My first impression of the first runner-on-second game in Cubs history is that I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would.
The seemingly obvious “bunt the runner along and hope for a sacrifice fly” strategy isn’t what happened in any of the four half innings. Instead, we got a crunching collision play at the plate, the Cubs failing to score when they had two runners in scoring position and one out, and finally the Cubs eking out a 2-1 win over the Pirates with the “ghost runner” (David Bote) advancing on a fly ball and scoring on a single by Javier Baez.
My preference would still be for real baseball. But on an afternoon with a 64-minute rain delay (one of the few times I’d say I’m glad I wasn’t at the ballpark), this wasn’t the worst way to end the game.
The second batter of the game, Kevin Newman, homered off Jon Lester to give the Pirates what turned out to be their only lead of the series. After that, though, Jon settled down and threw six solid innings. He allowed just three more hits and a walk and struck out four and continued the Cubs starting pitcher dominance that we’ve seen through the first nine games of 2020.
The Cubs tied the game in the fifth. Willson Contreras led off with a double, and Kyle Schwarber brought him in with another one [VIDEO].
Close play at the plate, too — if not for Willson’s good slide both on his double and at the plate, we might be talking about a Cubs defeat this evening.
Neither team had much of a chance to score through regulation. The rain delay happened just before the Cubs half of the ninth inning, With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Schwarber walked but was stranded when Steven Souza Jr. popped up.
So, on we went to the first Ghost Runner in Wrigley Field history. It was Jacob Stallings, the Pirates catcher. Josh Bell, the next hitter, singled to left and Schwarber made a fantastic play — and so did Contreras [VIDEO].
The Pirates challenged the play, claiming that Contreras was blocking the plate and out of position, but as you can see in the video, Contreras was well within his area and had to go there to get the ball. He wasn’t set up there “blocking” the plate. In fact, it could be argued that Stallings was out of the runner’s lane. Anyway, the call was upheld and Ryan Tepera got the final two outs.
In the last of the 10th, Souza became the Cubs’ first-ever Ghost Runner (remember that for trivia quizzes in years to come!) and Souza wound up on third when a ball briefly got away from Stallings. Souza was credited with a stolen base — believe it or not, the Cubs’ first steal of 2020. Ian Happ walked, so the winning run’s now on third base with nobody out, but Nico Hoerner and Albert Almora Jr. struck out and Bote popped up foul.
Ghost Runner No. 3 was Newman, but Jeremy Jeffress dispatched the three hitters in the inning on just nine pitches. Jeffress has become the Cubs’ most reliable reliever and could very well be closing games soon.
Bote, who made the last out in the 10th, was Ghost Runner No. 4 of the afternoon/evening. He advanced to third on a fly ball by Anthony Rizzo and nearly tried to score on a pitch that got away, but wisely went back to the base after Stallings picked it up quickly.
Javy then ended things on a happy note [VIDEO].
Besides the win, the best thing about this game is that the Cubs bullpen, which has been nothing short of awful this season, threw five shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks, with three strikeouts. That reduced the bullpen ERA from 9.75 to 8.09... okay, it’s still bad, but it’s less bad than it was when Sunday’s action began.
So the Cubs begin this... season, or whatever you want to call it... 7-2. That’s obviously considerably better than last year’s horrific 2-7 start. This team seems to be taking the COVID-19 protocols seriously off the field, though on the field there’s still too much closeness in the dugout and you can certainly understand celebrating a walkoff win with your teammates, but they have to be careful about that, too. The 7-2 mark matches the Braves for the best in the National League, and the Cubs will enter Monday’s action with a 2½-game lead over the Brewers, who didn’t play all weekend due to the Cardinals COVID-19 outbreak.
As I said, I didn’t hate the Ghost Runner as much as I thought I would. Once the runner’s in place, it’s still baseball plays that have to be made to bring him in to score. I still don’t want to see it used past 2020, though, once we get back to a “normal” season, hopefully in 2021.
The Royals will begin a four-game set against the Cubs (first two at Wrigley, last two in Kansas City) Monday night. Former Royal Alec Mills will get the call for the Cubs Monday and Danny Duffy will start for KC. Game time is 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage is on Marquee Sports Network.
The runner-on-second extra-inning rule...
This poll is closed
I liked it before I saw it in action Sunday and still do
I liked it before I saw it in action Sunday, but now I don’t
I didn’t like it before I saw it in action Sunday and still don’t
I didn’t like it before I saw it in action Sunday, but now I do
Something else (leave in comments)