In the bottom of the first inning Friday night at Chase Field, Justin Steele appeared to be just about ready to get out of the inning. He’d allowed a leadoff single, then retired the next two batters, one on a sacrifice bunt. That entire sequence took just five pitches.
Then, suddenly, Steele lost command. He issued a four-pitch walk to Christian Walker.
The next pitch was a first-pitch slider to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., right in the middle of the zone. Bam! Three-run homer.
Steele settled down for a while after that, but then it happened again in the sixth. First batter reaches, next two hitters are routine outs... Bam! First-pitch slider, middle of the zone, three-run homer by Alek Thomas.
Despite a home run barrage by the Cubs in the ninth inning, those two Arizona homers held up for a 6-4 D-backs win over the Cubs. Among other things, Arizona clinched the season series against the Cubs with this win, so they now have the tiebreaker. Among all the wild-card contenders, the only one the Cubs hold the tiebreaker with is the Giants. The tiebreaker with the Brewers is still TBD, with the winner of the season-ending series in Milwaukee taking that, but with the Cubs now trailing the Brewers by 5½ games, that tiebreaker somehow seems a bit less important.
I usually put this near the end of each recap, but this now seems important enough to put it up here. Remember how I’ve said “It’s not the end of the world” when the Cubs have lost a game over the last few weeks? Well, this isn’t the end of the world either, but ... I think you can see it from here. The Cubs still hold the second wild card, despite three straight losses. They now trail the Phillies by 2½ games for the top wild card spot, and lead the D-backs and Reds (who are now tied for the third wild card spot) by 1½ games.
Like I said: Not the end of the world. But the Cubs are going to have to start winning winnable games, and this one was, considering that Brandon Pfaadt, Arizona’s starter, came into the game with an ERA nosing toward 7, and Steele was (and still is) a Cy Young candidate.
The Cubs did nothing with Pfaadt — four singles — before he was lifted in the sixth. A bunch of D-backs relievers held them scoreless until the ninth. I’ll show you that in a moment, but first, here’s a slick play in the fourth inning by Dansby Swanson [VIDEO].
He’s so good. And props to Cody Bellinger at the other end of that play, too. Sign the man, Jed.
Marcus Stroman, just returned from the injured list, made his first relief appearance in nine years beginning the seventh inning. And, truth be told, it was pretty good. He allowed a single and walk and struck out three in two innings of scoreless relief. Who knows? Maybe this is a good role for him the rest of the year. The entire rest of the bullpen got a second day of rest, after Thursday’s off day.
That’s a splitter with explosive movement. Here are both of Stroman’s K’s in the seventh:
Marcus Stroman's 2Ks in the 7th pic.twitter.com/RDWvcIktml— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 16, 2023
So anyway, the ninth inning. The Cubs were down 6-0. Ian Happ led off with a home run, his 18th [VIDEO].
Well, okay, a consolation run. Cody Bellinger followed with a walk, but Dansby Swanson was called out on strikes.
Oh, come on, Chris Guccione, that’s not a strike:
Swanson was not happy with that call, and rightfully so. Bring on the challenge system! That’s a spot where it absolutely would have been used, and Swanson’s at-bat would have continued.
That might have been important, because Seiya Suzuki followed with his 18th home run [VIDEO].
That ball was crushed! [VIDEO]
So hello, now things are getting interesting. Moments later, they got even more interesting, thanks to Christopher Morel [VIDEO].
About all those ninth-inning homers, from BCB’s JohnW53:
Last night’s game was the Cubs’ 22,079th in the regular season since 1876, first year of the National League.
It was the first in which they hit three home runs in the ninth inning, at home or on the road
They have hit three homers 66 times in other innings, ranging from 4 in the second and seventh to 13 in the fourth and 14 in the first.
They have done it 41 times at home and 26 on the road.
Last night was the fourth time this season and second in six days, following last Sunday, also against the Diamondbacks, in the third inning at home.
The first two were on April 14, in the eighth inning at Los Angeles against the Dodgers, and on June 16, in the third inning at home against the Orioles.
Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki also hit the first and second homers in April. Patrick Wisdom hit the third homer.
Christopher Morel also hit the third in June. He hit the first last week.
Suddenly, the Cubs are down only two and there’s still just one out. You don’t think...
Well, no. That would have been one of the greatest comebacks in MLB history, never mind Cubs history. But Yan Gomes hit a sharp line drive to center and Nick Madrigal popped up and that, as they say, was that. The only good thing about this loss was that it went by quickly, two hours and 14 minutes, over before 11 p.m. in the Central time zone. That’s the last late-night start for the Cubs this year... unless they get one of those ghastly 8:30 p.m. CT starts in the postseason.
Which... hopefully there are still postseason games in the Cubs’ future. They’ve got to start winning, and soon. Saturday’s game will feature Kyle Hendricks starting for the Cubs and former Cub Zach Davies for the D-backs. Game time is 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.