How in the...
As was once said on “The Simpsons”... That’s unpossible!
Behind by five runs entering the ninth inning in St. Louis Tuesday evening, the Cubs pulled off a crazy six-run rally and defeated the Cardinals 7-6. As you might have heard on the broadcast, that was the first time any Cubs team had accomplished that feat — winning a game they had been behind five runs after eight innings — since April 29, 1979. (I’ll have more to say about that game later.)
Since the story of this game is that inning, let’s start at the end of the game instead of the usual chronological recap.
Patrick Wisdom led it off by striking out... but the ball got away from Yadier Molina on a wild pitch by Luis Garcia and Wisdom reached base. Nico Hoerner followed with a ground ball that was thrown away by Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. Nico was safe and Wisdom took third. Garcia then walked Jake Marisnick on four pitches.
So the Cubs had the bases loaded with nobody out — and haven’t hit the ball out of the infield.
The Cardinals bullpen has had trouble with walks this year, and so Cardinals manager Mike Shildt brought in his closer, Alex Reyes. It didn’t matter — Reyes walked Sergio Alcántara, forcing in a run [VIDEO].
Well. Now this dull game, which entering the ninth I had hoped would end quickly so I could go to sleep, was getting interesting. Willson Contreras struck out for the first out in the inning, but Reyes then walked Anthony Rizzo to make it 6-3 [VIDEO].
So now it’s just a three-run deficit and the bases are still loaded, meaning the tying run is now on base. Javier Báez ran the count to 3-1 and I thought, “Hey, another walk works here.” Javy did something better [VIDEO].
That was really a nice piece of hitting — as you can see, it was the only pitch of the at-bat anywhere near the strike zone:
Two runs scored, it’s now 6-5. Rizzo, representing the tying run, is in scoring position on second.
Ian Happ, who was only in this game because Kris Bryant left with a minor injury, was the next hitter. You all know how much Happ has scuffled this year; there have been calls to demote him to Triple-A Iowa and perhaps even non-tender him after 2021. Coming into this at-bat, Happ was in a 3-for-28 (.107) slump in which he had struck out 12 times.
Never mind all that. Come on down, Ian Happ, you’re the hero! [VIDEO]
Rizzo and Baez both scored on Happ’s double down the line — and make sure you scroll all the way to the end of that clip, because Rizzo shows emotion that we haven’t seen from him perhaps all year. For Alex Reyes, it was the first blown save of his career after 24 successful save opportunities — that is, in fact, the MLB record for such things.
There was a chance for more runs with Happ on second, but Jason Heyward grounded out and Wisdom struck out for the second time in the inning, but now the Cubs needed just three outs for a crazy, unexpected win.
Craig Kimbrel (22nd save) got those three outs without incident, though Happ nearly lost a ball hit by Dylan Carlson in the lights at Busch Stadium. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].
Look, the Cubs are still 8½ games out of first place and still likely sellers over the next nine days. But this win — and over the Cardinals, even better! — will be something to remember for a long time to come.
Before all that, this game was going to have yet another sad, sad recap. It was a typical Trevor Williams game — he throws a couple of good innings and you think, “Hey, maybe he’s figured it out.” But then the opponent strings a few hits and runs together and before you know it, Williams has left the game having allowed four runs in five innings. It feels like he’s done that several times this year, but in fact, this is the first game all year where Williams allowed exactly four runs.
Rex Brothers made things worse by serving up home runs to Tommy Edman and Jose Rondon in the sixth and... really, Jose Rondon? He entered the game hitting .189/.262/.189 in 42 plate appearances and as you can see, that slash line indicated no extra-base hits this season for him. Well, now he has one, and it led to the first ninth-inning blown lead for the Cardinals in 2021. They had been 38-0 entering the ninth prior to this game.
Credit to Ryan Tepera and Dillon Maples for combining for two scoreless innings with four strikeouts. At the time you couldn’t even say “they kept the game close,” not with a five-run deficit, but every one of those outs turned out to be important. Maples, in particular, since his return from the injured list has looked really good. Very small sample size, to be sure, but he’s faced six batters and not walked any of them. Maybe he’s finally, at last, turned the corner and can become an effective late-inning reliever.
No matter what happens the rest of this season, savor this one for a while. It’s one of the most memorable Cubs wins of the last few seasons.
Regarding the “minor injury” to Kris Bryant, it apparently happened on this play [VIDEO].
Here’s the official word:
From Cubs: Kris Bryant left tonight's game with right hamstring fatigue.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 21, 2021
That’s a new one: “hamstring fatigue.” Here’s a bit more:
David Ross said he's well aware of what happens re speculation when he pulls a player like Kris Bryant mid-game. And he enjoys it!— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) July 21, 2021
Said his hammy was more a cumulative thing than something in the moment. Prob won't play tomorrow.
Translation: They are not taking any risks
I mentioned earlier the last such Cubs comeback from five runs down in the ninth, in 1979.
Josh put his remembrances of this game in BCB After Dark, and here are mine, as I have a distinct memory of watching this game against the Braves in Atlanta game on TV as well. Entering the ninth inning, the Cubs trailed 5-0 and had only two hits (and a handful of walks). In the ninth, Dave Kingman led off with a single and Steve Ontiveros walked. The next two hitters were routine outs. Another walk loaded the bases, and Tim Blackwell — who hit .164/.338/.205 that year! — singled in two runs. Larry Biittner then singled in another run to make it 5-3, and Bobby Murcer followed with a three-run homer. Bruce Sutter put a couple of Braves on base in the bottom of the ninth but got out of it with a pair of groundouts and the Cubs won the game 6-5.
Here’s another fun fact about Tuesday night’s comeback:
Tonight the @Cubs rallied from 5 down to beat the rival Cardinals. The @Dodgers also rallied from 5 down to beat the rival Giants.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 21, 2021
This is the first time there have ever been 5+ run comeback wins in both of those rivalries on the same day.
In the Dodgers’ win over the Giants Tuesday, L.A. trailed 6-1 going to the bottom of the fifth. The Dodgers scored one in the fifth and three in the sixth and entered the last of the ninth behind 6-5. They won on a pair of walks and a three-run walkoff homer by Will Smith.
I still think the Cubs’ was more exciting.
Lastly, for those of you wondering — no, I didn’t have to rewrite this one, because for night games I don’t begin recap writing until the next morning. This was definitely much more fun to write than the one I had in mind before the ninth inning, though.
If the Cubs win Wednesday, they will have a winning road trip, and that’s something, anyway. Kyle Hendricks, who has had a ton of success in his career against the Cardinals, will start for the Cubs and Adam Wainwright is the scheduled starter for St. Louis. Game time is again 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage is via Marquee Sports Network (and also on ESPN outside the Cubs market territory).