Today’s picture at the top of the piece captures a new pinnacle in the story that is Alec Mills’ unlikely MLB career. You’ve already read or will read stories about a guy who went unrecruited for college baseball, who was never considered any kind of prospect to reach the major leagues, who has had Tommy John surgery, who was traded away by the team for whom he made his MLB debut for a minor leaguer. Absolutely, Alec’s story is about the things that he has overcome. Those are great stories. I’ve read most of them and you should too.
I’m going to take a slightly different angle. Last weekend, when the Cubs were slogging through a five game set with the Cardinals, many looked ahead and thought the Cubs were doomed. I tend to be less dire then the collective voice of Cub fandom. I’m largely an optimist at heart. But yes, even I thought that if the Cubs didn’t win their Monday game against the Cardinals and saw their lead shrink to just half a game that they were in real trouble. Fortunately, they did win that game and we didn’t have to find out if that was the getting over the hump moment for the Cardinals team.
We can’t know how baseball would have played out differently. But, the pitching match-ups against the Reds did not favor the Cubs. The best hope for victory on paper was the one that had the Reds’ best 2020 pitcher on the mound. That was a scary looking series. Trevor Bauer was great and the Cubs did lose that one, despite having their own ace on the hill. But they won the other two games in that series. One with an impressive mid-game come from behind victory.
But then came the Brewers. The Brewers have been extremely tough on the Cubs in September in recent years. Knocking the Cubs out of a division title with a blistering finish to 2018 and helping to finish off the first non-playoff season for the Cubs since 2014 in 2019. Those Brewers shut the Cubs out on Friday night. Then they shut the Cubs out for eight more innings on Saturday. Things looked as bleak as they could for 17 innings. 17 shutout innings. The Cubs offense looked inept, even while their pitching was putting up some of their strongest performances of the year.
Then the final 10 innings of the weekend occurred. In that time, we saw Jason Heyward hit a three-run homer off of Josh Hader to give the Cubs a lead. Josh Hader does not allow hits to lefthanded batters, much less three-run homers. Craig Kimbrel pitched a shaky ninth inning but recorded a very key save following the Cubs improbable ninth inning rally. Then Alec Mills did his thing on Sunday while the Cubs offense roared back, piling up 12 runs.
Three very important performances at a key time in the season. All turned in by guys who people have gotten down on. I was accused once of being a relative of Jason Heyward because of my support for him. Craig Kimbrel was to be put out to pasture as washed up. Alec Mills needed to be pulled from the rotation. I’m not throwing stones or being holier than thou. Without even looking, I’m positive that I just wrote two or three starts ago that at minimum Mills shouldn’t be allowed to see a hitter three times when he starts.
When Theo Epstein and this Cubs front office sees something in a player, they hate to give up on it. There are certainly times where they’ve stubbornly tried to get a guy on track but he just didn’t get there. But there are also times when they’ve stood by a guy and that guy rewarded their faith by overcoming their struggles and becoming/returning to the player that they could be. Loyalty. It isn’t often a trait that can be found in sports. It’s refreshing to me.
My favorite story that I read in the various tidbits on Sunday involves two of those redemption stories. David Ross reportedly asked Jason Heyward if he wanted a few innings off once the score got lopsided. He was, of course, very much aware that history might be made. He didn’t want to come out. He wanted to be there to shore up the defense while Mills chased that history. Supporting a teammate doesn’t win you a Nobel Peace Prize, a Purple Heart or even an MVP. But there have been so many stories like that in the time Jason has been here. I have no doubt that there were stories like that during his time in St. Louis and Atlanta before that. I’ve supported Jason throughout his time here because there are so many stories about what a great human being and teammate he is.
I finish today’s writing with a tip of the cap to Alec Mills. God bless you, Alec, for never giving up. For always pushing forward and ignoring the critics. No one can know what the future will hold. But no one can take away the history that was made. Alec Mills made the major leagues, became a starting pitcher, and threw a no-hitter. Could he possibly add “started a postseason game” to that resume? I’m certain he will at least make a postseason roster. What a great story.
And with that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. With that, let’s get to the results.
Game 48, September 13: Cubs 12, Brewers 0 (28-20)
- Superhero: Alec Mills (.199). The WPA score isn’t one of the biggest ones due to the lopsided final score. But, this will be the one that history remembers. Just three walks allowed and struck out five in the complete game no-hitter.
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.164). There is a new member of the Heroes and Goats top three. Jason had two hits, two walks, three runs scored and an RBI in five plate appearances.
- Sidekick: Kyle Schwarber (.075). Three walks in four plate appearances. Scored twice.
- Billy Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.062). Rizzo was hitless in six at bats. Should I be surprised that 2020 Cubs baseball brought bizarro H&G? Rizzo is usually at or near the top of the leaderboard, Jason Heyward at or near the bottom.
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.054). Willson had one hit in five at bats.
- Kid: Javier Baez (-.013). Javy had one hit and scored two runs in five at bats. Imagine stealing home and not having it be a big storyline in the game.
WPA Play of the Game: Jason Heyward batted with runners on first and second and one out in a scoreless fourth inning. He lined a double down to left field line to score a run. (.166)
*Brewers Play of the Game: With no outs and a runner on first, Adrian Houser coaxed a double play grounder off the bat of Javier Baez (.078)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Yu Darvish/Ian Happ 16
- Jason Heyward 12.5
- Kris Bryant -12
- Javier Baez -13
- Anthony Rizzo -15.5
Up Next: The second to last off day of the regular season on Monday. A two game series, hosting the Indians on Tuesday and Wednesday before the final off day of the regular season. Yu Darvish is scheduled to face Carlos Carrasco. Darvish and the Cubs will be favored in that one based upon the strong 2020 (and second half of 2019) that Darvish has had.
Scoreboard watching: The Cardinals head to Miller Park in Milwaukee for five games in three days starting Monday. So they’ll play two games and start a third before the Cubs take the field again. The Cubs lead the Cardinals by four with just 12 games remaining in the Cubs schedule. The Cardinals have at least 18 games remaining.