Matt Harvey Great, Jason Hammel Great-ish as Cubs Walk Off
There are few times I’m happy to not watch the Cubs play live, but when I realized Wednesday’s game would be broadcast on the Worldwide Leader, I made plans to busy myself with errands from 8pm on. Mow the yard, water the new flowers, slop the pigs, keg my Crooked Numbers Summer Ale. Standard stuff. Ah, but I couldn’t completely avoid the ESPN idiom-fest.
One thing I learned that Mets starter Matt Harvey throws a lot of strikes. Like, all the time. No, seriously, he is a strike-thrower who mainly throws strikes and not balls. I’m sure how many times I was regaled with the number of strikes he had compiled as a part of his pitch count, I just remember being awestruck by his ability to throw strikes and not balls.
When Harvey was pulled prior to the 8th with 9 K’s and 2 walks (one intentional), 70 of his 100 pitches had found the zone. Shocking, right? But you wanna hear something even more amazing? I mean, even more amazing than the time I ate my weight at Godfather’s Pizza? The Cubs’ Jason Hammel threw 97 pitches over 8 innings, notching 6 K’s and walking one. His strike total: 68. Wait, if my maths are correct, that’s a rate of…70.1%. Knock me over with a feather.
But I understand the hype for Harvey, a guy who pretty much immediately returned to form following Tommy John surgery. He’s a better, more marketable player than Jason Hammel, so I get why ESPN would pimp him so hard. Harvey is one of those pitchers who you just want to wait out in order to give yourself a chance against the bullpen. That’s exactly what the Cubs did on Wednesday, and, as strange as it sounds, the game felt more in hand with an 0-1 deficit and Carlos Torres pitching than it did even in the offing against Harvey.
That feeling of assurance only grew when Addison Russell singled, advanced on a wild pitch, and then scored from second on a Dexter Fowler base hit to tie the game at 1 in the 8th. My flagging anxiety diminished further heading into the 9th, and disappeared when Rizzo and Castro opened the frame with base knocks. An intentional walk to Miggy Montero loaded the bases for Jorge Soler and brought Jeurys Familia in to stanch the Mets’ hemorrhaging chances.
I really believe that Soler is the embodiment of the Cubs as a team: he’s got tons of talent but enough exploitable question marks to make you wonder just what in the hell is going on. He looks at times like some of the kids on my Rookie Little League team, as though he’s just up there swinging without any regard for the pitch’s location. And Familia wasn’t exactly aiming for his bat as I’m wont to do with my kids. The good thing in this case is that he continued to throw terrible pitches to Chris Coghlan, who was significantly more discerning than his masked teammate.
It’s not sexy, but a walk-off walk still counts as a win, and this marked the Cubs’ third straight. And against a first-place team that had sent their ace to the bump, no less. You can’t hit homers every night and it’s just this type of grindy, wart-covered victory that they’ll need to produce more regularly if they hope to compete down the stretch. So I won’t nitpick about the 13 men left on base and Soler’s utter lack of an approach in two-strike counts. For now, I’ll focus on Joe Maddon’s balls-out decision to lift Rizzo for pinch-runner Matt Szczur in the 9th and on Szczur szcubczquently going first-to-third on Castro’s shallow single.
Maybe it’s the sick little boy curled up on the couch next to me or the season of Daredevil calling to me from Netflix, but I was able to watch this game with something that resembled detached indifference. I’m not sure what to make of that or whether it will persist, but it’s kind of a nice reprieve from the wild emotional swings that have turned this season into the baseball equivalent of teen angst.
And as fun as those days of youth can be, I am very much looking forward to this team growing up and realizing its full potential.