Jason Heyward hit a three-run homer off Josh Hader to give the Cubs the lead in the ninth inning, and Ildemaro Vargas followed with another homer for an insurance run.
Wait, what? Heyward did what? And the acquisition of Vargas has been criticized by many Cubs fans. (The Vargas complaint department is now closed, incidentally.)
The confluence of improbable or near-impossible things that happened in that ninth inning were more than impressive.
- Entering the game, Hader had faced 52 hitters and allowed two hits. Two!
- He had allowed no home runs this season and in his career, just six to lefthanded hitters.
There’s more, but I’ll get to that after recapping the top of the ninth, which the Cubs entered with exactly four hits in the game, and just one runner past first base. You know, a lot like Friday’s game. The lack of offense appeared to be about ready to ruin a fine outing from Kyle Hendricks, who made just one real mistake — a home run ball to Ryan Braun with a runner on in the fourth. But in all, it was an excellent start from Hendricks: seven innings, six hits, no walks, seven strikeouts.
The Cubs had never had much success off Hader, save a home run two years ago by Anthony Rizzo that briefly gave them the lead in this game, which they wound up losing anyway.
After the ninth inning began with a bizarre two-strike bunt attempt by Kyle Schwarber that went foul — the idea of bunting wasn’t bad, but with two strikes? — Javier Baez ripped a single to right. Rizzo did the same, and was replaced by pinch-runner Billy Hamilton.
You know it must be an important home run when Len Kasper says, “Oh baby!” Haven’t heard one of those in a while. Heyward’s long ball accomplished this:
Heyward homer snapped a 17-inning scoreless streak for Cubs.— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) September 13, 2020
LHBs were 0-8 against Hader this season until Rizzo singled, and Heyward homered.
Heyward hit a good pitch, too:
Hader vs. Heyward— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 13, 2020
Fastball: Ball 1
Slider: Called strike
Fastball: Swinging strike
"He had options. He could've made whatever pitch he wanted there."
Got barrel to inside fastball for the homer: "It was a good pitch." pic.twitter.com/GETw482OEY
Also, this is a fun footnote to J-Hey’s blast:
Heyward is so easy to root for, such a good person, and he’s having a wonderful season. I’m really happy for him.
Vargas was the next hitter. He ran the count full off Hader, and then ... [VIDEO]
Do you know how impossible what you just watched was?
Josh Hader has never allowed two, two-strike home runs in any appearance of his career. #Brewers— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) September 13, 2020
Well, now he has.
This is the 3rd time in his career that Josh Hader has allowed multiple HR in the same inning of a game (and 4th time he's allowed multiple HR in an outing overall).— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 13, 2020
It's the 1st time he's allowed 2 HR in the *9th* inning of a game.
Well, now he has. And also this:
Cody Bellinger (4/21/2019) and Jason Heyward (tonight) are the only left-handed batters to ever hit a two-strike home run off Josh Hader.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 13, 2020
It was also just the second time in Hader’s career, 166 appearances, in which he’d allowed four runs in a game (here’s the other one). The inning sent his season ERA from 2.13 to 4.61.
Lastly, check out this awesome screencap from Vargas’ home run (H/T: Brett Taylor):
Beyond that, before Saturday the Cubs had not won a game all year in which they trailed entering the ninth inning... or the eighth inning... or the seventh inning. They’d been 0-13 trailing entering the ninth, 0-14 when behind entering the eighth, 0-16 when trailing entering the seventh.
The game wasn’t over after those homers, of course. It was up to Craig Kimbrel to save it, and be honest — you were nervous about that. I certainly was. But Kimbrel had been very good over his previous nine appearances, and did well in this one, despite allowing two singles. He then struck out BCB favorite Daniel Vogelbach, got Ben Gamel to hit into a force play, and ended it by inducing this soft line drive [VIDEO].
It was just Kimbrel’s second save of the season, and despite some really bad outings he has only one blown save. Oddly, the single strikeout broke a streak of 10 appearances in which he had two K’s. Since the calendar turned to September: five appearances, five innings, 0.00 ERA, 0.600 WHIP, three hits, no walks, nine strikeouts. That’s the Kimbrel the Cubs need going forward.
In the end, all worked out for the best, but the inability of the Cubs to score for the first 17 innings of the series is troubling. They’re going to have to get the offense going in different ways than just home runs. It was good to see them get the two singles off Hader before the two homers. Baez and Rizzo both had good approaches to Hader. Incidentally, Hader threw 12 pitches Friday and 26 Saturday and likely is not available today. Devin Williams, the other Milwaukee reliever who’s very tough to hit this year, also worked Friday and Saturday and might be unavailable for Sunday’s game.
Incidentally, this game shows exactly why individual pitcher wins are meaningless. Hendricks gave up a two-out single in the eighth and, at 104 pitches, his night was over. David Ross summoned Jason Adam to replace Hendricks. Adam struck out Christian Yelich in a five-pitch at-bat to end the inning. Thus Adam was the “pitcher of record” when the Cubs put together their four-run rally, and was awarded with the “win.”
Now who deserved an individual “win” more? Adam or Hendricks? The answer’s pretty obvious to me. In my view, in a situation like this, the official scorer should have discretion to award the win to the starting pitcher even if he’s not the “pitcher of record.” That is, if individual pitcher wins are still going to have any meaning at all.
Instead of worrying about being swept in the series finale, the Cubs have a chance to win the series. They maintained their three-game lead in the NL Central over the Cardinals, who won Saturday evening. The Brewers trail by five games and the Reds are 6½ back. And:
Alec Mills will start for the Cubs Sunday, coming off a good outing vs. the Reds in his last start. And, apart from Kimbrel (and Adam, who threw only those five pitches), the Cubs bullpen is well-rested and the Cubs have Monday off, so Ross can mix-and-match relievers if needed this afternoon to back up Mills. Adrian Houser will start for the Brewers. Game time Sunday is 1:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network. There’s also a national broadcast on TBS, with no blackouts.