ball hard, but for an out, and Baez took third on a single by Ian Happ (who had replaced Bryant at third base). Unfortunately, Schwarber also hit the ball hard, to right, but for an out, ending the inning.
A one-run lead entering the ninth. No one warming up. This is Darvish’s game.
Jose Martinez led off and hit a fly ball to center, where Albert Almora Jr., whose value to this team is on defense, had just entered. Almora sized up the deep fly, and then it went off his glove for a triple.
Dexter Fowler hit a fly ball to Almora deep enough to score pinch-runner Tyler O’Neill to tie the game. Tommy Edman singled and stole second and Paul Goldschmidt doubled him in and the Cardinals had the lead and honestly, I cannot believe I am writing about yet another blown ninth-inning lead.
Pedro Strop relieved Darvish, issued a walk, then struck out Molina and Yairo Munoz to end the inning. Hope you watched those K’s closely, as that might be the last time we see Pedro pitching at Wrigley Field.
So, it’s another bottom of the ninth where the Cubs have to rally. With two out, Heyward blooped a single to left. The tying run’s on base... and there’s where it stayed when Nico Hoerner flied to center. Hoerner hit a couple of deep foul balls before flying out. It would have been a legendary heroic act for Nico to homer... but this isn’t the Cubs’ year, and this game summed everything up. Lousy weather, good performances, but bad things happened at the worst possible time.
You should know this about Darvish’s performance:
Yu Darvish is the 1st pitcher in recorded Cubs history to have at least 11 strikeouts in three straight games.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2019
That was before his 12th strikeout, of DeJong in the eighth:
Yu Darvish has K'd 12+ in three straight games. That's only been done 22x in MLB since at least 1908. The record is 5 games in a row, shared by Sale, Pedro and the Big Unit.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2019
Kudos to Darvish, who at last has become the pitcher the Cubs thought they were getting before the 2018 season. I look forward to a stellar 2020 from him, and for those of you looking for “fire”:
Yu Darvish said he had no words to describe his frustration. Pointed to his locker, which had mud caked across his silver nameplate. The result of an anger-fueled postgame throw of his muddy spikes.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2019
Yu Darvish, asked about Maddon trusting him with the ninth inning:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2019
"I was so happy at that point, but right now everything just... there's no words right now, sorry."
And given the bullpen messes, I had absolutely no trouble with Joe’s decision to let Yu try to finish things. It was the right call. It just didn’t work.
Moreover, the losses in the ninth inning are mind-boggling. That’s EIGHT times now that the Cubs have lost a game they led entering the ninth. Bad teams don’t do that:
Those are your four 100-loss teams this season. Only one of them has even come close to what the Cubs have done in blowing ninth-inning leads.
All of this will be addressed, no doubt, in post-mortems to this misbegotten season. I’ll have more to say about all of this in the near future.
The Cubs trail the Brewers for the second wild-card spot by four games. Six games remain in the season. I mean... I can see a path here, a narrow one, where the Cubs go 5-1 and the Brewers go 1-5 and the teams tie after next Sunday. But that’s entering “September miracle” territory and it’s very, very unlikely to happen. The Cubs are almost certainly watching the postseason on TV with the rest of us for the first time since 2014. A homestand where they really needed to go 7-3 or 8-2 wound up 4-6.
A couple more notes: The paid crowd of 38,606 (maybe 30,000 were in the house, not bad considering the weather) brought the season total to 3,094,865. That’s down 86,224 from 2018, or 1,064 per game. However, with the Cubs’ new Wrigley clubs opening this season, I’d bet overall revenues are up. Given a non-playoff season in 2019... that’s going to be hard to replicate in 2020.
Congratulations to Gary Pressy, Cubs organist, on his retirement after 33 seasons and 2,687 consecutive games. Pressy was honored in a pregame ceremony, then led the seventh-inning stretch.
The Cubs do plan to replace Pressy with another organist. My understanding is that auditions have already begun. Hope the new organist is as good.
With Pressy’s departure, WGN-TV’s final games and the team playing the way it is, it feels like more the end of an era than just the end of a baseball season.
Meanwhile, the Cubs will have Monday off after 18 consecutive games in which they went 7-11. Obviously, that needed to be reversed for the team to have had any real chance at the postseason.
Tuesday, they’ll face the woeful Pirates in Pittsburgh. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs. Mitch Keller will go for the Pirates. Game time Tuesday is 6:05 p.m. CT. TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.