Baseball games, particularly between two good teams like these, can often be decided by feet or in this case inches. No, the most memorable moment from this game was not decided by inches. Though Jake Marisnick’s speed reduced what might have been several feet to only a foot or so. I suppose before I move on from that play, I should weigh in. No, I would not have sent Marisnick. I get the concept. He’s fast, his speed could cause two steady fielders to rush the play and make a mistake. Only it doesn’t work like that in this instance. The throw to the infield had already been made. So this wasn’t a decision that we might sometimes see where the catch and throw maneuver needs to be made twice, like a tag up situation. To be sure, it took an athletic play to do a catch, spin and throw to the plate.
So in this instance, it wasn’t requiring the defense to make an other worldly play. By default, I’d expect them to make the play. This isn’t a 50/50 situation. Certainly, even the best fielders misfire on a throw, particularly on a bang bang play. Also, we’ve all seen even the best catchers have a ball bounce off the heel of the glove or in some other way mishandle the throw. But to my mind, the Cubs made an aggressive send, hoping the Mets would make a mistake. I also understand that Jason Heyward and Sergio Alcantara were following. Heyward has yet to get it going in 2021 and Alcantara is in a bit of a tailspin, despite a very nice start to his Cubs career, which certainly shows flashes of being very promising. That move, to me, is one that you make on a team that doesn’t win a lot. Roll the dice, go for it. I love that play in a tie game in the ninth inning. Give yourself a shot to win it without extra innings. Particularly if your pitching staff is thin. But for a good team, hoping for the other team to make a mistake rather than letting your talent shine through. Nah, I just don’t like it.
Anyway, the situation I’m talking about is the play that I thought was the key play of the game. Rex Brothers has been averaging closer to two strikeouts per inning than one. Being left handed, he’s been particularly tough on left-handed hitters. So there he was on the mound in the sixth inning in a tie game. There were runners on first and second and Dominic Smith was at the plate. I believe it was a 2-2 pitch. Brothers missed the plate by an inch, maybe two off the outside corner. Smith, who worked a very nice at bat, didn’t swing. That was particularly impressive because he’d been aggressively covering the plate and fouled several pitches off in the sequence. Also, that’s a pitch that gets called some percentage of the time. Willson Contreras was relatively quiet receiving the pitch. I’m guessing maybe 30 percent of the time, the pitcher gets that call. It’s also a very difficult pitch for a left-handed hitter to get a bat on. Certainly Brothers gets a ton of strikeouts on that pitch. He didn’t, Smith walked and the Mets got the decisive run of the game a batter later.
If Brothers gets that strikeout, it’s very possible the Mets don’t score. That changes everything about the way the rest of the game played out. For so many years this is why I’ve enjoyed the game of baseball. So often, it is said that what makes baseball exciting is how often you get to see something unexpected (say that ninth inning play at the plate.) For me, just as important is how often one seemingly mundane pitch can essentially be the decisive one of the game. If I turn on a football game, I know that a good portion of the time the game is going to be decided by a fourth quarter drive and if the defense can stop the other team. In basketball, it is often going to come down to a possession and shot at the end of the game. But in baseball, the key sequence can happen anywhere.
I went to my first Rays game last Saturday. They played the Orioles and they scored three runs in the first inning. They had four hits in the inning. All of them could be classified as seeing eye. A single that was right to the typical shortstop position that was vacated due to a shift. A double down the line that the third baseman just didn’t get low enough to scoop up and keep in the infield. The Orioles are and have been a pretty terrible team for a while now. The Rays built a 5-0 lead in the early innings. That first inning looked innocuous enough. A bit of BABIP luck sequenced together in a ho-hum game. Then the Orioles loaded the bases and their backup catcher who hadn’t had an extra base hit yet on the season, hit a grand slam (that landed about three rows forward and five seats left of me). A couple of lucky bounces in the first inning cost the Orioles a game. We, of course, can’t know what changes if two or three of the hits in the first inning turned into outs. Some of the Rays best players took the afternoon off. So they had a number of bullets that never left the chamber. But that’s just it. You don’t know when you turn on a baseball game when the important stuff is going to happen.
Baseball is a game decided so often by inches. On Tuesday night, those inches didn’t go the Cubs’ way. It doesn’t get any easier from here. But this team will fight back. Let’s take a look at the numbers. As you’ll recall, 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. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 67, June 15: Mets 3, Cubs 2 (38-29)
- Superhero: Javier Baez (.121). 1-4, HR (15), 2RBI, R, 3K
- Hero: Keegan Thompson (.079). 2IP (9 batters faced), H, 2BB, 0R, 3K
- Sidekick: Willson Contreras (.078). 2-4
- Billy Goat: Sergio Alcantara (-.211). 0-4, 4K
- Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.158). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Rex Brothers (-.111). ⅔IP (4 batters faced), H, BB, 0R, K
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez batted in the third inning with a runner on first and one out. The game was scoreless when he stepped up. He unloaded a two-run homer to give the Cubs the lead. (.213)
*Mets Play of the Game: In the bottom of the same inning, Peter Alonso faced Alec Mills with two outs and runners on second and third. He singled, driving in two runs to tie the game. (.206)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Eric Sogard (1-1)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +17.5
- Kris Bryant +16
- Patrick Wisdom +14
- Jason Heyward/Eric Sogard/PJ Higgins -9.5
Up Next: Game three of a four game series. Robert Stock makes his first appearance as a Cub. If you are like me, you said “who?”. I’ve never heard of him and won’t pretend to have insight to give you. I know what I saw/heard on the broadcast last night. He has previous major league experience with a couple of other clubs over the last few years and throws the ball very hard. I suspect he’ll always remember his Cubs debut, one way or the other. He’s facing Jacob deGrom, who is in another universe right now. Tough matchup to say the least. I will say this, the Cubs organization has a lifetime .687 ops against deGrom (career .592), He also has a 2-3 record with a 3.30 ERA (career 76-53, 2.50 ERA) against the Cubs over nine starts. That is to say two things. First, the Cubs have hung in there well against deGrom. He’s basically been good throughout that stretch, but has only managed to beat the Cubs himself twice. Of course, the second thing that says is that the Cubs have been one of the better teams in the league throughout deGrom’s time in the bigs, so of course they have done a little better than average. Still, I’m not just handing the talented Mets hurler a win. I believe the Cubs can win even with one of the most lopsided pitching matchups in recent memory.