If you didn’t love the Cubs’ 2-1 win over the Cardinals in 10 innings Sunday night, then you don’t love baseball, because this game had a little bit of everything, and I’d have felt the same way about it even if the Cubs had lost. Of course, I’m glad they won the game and series and in doing so, they definitely made a statement that they will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the NL Central race this year.
The other thing that needs to be said about this game is that the umpiring was atrociously bad, particularly from rookie plate umpire Erich Bacchus and third-base umpire Phil Cuzzi. I have posted graphics from the @UmpScorecards Twitter account here in the past; generally, though, those aren’t available until late morning the days after games, so the ball-and-strike scorecard from Sunday’s game isn’t available yet. I expect it will show among the lowest correct call percentages for balls and strikes of the entire 2021 season.
That’s only a small part of unpacking this tremendously tense game, so let’s get to it.
Zach Davies and Adam Wainwright matched zeroes for five innings. It was yet another solid outing for Davies, who allowed four doubles and three walks, but wiggled out of jams each time. Davies now has a 1.71 ERA and 1.367 WHIP in five May starts (he’ll have one more before the month is over) and his season numbers are starting to drop into “reasonable” range.
Wainwright, though, was nearly unhittable. Kris Bryant singled with one out in the first inning and after that Wainwright allowed no more hits in an eight-inning outing and just one walk, with seven strikeouts. Part of the reason for those strikeouts was a bizarrely wide strike zone by Bacchus, which resulted in the ejection of Cubs manager David Ross in the top of the fourth with KB at bat:
30-year-old rookie umpire Erich Bacchus ejects Cubs manager David Ross for arguing balls and strikes pic.twitter.com/P5oQKag79L— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) May 24, 2021
Not sure I’ve ever seen or heard Ross quite so animated, and that’s with a mask on!
On the broadcast, David Ross could be heard shouting "Be better!" at HP umpire Erich Bacchus. Ross was ejected for arguing the strike zone.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 24, 2021
Calling balls and strikes is a tough job. But Erich Bacchus is so lost tonight with his strike zone, and it's playing into Adam Wainwright's game. He's taking advantage of this too-wide zone and mowing through the Cubs.— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) May 24, 2021
The Cubs official Twitter account wins the discussion for this one:
David Ross has been ejected for arguing balls called strikes.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 24, 2021
I will say that Bacchus didn’t appear to play favorites — Cubs pitchers also got the benefit of “balls called strikes.” It appears Bacchus was fooled quite a number of times by pitch framing from both Willson Contreras and Yadier Molina. This isn’t the first time this year that Bacchus has upset a team with bad calls — check out this article about his calls during a Yankees/Blue Jays game April 13, and this:
Rarely see DJ get this visibly upset at an ump pic.twitter.com/OKjAnKHWA5— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) April 14, 2021
Seriously, the automated strike zone can’t come quickly enough.
After Davies was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth, the Cubs bullpen came through again. Tommy Nance threw a scoreless sixth and got into trouble when Edmundo Sosa led off with an infield single and Lane Thomas walked. Ryan Tepera replaced Nance with two on and nobody out. Wainwright was the next hitter, and he attempted to sacrifice. That resulted in some more really bad umpiring.
Oh, come on, Phil Cuzzi. Bote’s foot is on the bag with the ball in his glove:
Then, for good measure, Bote tags Sosa on his trailing foot:
Inexplicably, the Cubs did not ask for a crew chief review (they’d previously lost a challenge), so the play was not reviewed and so the bases were loaded with nobody out. Tepera did an outstanding job of getting out of the inning. Tommy Edman grounded to Nico Hoerner, who threw home for a forceout [VIDEO].
Tepera then had to face the two most dangerous hitters in the Cardinals lineup. Paul Goldschmidt popped up to Willson Contreras and then on a 2-2 count, Tepera got Nolan Arenado to swing and miss at a cutter outside of the zone [VIDEO].
You can see Tepera pumped up after that K, justifiably so. That was great relief pitching. Dan Winkler then threw a scoreless eighth. In the top of the ninth, the Cubs got just their second hit of the game, another single by Bryant, but he was stranded. Andrew Chafin got the first two outs in the ninth sandwiched around a walk, then Craig Kimbrel came on to face Goldschmidt, who flied to right, and on they went to extras.
Contreras was the placed runner. Anthony Rizzo grounded to first, with Willson taking third.
Baez made that base advance moot with this no-doubt home run [VIDEO].
Did I say “no-doubt”? Yes, I did! That ball went a long way:
#Cubs 2 @ #STLCards 0 [T10-1o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) May 24, 2021
Javier Báez homers (11): fly ball to CF (2-run)
Hit: 417ft, 106.3mph, 33°
Pitch: 85.3mph Slider (RHP Alex Reyes, 1)
It was Javy’s sixth career home run in extra innings.
The Cubs had a chance for more runs in the 10th when Ian Happ and Bote walked, but Hoerner struck out for the second out. That meant Kimbrel had to bat, since the Cubs wanted him to finish things off. It was his first plate appearance since 2015, and just the second of his MLB career. He actually ran the count full before striking out.
So that left the bottom of the 10th to get through. Goldschmidt was St. Louis’ placed runner. He advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly by Arenado to make it 2-1. Kimbrel walked Molina, putting the tying run on base, but then struck out Harrison Bader. Then he nailed down the win by striking out Justin Williams on this curveball out of the zone [VIDEO].
As you can see on that clip, Kimbrel used almost exclusively curveballs on Williams, and in fact, of the 26 pitches Kimbrel threw Sunday night, 15 were curveballs.
So the Cubs completed a hard-fought series win against their arch-rivals, just their second series win on the road in 2021 and their first over a team with a winning record. They held St. Louis to just six runs in the three games with excellent work from both starters and relievers, and are just two games behind the first-place Cardinals, whose next series is in Chicago against the White Sox. (No matter how you feel about the Sox, you ought to hope they win their next three games!)
The game was the Cubs’ first one-run win in May after seven losses, and they are now even-up in one-run games in 2021 (9-9) and extra-inning affairs (4-4).
The Cubs are beginning to look like the team I thought they’d be this year, with solid pitching performances by both starters and relievers and a varied offense. Since reaching a season-low four games under .500 May 2 (12-16) they’re 12-6, the second-best record in the National League.
About the ESPN broadcast, after a lot of irrelevant features interrupted play in the early innings, the tense nature of the game took over and Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez did a good job of calling the game in the later innings. Overall it was a pretty good broadcast.
The Cubs have Monday off and will begin a three-game series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh Tuesday evening. Jake Arrieta will start for the Cubs. As of this writing the Pirates don’t have a scheduled starter for Tuesday (it would have been Trevor Cahill, but he just went on the injured list). Game time is 5:35 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.