I was preparing myself to write yet another morose Cubs game recap in which I decried the team’s bullpen, which has blown more leads than any team in baseball this year (46, if you’re counting, which maybe you shouldn’t be).
Then, with just one out to go to defeat, Ian Happ put the Cubs ahead.
Usually I go in chronological order in recaps, but Happ’s homer is worth looking at first [VIDEO].
That ball was absolutely demolished!
In addition to giving the Cubs the lead, that homer was also:
- Happ’s 25th of the season, giving him a new career high, and
- The longest home run of his career, of 87 total homers.
Rowan Wick shut the door on the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth and the Cubs had a tremendously satisfying 6-5 win. Among other things, it was just the third Cardinals loss since September 7, and it was the second ninth-inning comeback win for the Cubs in St. Louis this year. Remember this game? Doesn’t that seem like it was about five years ago? It was just a bit more than two months ago. Happ also had the game-winning hit that night, a two-run double.
Now let’s rewind to the beginning of this game.
Adrian Sampson has had trouble in the first inning this year, especially with homers. This game was no different. Harrison Bader led off the bottom of the first with a homer.
Sampson, first inning, 2021: four innings, 7.20 ERA, 1.400 WHIP, four HR
Sampson, all other innings, 2021: 31⅓ innings, 2.01 ERA, 0.989 WHIP, four HR
Small sample size caveat, but you tell me how that’s happening. Sampson, as he has previously, settled down after that — more or less, because he threw 91 pitches in four innings, which is a Zach Davies start. Still, he allowed just the one run and struck out seven. I still think he’s an intriguing candidate for the 2022 rotation.
Our old friend Jon Lester kept Cubs hitters baffled until the fifth inning. One note from the top of the fourth: Willson Contreras walked with two out, and then pulled up in obvious pain running to second. He left the game:
#Cubs Willson Contreras departed with right hip tightness.— Taylor McGregor (@Taylor_McGregor) October 3, 2021
With one game remaining in the season, I can’t imagine the Cubs will bother with a roster move. Erick Castillo replaced Contreras and will catch Sunday. The Cubs’ emergency catcher is Frank Schwindel, who caught 69 games in the Royals minor league system from 2013-15. Frank the Tank behind the plate? That’d be fun. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and Willson can spend the winter getting back to 100 percent health.
Anyway, the Cubs had themselves a fifth inning. First, Tyler Ladendorf batted for Sampson and grounded out. This is significant because Ladendorf was the 67th man to play for the Cubs this year. That ties the MLB record for most players used in a season, set by the 2019 Mariners. The Cubs still have one rostered player, Joe Biagini, who has not played. If Biagini, added to the roster Saturday, gets into Sunday’s game, that’ll be a new record. Kind of hope it happens.
Back to the fifth inning: Castillo beat out an infield hit after a review of this missed tag [VIDEO].
Schwindel hit into a force play for the second out, but Happ and Matt Duffy then drew walks off Lester.
That was... unexpected! It was Thompson’s first career grand slam, and the first slam for any Cub in St. Louis since Bryan LaHair did it in 2012. No, I am not making that up, and there’s video to prove it (with Pat Hughes on the call)!
It’s not clear in that video who the pitcher was, so I’ll tell you... it was Adam Wainwright! The Cubs won that game 9-5. (The rest of that year, like this one, wasn’t so good.)
Back to 2021 — the Cubs had a 4-1 lead. Could they hold it?
Uh, no. Not with this year’s bullpen. The Cardinals got one run back in the bottom of the fifth off Trevor Megill, though Megill eventually got out of the inning with a double play.
The score remained 4-2 Cubs until the bottom of the seventh, when the Cardinals scored three off Michael Rucker, all unearned due to an error on Sergio Alcántara. With St. Louis holding a 5-4 lead going into the ninth, it looked like it was going to be another depressing defeat until Happ’s heroics gave the Cubs that 6-5 lead.
Incidentally, Happ’s manager has noticed how well Ian has done over the last couple of months:
Cubs manager David Ross, on Ian Happ's season and his late go-ahead blast on Saturday:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 3, 2021
"Resiliency is a great word. Mental toughness, when you have to kind of dig yourself out of the hole that he was in early on. ... What a fitting exclamation point for him."
One last Happ note: The homer gave Happ the team RBI lead for 2021, with 66, passing Javier Báez, who had 65 for the Cubs before he was traded. No matter what Happ does today, he will have the lowest RBI total to lead the Cubs in a full (non-strike, non-pandemic) season since the Deadball Era season of 1919, when Fred Merkle (!) led the team with 62.
Wick, who has had some shaky recent outings, entered for the save chance. Jose Rondon led off with a walk, but Wick retired the next two hitters. Tyler O’Neill, who’s destroyed Cubs pitching this year, was next.
This season hasn’t been what any of us would have wanted, but that was a very, very enjoyable victory. It’s always nice to beat the Cardinals, but doing it in that fashion, with a ninth-inning come from behind homer after blowing a lead, makes it even sweeter. The victory also got the Cubs to 70 wins on the year, a nice milestone when some said the post-selloff Cubs might not win five more games. That makes 20 since the selloff, and a 20-37 record since all the trades. Now, that’s certainly not a GOOD record, but it’s not the worst in baseball over that span, either — four teams (Nationals, Orioles, Diamondbacks and even the formerly contending Padres) — have been worse since the trade deadline.
The Cubs have one more game before putting the 2021 season to rest, Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals. Alec Mills will start for the Cubs and Jake Woodford is the scheduled starter for St. Louis. Game time is 2:15 p.m. CT — remember, today is the day that all games start at approximately the same time, in the 2 p.m. CT hour — and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.
SITE NOTE: Today’s game preview will post at 12:30 p.m. CT.