Well, that was... something, all right.
The Cubs defeated the Pirates 6-5 Friday evening, their fourth consecutive victory, all by one run. And they did it with a bit of power, a bit of small ball and a couple bits of relief pitching that nearly blew up, but in the end finished things off.
The game ran three hours, 33 minutes, included 356 pitches (171 by Cubs pitchers and 185 by Pirates hurlers), which is about 100 more than an average nine-inning game. Sixteen walks (nine by Pirates pitchers, seven by Cubs pitchers) extended this game late into the Pittsburgh evening, but eventually the result was in the Cubs’ favor.
Let’s rewind to the start of this game, which had three lead changes and was tied two other times.
The Pirates scored first, in the bottom of the first, and as has been the case for Javier Assad too many times in his brief MLB career to date, a walk started things off. Oneil Cruz drew the walk, stole second and scored on a single by Bryan Reynolds.
But the Cubs got that run back and one more in the top of the second. Ian Happ doubled to lead off the inning. That was his 40th, and so he became the first Cub to have 40 doubles in a season since Javier Báez did it in 2018. The last Cub to have more than 40 doubles in a season was Anthony Rizzo, who had 43 in 2016.
Patrick Wisdom followed the double with this colossal home run, his 24th [VIDEO].
Did I mention that ball was crushed?
That lead lasted only a few minutes, as the Pirates tied the game on a home run from Chicago-area native Jack Suwinski, his 17th. It might have been worse in that second inning if not for this nice diving catch by Zach McKinstry [VIDEO].
The Pirates took the lead in the third. A throwing error by Esteban Quiroz (which the Cubs challenged, and I don’t know why, the runner was pretty obviously safe) that allowed Reynolds to reach was followed, one out later, by a pair of run-scoring doubles off Assad.
I want to like Assad’s chances to stick in the big leagues, really I do, but he’s just not throwing enough strikes and when he does, they’re being hit hard. He threw 91 pitches (only 56 strikes) and left the game after the fourth inning.
Michael Rucker threw a scoreless fifth and then the Cubs got to work on small ball in the sixth. Wisdom led off with a walk and was wild-pitched to second. One out later, P.J. Higgins also drew a walk, and a single by Jared Young loaded the bases.
Franmil Reyes was sent up to bat for Michael Hermosillo, because why not see if he can open up things to a big lead with a grand slam?
Yes, another walk, making it 4-3 Pirates. The Bucs changed pitchers and brought in Manny Banuelos, but it didn’t matter, because the next hitter, McKinstry, also walked. The highlights folks apparently got tired of posting bases-loaded walk videos, because I can’t show you that one. The game is now tied 4-4, and then Quiroz hit a ball... well, watch [VIDEO].
Statcast says that ball had an exit velocity of 72.8 miles per hour. Only five Cubs who put a ball in play in this game had a lower exit velocity. Statcast also says that high bounce was a launch angle of -65.8, which is just plain silly. It went far enough for an RBI single and the Cubs had the lead.
The bases are still loaded, and David Bote struck out for the second out. While Ian Happ was batting, Banuelos uncorked a wild pitch — but it bounced right back to him and Christopher Morel, who had run for Reyes, was tagged out. Here’s a better description, plus video:
In one of the oddest plays you'll ever see, @Pirates P Manny Bañuelos throws a 'wild pitch' which the catcher can't find, so #Cubs CF Christopher Morel tries to score from 3rd, however the ball had popped straight up, then Bañuelos caught it and tagged Morel out.@Cubs #GoCubsGo pic.twitter.com/zSTWzVXfCg— Billy Krumb (@ClubhouseCancer) September 24, 2022
Rucker threw another scoreless inning — real nice outing for him — and then we had some more silly season in the seventh. With one out, Wisdom swung and missed to strike out. Somehow, that resulted in plate umpire Ryan Wills tossing Wisdom. I didn’t get it and neither did Ryan Dempster on the Marquee broadcast. Dempster said that Wills has to have a thicker skin in that situation, and he’s right. Here are Wisdom’s postgame comments, which clear things up, a little:
Patrick Wisdom was "absolutely" surprised by ejection tonight. After striking out he told home plate ump he didn't like his call on first pitch of AB as he walked away: "Given the circumstances, I feel like I'm allowed to voice my opinion on a call. He obviously didn't like it."— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) September 24, 2022
Here’s the pitch sequence — looks like pitch 1 was a strike, though borderline:
Manuel Rodriguez relieved Rucker to start the eighth, and with one out Reynolds homered off him, his 25th. It seems like Reynolds has hit 25 career homers against the Cubs, but in reality, that’s just seven in 55 games.
So it’s tied heading to the eighth, and then the Cubs took the lead back with more small ball. Higgins singled and Young walked, and Morel laid down a nice sac bunt to move both runners into scoring position.
As noted on Marquee’s broadcast:
Cubs sacrifice bunts, April-August 2022: 10
Cubs sacrifice bunts, September 2022: 9
It is, I suppose, a useful skill to hone in games like this, in case you need it later. This was a good situation to do it; the Cubs are now tied for fourth in MLB with 19 sac bunts this year. (The league average is 12 and one team, the Braves, still has none.)
McKinstry followed with an infield grounder but Higgins was thrown out at the plate. With runners thus on first and third, Quiroz drove in the lead run [VIDEO].
Rodriguez retired the Pirates in order in the eighth and the Cubs didn’t score in the ninth, so it was left up to Erich Uelmen to nail down the save. It was his first MLB ninth-inning save opportunity.
This one would not be easy. Ji Hwan Bae, making his MLB debut in this game, singled with one out, his first MLB hit. Uelmen retired Oneil Cruz on a long fly to left. One out to go, but Bae had stolen second during that at-bat, putting the tying run in scoring position.
This game still did not want to let go. Uelmen ran a 3-1 count on Reynolds and then, wisely, he was intentionally walked — I say “wisely” even though that was the winning run, because Reynolds already had two hits in this game, including a home run. Unfortunately, then Rodolfo Castro was unintentionally walked to load the bases.
Congrats to Erich Uelmen on his first MLB save, and to the Cubs for their fourth straight one-run win on the road. The last time a Cubs team did that was June 17-20, 1989, over the Expos and Pirates. The franchise record for consecutive one-run road wins is five, set from April 27-30, 1907, which included a doubleheader sweep, both wins by one run. (NOTE: The streaks indicated here are when all the games were consecutive. The Cubs had a six-game streak of one-run road wins in 1975, but there were other road games in the interim that weren’t one-run games.)
Other notes: The win also improved the Cubs’ overall record in one-run games to 24-26, evened up their September mark at 10-10 and pushed them ahead of the still-contending Brewers post-All-Star break (Cubs, 31-28; Brewers, 30-28 since the break). It also means the Cubs can finish with fewer than 90 losses by going 7-4 the rest of the way, a mark that’s certainly possible.
Saturday, the Cubs will go for five wins in a row and the series win over the Pirates. Wade Miley will take the mound for the Cubs and Johan Oviedo will get the call for Pittsburgh. Game time is again 5:35 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.