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Dodgers 11, Cubs 9: Calvinball!

Calvinball is ridiculous. So was this game.

P.J. Higgins doesn’t get the cover photo very often here. So here he is
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For those of you familiar with the iconic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, its creator Bill Watterson occasionally had its protagonists play a “sport” called Calvinball, in which the only rule is that you never play it the same way twice.

In the strip above, the score was “Q to 12.” The score of the Cubs/Dodgers game Sunday afternoon only felt like it was Q to 12. Instead, it was Dodgers 11, Cubs 9, and the Cubs thus got swept in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium for the first time in 57 years. The game ran so long that the ESPN Sunday Night game between two notoriously slow teams — Yankees and Red Sox — was in the third inning when it ended.

The Cubs blew two separate five-run leads in this three-hour, 59-minute monstrosity of a baseball game in which 370 pitches were thrown — 205 of them by Cubs pitchers, who walked seven, hit a batter, and had a seemingly infinite number of Dodger at-bats with multiple foul balls. (By comparison, the average number of pitches thrown in a nine-inning game is about 250.)

This game started well, though. Two of the first four Cubs batters (Willson Contreras and Patrick Wisdom) were hit by pitches by Dodger starter Julio Urias, sandwiched around a double by Ian Happ. That loaded the bases for Nico Hoerner [VIDEO].

That made it 1-0 and the bases remained loaded for P.J. Higgins, who cleared them [VIDEO].

5-0 Cubs in the first inning! So why was my first thought: “How are they going to blow this lead?”

Three Dodger runs came across in the bottom of the first off Drew Smyly, who clearly wasn’t ready to come off his rehab assignment. But the Cubs got those three back in the third. With one out, Hoerner singled and Higgins walked. One out later, David Bote hit a ball out of the yard [VIDEO].

The five-run lead is back! All together now: “How are they going to blow it?” Also, for the record:

I won’t detail the carnage, but it included a passed ball, a throwing error by the usually reliable Patrick Wisdom (though a better first baseman than Bote might have saved that error) and a pair of walks. Six Dodgers runs scored and Smyly was long gone by the time the inning was over, replaced by Matt Swarmer and then Mark Leiter Jr., and neither of those two could stop the bleeding. Six runs scored, giving L.A. the lead. Only two of the runs were earned thanks to the passed ball and error. Two runs scored on the Wisdom error, for example [VIDEO].

The first three innings took nearly two hours to play:

Sure, there was a lot of action and run-scoring, but that’s still ridiculous. The pitch clock will help even innings like that move more quickly.

The Cubs called on Anderson Espinoza to begin the fourth inning, and you know, this was actually a fairly high-leverage situation, down just one run in the middle innings. Espinoza threw pretty well for the first two innings, then ran out of gas in the sixth, when Freddie Freeman homered off him and he then walked the bases loaded before striking out Jake Lamb to end the inning. I was actually glad to see David Ross let him stay in to work out of his own jam.

Espinoza has talent. In this lost season I actually wouldn’t mind having him stick around and see what he can do at the MLB level. He’s got much more of a chance to be part of this team’s future than Leiter, for example. Remember that Espinoza was a Top 25 MLB prospect in 2016 and 2017 — before two Tommy John surgeries. He’s still only 24 and I can see a future for him as a late-inning reliever for the Cubs.

Anyway, it’s 10-8 heading to the bottom of the seventh, and Chris Martin served up another run to the Dodgers in that inning, giving them a three-run lead.

The Cubs got that run back in the eighth courtesy of Velázquez [VIDEO].

With Seiya Suzuki now back, Velázquez’ playing time has been reduced, but again, I’d rather see him show what he can do against MLB pitching the rest of the year.

Bote doubled and Suzuki walked after the home run, giving the Cubs a chance to tie the game in the last of the eighth, but Contreras hit into a double play to end the inning, and then the Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the ninth to end things.

The Cubs were in all four games and should probably have won two of them, at least. But this sort of Calvinball play goes to show how much work they have to do to catch up to a team as good as the Dodgers. At 34-52, they have matched their season low at 18 games under .500, last reached on June 28, so... at least they’ve played .500 ball since then, 6-6, mostly against good teams.

The Cubs haven’t won at Dodger Stadium since their combined no-hitter a year ago, and in their 52 losses, they’ve had a lead at one time or another in 31 of them. So... this team is probably not as bad as you think, at least offensively. But they need pitching help, particularly bullpen help.

Monday is an off day for the Cubs and then they will begin a two-game set against the hottest team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles. Yes, you heard me right. The O’s have won eight in a row and are on the periphery of the AL Wild Card race. Adrian Sampson will pitch against Jordan Lyles Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field at 7:05 p.m. CT. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.