Heading into Thursday’s matinee in Queens, most of the chatter from Cubs fans dealt with the largely replacement-level lineup they’d be sending out to face Jacob deGrom. Yes, the same pitcher who captured the NL Rookie of the Year award last season and who came into the game boasting a 2.15 ERA and 2.59 FIP and who had allowed only .63 home runs per 9 innings.
Of course, most of those stats were compiled by facing hitters not named Jonathan Herrera. Known more as a punchline than a power puncher, the Punch and Judy hitter was not expected to fill Kris Bryant’s shoes while the regular starter got a scheduled day off. But that’s exactly what Herrera did, much to the dismay of the Cubs broadcasters.
No one was too surprised when Herrera laid down a bunt in the 2nd to score Chris Coghlan, but it was what the diminutive utilityman did in the 6th that dropped jaws. With fellow fill-in Mike Baxter on first, Herrera worked a full count before jumping on a 95 mph fastball that started middle-in and caught a whole lot of the heart of the plate.
The two-run homer was Herrera’s first since July 7th, 2013 and chased deGrom from the game after only 5 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since May 11th. That is not a sentence I had ever expected to type. But I was the only one unprepared to describe the play.
You can tell on the TV call that Len Kasper was not expecting much when the ball left the bat. “Baxter takes off on the 3-2 and that one hit to deep right. Back on it is Granderson. It is…off the wall…IT’S GONE!” It sounded to me like he was fully prepared to make a call of a harmless fly ball to right-center for the 2nd out of the inning.
Radio play-by-play legend Pat Hughes was equally flabbergasted by the unlikely exploit, having to wake from the hypnosis of the long at-bat to relay to listeners what he probably didn’t believe was actually happening. Oh, hey, what a nice at bat for the little fella. Really have to admire how he’s battling against a good pitcher and all that, and…
And as if the afternoon couldn’t get any weirder, Herrera was intentionally walked in the top of the 8th. Yes, Jon Herrera hit a home run and was intentionally walked in the course of a single professional baseball game. I can’t even. Okay, so it was to face Arrieta, who, with only one hit on the season, makes his teammate look like a real threat. But still.
Maybe there really is something special about this team after all. I mean, Who’da thunk today’s group would’ve scored more runs in one game than the whole team had mustered in the last 4 combined (1, 1, 1, 2). The 6 tallies also marked the first time the Cubs had scored more than 2 runs since they pushed 4 across on June 22nd against the Dodgers.
I don’t think Kris Bryant’s in danger of being Wally Pipp’ed, but it sure was nice to see the Cubs put some runs on the board. Maybe we’ll look back at this Mets series as a collection of get-right moments for a team that had been struggling pretty mightily. If the Cubs can take advantage of a Marlins team that is without Giancarlo Stanton and won’t start Jose Fernandez, they’ll be feeling good and ready for a rematch with the Cards next week.
And now they’ve got a secret weapon to boot. Have a day, Jon Herrera, have a day.