Locke, Stock, and a Few Smoking Barrels: Cubs Club Bucs, Hang on for 5th Straight Win
You know what I hate about a blow-out win? Well, nothing, except for letting it slip away. Friday’s contest started out as one of those rare occasions on which everything seemed to be going right for the Cubs. Kyle Hendricks was dealing early and the bats were on fire against a Pirates staff that just couldn’t seem to do much of anything right.
Inasmuch as he was in over his head against the Cubs leviathan, starter Jeff Locke might as well have changed his last name to Hobbes. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings, over which he threw a whopping 102 pitches, only 56 of which went for strikes. They weren’t very efficient ones either, as he allowed 5 earned runs.
Four of those runs came via home runs from Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom have been exceeding lofty expectations thus far this season. When it comes to smoking barrels, these two are fast becoming standard-bearers. Bryant’s shot was lofted a couple rows deep into the populated bleachers in left, but Rizzo’s monstrous blast nearly undid all the hard work being done to ready the seats in right.
When Matt Szczur singled home 2 runs in the 5th to give the Cubs a 7-1 lead, I was already putting this post together in my head. Then the 6th inning happened, unleashing its bastard executioner upon the home team as it has so many times already this year. Hendricks, who had looked so good earlier, was able to record two outs, but he was also touched up for 3 singles and a 3-run double.
Justin Grimm came in to clean up but gave up an RBI single (run charged to Hendricks) and walked to before giving way to Zac Rosscup with the bases loaded and Andrew McCutchen coming to the plate. A collective gasp went up when Cutch let loose a home-run cut on Rosscup’s 3rd offering, a four seamer than avoided disaster by a millimeter or two. Three pitches later, Rosscup induced a harmless pop-up to get out of the interminable inning.
But, wouldn’t you know it, the Cubs had a little more offense to spare as they pushed across a run of their own in the 6th and then two more in the 7th. Starting with the 3rd, they scored in 5 consecutive innings and hung a season-high 10 runs total. And it’s a good thing they did too, as the combination of warm weather, outbound wind, and the Cubs bullpen meant that no lead was truly safe.
And just like that, the Bucs hung another crooked number in the 8th on the srength of home runs from Josh Harrison and the aforementioned McCutchen to close the gap from 10-5 to 10-9. Jason Motte surrendered the first and Pedro Strop the second, further eroding what little faith remains in this bullpen. Hector Rondon opened the 9th with two punch-outs in an attempt to prove that his surname is better that N in the middle, but then he gave up back-to-back hits to Harrison and Francisco Cervelli to tie the game.
This game felt great, then awful, then great, and then awful again before it finally settled into exhausted relief. Speaking of exhausted, the teams combined for well over 400 pitches. The Cubs managed to load the bases with just one out against closer Mark Melancon but soiled the bed when Starlin Castro was gunned down trying to tag on a shallow fly ball to right.
This game was a microcosm of the season, indicative of both the best and worst this Cubs team has to offer. Speaking of which, Edwin Jackson came to pitch the 12th, a move many took as a sign that the Cubs were conceding victory to the Pirates. But to the delight and surprise of the blue-clad masses, E-Jax escaped unscathed. Barely.
I actually started this post on a laptop and switched over to my phone during a 30-minute session on the elliptical. I’m currently typing this in a Taco Bell parking lot as I listen to Szczur’s 12th-inning at-bat. I can almost taste the Black Flame waiting for me at home, when a routine fly went out to Polanco in a repeat of the aforementioned bed-soiling. But wait…Polanco fell down! Cubs win!