The wild ending of this game, and Alex Avila’s singular moment as a Cub, might never have happened if Willson Contreras hadn’t been injured 11 days earlier.
Avila and Justin Wilson had been acquired from the Tigers at the July 31 trading deadline because Miguel Montero had been unceremoniously dumped in late June after Montero made some disparaging remarks about Jake Arrieta after a game in Washington. The Cubs had called up Victor Caratini to make his MLB debut after that, but the team was looking for veteran catching help to back up Contreras.
After Contreras suffered the hamstring injury in San Francisco August 9, Avila and Caratini were splitting catching duties, but again Theo Epstein sought out some more veteran catching help. Rene Rivera was acquired on waivers from the Mets August 19, and Caratini was returned to Triple-A Iowa.
That made Avila the Cubs’ No. 1 catcher, for the moment, but he had started eight of the previous 10 games, so Rivera was in the starting lineup against the Blue Jays on Sunday, August 20, the last of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
Interestingly enough, so was Montero, who had been picked up by the Jays in early July. Montero got booed every time he came to the plate in this game, but he got his revenge — a solo homer off Kyle Hendricks in the sixth inning that tied the game 3-3. As it turned out, that was the last home run of Miggy’s career.
The game went into extras still tied at 3, but Koji Uehara (just activated from the DL that day) and Justin Wilson had an awful 10th. With two out and runners on first and second, Kevin Pillar singled in a run off Uehara. Wilson relieved him and walked the next two hitters, forcing in another run.
So the Cubs trailed by two heading to the last of the 10th. And if you think Uehara and Wilson had a bad inning, just wait till I tell you about the awful inning Jays closer Roberto Osuna had.
Osuna struck out Kyle Schwarber, but Schwarber reached on a wild pitch. Ben Zobrist singled Schwarber to third, and a second wild pitch brought Kyle home to make it 5-4. Zobrist took second on the wild pitch and third on a groundout. Then Osuna struck out Javier Baez, but Javy reached on Osuna’s third wld pitch of the inning. Jays catcher Raffy Lopez, a former Cubs prospect, delayed throwing to first, allowing Baez to reach, although Zobrist had to hold at third. Before this game Osuna had thrown one wild pitch the entire 2017 season. Now he had three more — in the space of four batters!
Baez stole second and Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
The Cubs swept that series, the game was the third win of a stretch where they went 12-3 and solidified their N.L. Central lead.
I had kind of hoped that the Cubs would re-sign Avila to back up Contreras for 2018 and beyond, but he signed a two-year, $8.25 million deal with the Diamondbacks instead. Avila had a horrendous 2018 (.165/.299/.304, 0 bWAR in 80 games) but was somewhat better in 2019 (.207/.353/.421, 1.4 bWAR in 63 games). He signed a one-year contract with the Twins for 2020. Meanwhile, Caratini has become a solid backup catcher for the Cubs for a lot less money, so Theo & Co. clearly made the right call letting Avila go.
But I know I, for one, will never forget Alex Avila’s one signature moment as a Chicago Cub.
Here is Mike Bojanowski’s scorecard from this game: