With 2022 Spring Training still on hold, I’m going to begin today an occasional series featuring some “Today in Cubs history” articles noting memorable spring games from the past.
To begin this series, I thought I’d start with a game from last spring, when the Cubs went into the bottom of the ninth trailing the A’s 8-5, only to win on a walkoff grand slam by Rafael Ortega.
Walkoff slams are pretty rare anywhere, but as you’ll see from the game recap from last year, I couldn’t recall seeing one in a Cubs spring game.
Ortega was an afterthought when he was in spring camp with the Cubs in 2021 and wasn’t recalled from Triple-A Iowa until late May. When the selloff came in July, Ortega became an everyday regular. Truth be told, he’s probably overexposed in that role and his best role going forward is likely as a platoon player. But he did have a couple of regular season thrills: a three-homer game against the Nationals and another walkoff home run, this one against the Rockies ending the Cubs’ 13-game home losing streak [VIDEO]:
Ortega wound up hitting .291/.360/.463 with the Cubs in 2021 with 11 home runs in 103 games, a 2.0 bWAR season. His walkoff slam against the A’s happened a year ago today, March 9, 2021. Here’s my game recap, with a few minor edits.
MESA, Arizona — Rafael Ortega is not a power guy. In 410 career MLB at-bats, he has three home runs.
He did hit 21 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett in the Braves system in 2019, but that’s nearly a third of his 68 career minor league home runs in 4,135 at bats.
Ortega might never hit a regular-season home run for the Cubs. Heck, he might not play a regular-season game for the Cubs.
But he will certainly cherish the memory of hitting a walkoff grand slam Tuesday afternoon in Mesa before an enthusiastic gathering of 3,423 at Sloan Park, giving the Cubs an unexpected 9-8 win over the Athletics.
Walkoff wins are pretty rare in spring training; I can’t remember the last time the Cubs had one, must be six or seven years ago.
Before I get to the rest of this game, let’s watch the walkoff homer [VIDEO]!
Now, let’s rewind tho the beginning. Trevor Williams threw three innings today and two of them were quick, efficient 1-2-3 innings. In the other, he allowed back-to-back doubles to Mitch Moreland and Chad Pinder and the A’s took a 1-0 lead. Overall, though, I thought Williams threw well and that gives him two consecutive good spring outings. It’s only spring training, but I think the Cubs got themselves a steal in Williams.
The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the second. Jason Heyward singled and David Bote walked, and that brought up new Cub Eric Sogard for his first Cubs at-bat [VIDEO].
Nice piece of hitting for Sogard to tie the game.
Unfortunately, that brought Craig Kimbrel into the contest. Kimbrel wasn’t as bad in this one as he was in his first outing, but that one was horrific. In this one, he allowed only one run, a solo homer by Matt Chapman. But of the three outs he recorded, two were hit hard, including a screaming line drive by Elvis Andrus that David Bote made a nice snag on at third base.
Clearly, Kimbrel is still a work in progress.
The Cubs took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth, the first of the two runs on another home run by Joc Pederson [VIDEO].
Pederson’s a hot hitter, now batting .429 this spring with a 1.672 OPS.
Jonathan Holder, who’s trying to hold on to a bullpen slot, didn’t do himself any favors, allowing two runs and not finishing the inning he was assigned, the fifth. The A’s had a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the fifth.
The Cubs then tied the game up. Ian Happ doubled and Willson Contreras singled him to third. Pederson’s double made it 5-4, and after pinch-runner Chase Strumpf was thrown out at the plate on a ground ball by Jason Heyward, Bote doubled in Pederson with the tying run, but pinch-runner Ortega was thrown out trying to score.
The A’s put together a run off Dillon Maples in the sixth. It wasn’t all Maples’ fault. He tried to field a ground ball that bounced off his hand and Strumpf couldn’t finish the play. Tyler Soderstrom doubled to make it 6-5 A’s and Oakland added two more off Jake Jewell in the top of the seventh.
But that just set up Ortega’s heroics. It was all subs by the time the bottom of the seventh happened. With one out, Jose Lobaton singled and Strumpf walked. Abiatal Avelino put together a nice at-bat and blooped a single to left to load the bases, and then Ortega followed with the home run.
You usually don’t get that much entertainment value out of a spring training game. Most of the crowd hung around for the end and gave Ortega a nice ovation. It wasn’t quite an “ultimate grand slam” like the one Bote hit in 2018 because there was only one out, but it was exciting nevertheless.