If the Chicago Cubs do come back and make the postseason this year, you are going to look back at this game as one of the most important in that effort.
And the Cubs have now had two “Catch of the Year” candidates in one week, and this one literally saved the game.
Mike Tauchman stole what would have been a two-run walkoff home run by Alec Burleson off Adbert Alzolay, and instead the Cubs hung on for a 3-2 win, their seventh in a row.
I’ve watched that about half a dozen times and... wow, that’s one of the best that I have ever seen. Perfectly timed, made sure he grabbed it and held on tight, and then a celebration began. Almost don’t have enough superlatives for that, so I’m not even going to try. Jim Deshaies said, “That is spectacular,” and that’s good enough for me.
Now let’s rewind and look at the rest of this exciting win.
Lars Nootbaar homered off Hayden Wesneski to lead off the first inning. Didn’t we see this game last Saturday at Wrigley?
Wesneski, recalled to start this game, settled down and allowed nothing else in two innings of work. Honestly, I thought he could have gone longer — he threw only 35 pitches. Wasn’t the point of sending him to Iowa to stretch him out to start?
Drew Smyly then entered in relief, as he had done on Saturday, and Nootbaar did it again, a leadoff homer in the bottom of the third to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Nootbaar has just worn out Cubs pitching this year: .294/.390/.677 (10-for-34), four home runs, 10 runs scored. I will be glad to not see him play against the Cubs again after Sunday.
The Cubs got one of the runs back in the fifth. The first two Cubs were routine outs in that inning, then Patrick Wisdom sent one deep into the St. Louis night [VIDEO].
That was Wisdom’s team-leading 18th of the year.
The Cubs took the lead in the sixth. With one out, Seiya Suzuki doubled, and that was followed by a walk to Ian Happ and Cody Bellinger hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Dansby Swanson lofted this sacrifice fly to right to tie the game [VIDEO].
All three runners advanced on that play, which allowed this Trey Mancini single to give the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
Bellinger was thrown out trying to score, ending the inning with the Cubs clinging to the one-run lead. (Sorry about the Cardinals TV broadcast there, it was the only clip available to me.)
Smyly pitched into the seventh, giving him a much better outing than last weekend: 4⅓ innings, two hits and a walk, just the one run on Nootbaar’s homer, and six strikeouts. Perhaps this setup might work out for Smyly, a two-inning opener followed by Smyly throwing four-plus.
Julian Merryweather finished the seventh without incident and recorded the first two outs in the eighth before Adbert Alzolay was summoned to finish off that inning, which he did by striking out Nolan Arenado.
The Cubs didn’t score in the top of the ninth, so Adbert had no margin for error in the ninth. It didn’t start well, with two straight singles. But then Alzolay induced this double-play ball [VIDEO].
So now the tying run is on third with two out. You know what happened. Let’s look at it again! [VIDEO]
Earlier this week I called Seiya Suzuki’s robbery of a grand slam the catch of the year, but Tauchman’s rates higher, because that literally stole a win from the Cardinals, and what could be better than that?
Here’s Tauchman on his catch:
Mike Tauchman after his game-saving catch: “There’s a lot of belief in this clubhouse.” pic.twitter.com/BKbuDOZa2d— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 29, 2023
And if you don’t think those kinds of plays affect players the way they do for us as fans, check out this quote from Nico Hoerner:
As he initially tracked the ball, Tauchman wasn’t sure it would be that close to wall but as he kept going and got to warning track, he had time to adjust & prepare to jump.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 29, 2023
Hoerner called Tauchman’s game-ending catch “probably the most dramatic single play I’ve been a part of.” pic.twitter.com/ZlJhcRDG7P
The Cubs thus went over .500 for the first time since May 6, when a win over the Marlins at Wrigley Field made them 17-16. They also reached .500 on the road (25-25), and edged to within 4½ games of first place as the Brewers lost to the Braves. They are also now just 3½ games behind the third wild card spot (currently held by the Giants) and just three down in the loss column.
This is how I thought this Cubs team could play, and as you know I’ve been saying so all year, that they’ve been playing below their talent level. So much has gone wrong for this team, from bad pitching performances to injuries, yet here we are, with 59 games remaining and I don’t think any of you would argue that the Cubs aren’t in contention. They absolutely are, and ought to think about a couple of upgrades before Tuesday’s trade deadline, perhaps adding a reliever or two and maybe a power bat. Even if that doesn’t work out, though, this team appears to at last be clicking. It’s wonderful to see.
The Cubs will go for their eighth straight victory, and a series win in St. Louis, Saturday evening. The Cubs haven’t won a four-game series in St. Louis since September 2017. 2017 was also the last time before this year that the Cubs won the season series from the Cardinals. That year they went 14-5. This year they are 7-4 against their rivals with two games remaining, and have won their last five games against St. Louis.
Jameson Taillon will start for the Cubs Saturday against Cardinals veteran righthander Adam Wainwright. Game time is 6:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.