The tone for the Cubs’ 10-3 win over the Cardinals Thursday, their sixth straight victory, was set just three batters into the game.
The first two hitters, Mike Tauchman and Nico Hoerner, went down quietly.
Ian Happ’s backswing hit Willson Contreras in the mask. Part of the metal mask must have cut into Willson’s head, because blood was drawn. Contreras had to leave the game and likely needed stitches. It was obviously unintentional, and the two men shared hugs as Willson was leaving.
Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas, though, then did something that was absolutely intentional — he hit Happ with his next pitch. The umpires conferred and Mikolas was ejected. He played the innocent, “Who? Me?” game with the umpires, to no avail. This might have had something to do with it:
I was initially surprised the umps didn't just give Mikolas a warning after hitting Happ rather than ejecting him, but wonder if the pitch before to Happ, up and in, played a factor in the decision: pic.twitter.com/kpF1gWhwhb— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 28, 2023
After the game, Happ talked about the incident:
Happ wasn't surprised Contreras tried to stay in game after bat hit him in head: "It's the kind of competitor he is."— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 28, 2023
Happ texted with Contreras after game: "We're good friends, a lot of love for him. To see him go down & be bleeding from the head it's obviously a scary moment."
Happ got booed the rest of the game — for something unintentional. Nice work, “best fans in baseball.” And their broadcasters couldn’t let the Mikolas ejection go:
I get the Mikolas ejection is frustrating, but my goodness, Chip Caray and Brad Thompson need to move on. Had to switch to the Cubs broadcast.— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) July 28, 2023
So. We’re 14 pitches into the game and the Cardinals have lost their starting pitcher. That seemed to wake up the Cubs bats. Remember, there are two out here. Dakota Hudson replaced Mikolas, and Cody Bellinger singled and Seiya Suzuki walked to load the bases.
Christopher Morel followed with this ground-rule double and it’s 3-0 [VIDEO].
All those runs scored after two out, nobody on base.
Justin Steele breezed through the first two innings and the Cubs added to their lead in the third. Again, the first two Cubs were routine outs.
Swanson and Morel singled to put runners on first and second, and Yan Gomes drove Swanson in [VIDEO].
Morel took third on that hit and scored on this little infield bouncer by Miles Mastrobuoni [VIDEO].
The Cubs added one more in the fourth. Hoerner led off with a double, and one out later went to third on a single by Bellinger.
Seiya Suzuki beat a double-play relay and Hoerner scored to make it 6-0 [VIDEO].
That’s a 6-0 lead with all six runs scoring after two out, an impressive performance.
The Cardinals scored a run off Steele in the fourth on a solo home run by Andrew Knizner, but the Cubs added to their lead in the sixth, also on a solo homer, this one by Mike Tauchman, his fifth [VIDEO].
Steele completed the sixth inning, allowing just the one run on five hits, striking out four. That’s a really impressive performance in 99-degree heat. He was helped out defensively, including this slick double play started by Bellinger that ended the sixth [VIDEO].
The Cubs plated two more in the seventh. With one out, Swanson walked and went to second on a passed ball. Morel also walked, and Yan Gomes doubled them both in [VIDEO].
Daniel Palencia threw a 1-2-3 seventh with a pair of strikeouts, and this was a really good game for him to get some low-pressure MLB experience. The Cardinals scored a pair off Anthony Kay in the eighth, a two-run homer by Knizner, and the Cubs completed the scoring in the top of the ninth. Morel singled and Miguel Amaya was hit by a pitch — that’s 10 HBP for Amaya in just 94 plate appearances. He ranks tied for fifth in the NL in that category.
Tauchman’s perfectly placed grounder down the third-base line scored Morel to make it 10-3 [VIDEO].
That was Tauchman’s third hit of the game:
The Cubs had three players with three hits in a game against the Cardinals for the first time since June 15, 2018 at Busch Stadium (Almora, Rizzo and Russell).— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 28, 2023
Tauchman, Bellinger and Morel had three-hit games in tonight’s win.
Michael Rucker finished things up uneventfully. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].
The Cubs reached .500 for the first time since May 12 and are now 25-15 (.625) since they were swept out of Anaheim on June 8. Also:
Per @ESPNStatsInfo: The Cubs have scored 7 runs in 5 straight games, tied for the team's longest single-season streak since 1940. They had a 5-game streak in 1986, 1994 and 2008. They're the 3rd team (Giants/Rays) in the majors to score 7 runs in 5 straight games this season— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) July 28, 2023
This team is finally playing at its talent level, in my view, something I thought they had in them all along. Win two of the three remaining in St. Louis and that probably makes the Cubs at least mild buyers at the trade deadline, perhaps adding some relief help and maybe a power bat.
Starting to believe in this team now?
Who’s starting for the Cubs tonight? We don’t know!
Ross did not name a starter postgame for tomorrow, only saying it'll be a RHP, which he stated yesterday too.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 28, 2023
"We had a couple guys up, had to check on some of those guys in the bullpen. But it'll be a righty tomorrow. I've got a pretty good idea." https://t.co/yb66pIt4cA
Well, let’s see. It’s probably not Palencia or Rucker, who both pitched Thursday. It’s likely not Mark Leiter Jr. or Adbert Alzolay, who would be held back for late-inning high-leverage work. It can’t be Anthony Kay, because he’s lefthanded. That leaves Javier Assad, Michael Fulmer and Julian Merryweather. Fulmer was the “opener” last Saturday and last pitched Tuesday, 16 pitches against the White Sox. Assad threw 24 pitches Wednesday against the Sox, and Merryweather threw 18 against the Sox, also on Wednesday.
I’d guess it’d be Fulmer again, though he was one of the guys warming up Thursday. If Assad goes, he could conceivably give the Cubs some length, as he threw 56 pitches against the Cardinals July 20 at Wrigley Field.
Repeat after me: “As always, we await developments.”
The Cardinals starter will be lefthander Jordan Montgomery. Game time Friday is 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.