E pluribus pluribus
That was the Cubs’ motto today, as they rode 12 hits (4 HR) and 8 walks to 14 runs in a rout of the Diamondbacks in the first game of a weekend series at Wrigley. While such an outburst is always an aberration, it was certainly a nice one for a team that hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball of late. Sure, they scored 6, 5, and 4 in the respective games against the Reds, but that’s after tallying only 16 total in their 6-game West Coast swing.
Former farmhand Zack Godley, traded to Arizona in the Miguel Montero deal, was on the bump for the visitors and got off to a rather ignominious start. He walked Dexter Fowler to open the bottom half of the 1st, then struck out Austin Jackson before allowing a single to Chris Coghlan. Then the wheels fell right off, as Godley walked Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez in succession to put his team in an 0-2 hole.
For some reason, Godley was left to his own devices this whole time. Former Cub Welington Castillo failed to head to the mound to talk to his young battery-mate, as did pitching coach Mike Harkey (also a former Cub). I get the concept of giving a kid a little slack and letting him work through his struggles, but this just seemed more like handing an innocent man a length of rope and sending him up to the gallows.
By the time David Ross came up, the rookie pitcher was shook. I mean, he looked like Papa Doc after B. Rabbit had just spilled all his secrets on stage and exposed him to everybody from the 3-1-3. Getting the graying backstop to hit a sac fly was actually a pretty big victory for Godley, albeit one of the moral variety. Jon Lester grounded out harmlessly to end the inning, but the stage was set for what would eventually become a blowout.
Addison Russell led off the second and took the second pitch he saw out to left for his first home run of the day. Godley would cruise through the remainder of the 2nd, and only allowed a single to Baez in the 3rd, but the Cubs were not so kind in the 4th. After Godley walked Lester to lead off the inning, Russell once again showed his power stroke, this time on a full-count fastball that he deposited into the bleachers in left-center.
With the score now 6-1 and Godley with 5 walks to his name, not to mention toiling on a balmy afternoon, manager Chip Hale…left him out there. Fowler and Jackson both made outs, but another walk to Chris Coghlan was the straw that broke the callow Diamondback. He had allowed 6 earned runs due to those 6 free passes and the home runs to Russell, but the Cubs weren’t done roughing up D-backs pitching.
Javy Baez singled off of A.J. Schugel to start the 5th and it was on. Ross doubled and Lester reached on a fielding error that prevented Schugel or his eventual replacement, Silvino Bracho, from accumulating an earned run, despite the Cubs crossing the plate 8 times in the frame. Austin Jackson loaded the bases and drove in a run with a single and Coghlan walked again — the Cubs’ third bases-loaded base on balls in the game — to push another across. Then the real fun started.
Anthony Rizzo, in a bit of a slump these past few weeks, sat back on a 1-1 changeup and absolutely blistered it out into deep right field. It was one of those you just knew was gone from the moment he made contact with that smooth lefty uppercut. I can’t blame Rizzo for taking a moment to admire this one, though a moment’s about all he had because it got out in a hurry.
Bryant followed with a single to chase Schugel from the game and bring Bracho in to face Javy Baez, who soon drew the loudest cheers of the day from the assembled masses.
Gone was the trademark high leg kick and the sledgehammer up top, replaced by a mere flinch of the left foot to bring his closed stance to a more neutral position. The less-exaggerated preamble, however, did nothing to detract from the beautiful violence of Javy’s swing. Equal parts raw and refined, Baez let fly in an indiscernible amalgam of man and bat that only came into focus after he had begun his trot.
Once viewed as the savior of the franchise, Javy has now returned as an almost sympathetic figure. Gone are the palm fronds and anticipatory adulation, replaced by at-arm’s-length optimism and a better perspective of his potential. Still sanguine, but with a bit less of that intoxicated enthusiasm. But I’ll be damned if Javy didn’t offer up a cup to Cubs fans on Friday afternoon. Even listening on the radio, it was evident from the crowd reaction alone that the ball had left the yard. Pat Hughes’ call was almost ancillary.
It most cases, it would seem very strange to say that a two-run homer that simply padded a 12-2 lead was the most celebrated play of the game. But Javy Baez is not most cases. He is the very essence of this sport, distilled joy and passion somehow formed in the shape of a man and set free on a diamond. He’s a flawed gem, to be sure, but is perhaps more precious for those mistakes. Put simply, this kid is just fun to watch.
Here I am, falling all over myself to think of ways to describe a guy who could be the Cubs’ 5th-best rookie this season, yet still not feeling guilty about it. Kris Bryant speaks to our hearts and eyes, Addison Russell to our minds, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler to our visceral urge for power. But Javy seems to speak to our imagination, to revive that childlike sense of wonder too often forced into dormancy by the weight of life and responsibility.
But what I love about the Cubs, and particularly about Wrigley Field, is that they tend to have the power to strip away burdens of mundanity, even if only for a few hours. Woo, how’s that for laying it on thick with the melodrama? Still true though. A game like Friday afternoon’s just makes you feel like a kid again, whether you were there or just listening on the radio as you churned away on the elliptical machine in order to burn off the beers you planned to drink later.
A 14-run game might be an aberration, but the Cubs’ success this season is not. I can honestly say that this is something I’ve not seen before from this team and I, for one, am going to continue to sit back and enjoy it. Whatever this season may bring in the end, this young team has provided a good deal more entertainment than many that have preceded them, and for that I am very thankful.