Cubs Record: 63-41
W: Hector Rondon (2-2, 1.74)
L: Cody Martin (1-1, 2.84)
MVP: Pitchers not pitching
So. That was really something, wasn’t it?
In the third and final game of the series, the Cubs and Mariners turned in one of the craziest games in recent memory. Absolutely unreal. I’ll get to the weird stuff in a bit, but first, the recap.
The Mariners wasted little time jumping out in front Sunday night. With two outs and a man on third in the top of the 1st, Nelson Cruz crushed a pitch from Cubs starter Brian Matusz and sent it deep into the left field bleachers to give Seattle an early 2-0 lead.
The Mariners would tack on a couple more runs in the 2nd. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, Matusz gave up a single to Leonys Martin before serving up a two-run shot to Robinson Cano, staking the Mariners to a 4-0 lead.
Fast forward to the top of the 3rd, and Matusz gave up yet another two-run home run, this time to Dae-Ho Lee. With the lead now 6-0 Mariners, it seemed like the Cubs were in for a long night.
That’s when the fun began.
The Cubs finally got on the board in the bottom of the 5th thanks to some wildness from Seattle starter Felix Hernandez. After a walk, single and another walk loaded the bases, Ben Zobrist walked to force in a run. Addison Russell was then hit by a pitch, forcing in another run to make it a 6-2 ballgame.
The Mariners threatened in the 6th by loading the bases with nobody out, but Travis Wood (more on him later) entered the game and was able to work his magic and escape without further damage.
In the bottom of the 7th, the Cubs tacked on another run thanks to another free pass. Dexter Fowler led off the inning with a walk, stole second base and was driven in on a Zobrist triple, making it 6-3.
When the bottom of the 9th rolled around, things were looking bleak, especially after Kris Bryant went down on strikes against Mariners closer Steve Cishek to lead off the inning. Anthony Rizzo followed that with a double, however, and Zobrist singled to put runners at the corners for Russell. The young shortstop came through with a big single to left, making it a 6-4 game with runners at second and third. Jason Heyward was next and was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Willson Contreras.
The rookie hit a grounder to third that looked like a game-ending double play, but Contreras was able to beat it out, allowing Zobrist to score to make it 6-5. A wild pitch by Cishek allowed Russell to score from third, tying the game at 6-all and sending this one to extras.
After trading zeros in the 10th and 11th, Heyward led off the 12th with a double off the wall in center. Heyward advanced to third on a Contreras fly out to center, setting the stage for pinch-hitter…Jon Lester? With both the bench and the bullpen exhausted, Lester came up and laid down a two-strike squeeze, bringing Heyward in for the game-winning run and sending the Cubs to one of the most improbable wins of the season.
Can a player have more than one signature game? I mean, didn’t the “Travis Wood Game” happen in Milwaukee earlier this season? Well, if there is such a rule, I think Sunday’s performance supplants the game against the Brewers.
Not only did Wood pitch well (1 1/3 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K), but he was also called upon to play left field. While he has already done that this season, he actually had a ball hit in his direction this time and made an incredible catch at the wall. And I don’t mean it was incredible for a pitcher. It was simply a great play.
Speaking of great plays, how about that squeeze at the end? Not only was it great to see Heyward come through in a big spot, but Lester coming up as a pinch-hitter and laying down a game-winning, two-strike bunt will go down as one of the least likely things I thought I would ever see.
One final shout-out has to go to the Cubs’ bullpen. After getting just three innings from Matusz, Chicago relievers combined to throw nine innings of shutout baseball. They allowed just five hits and two walks over that stretch, keeping the game within reach.
While the Cubs’ bullpen was up to the task Sunday night, the Mariners ‘pen was not as successful. The Seattle relief corps allowed five runs on seven hits, a walk and a hit batter in 6 1/3 innings. Much of that damage came at the expense of Cishek, who blew his sixth game of the season.
Normally I wouldn’t want to read too much into one start, but I think the Brian Matusz experiment may be over.
I understood the logic behind it. After all, he had the pedigree (former fourth overall pick) to go along with modest success in the past with the Orioles, so it made sense for the Cubs to see what they had. Maybe they could turn him around like they did another former Baltimore castoff.
Judging by his performance against the Mariners, that doesn’t appear likely. Even if you ignore the numbers in this one (3 INN, 6 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K), his stuff just didn’t look very good. His fastball was extremely hittable, sitting at 91 without much movement, and he had no control with his off-speed offerings. The Mariner hitters rarely looked fooled and made solid contact throughout his brief tenure on the mound.
I would be all for Chicago keeping him in the system if they can convince him to go back to Iowa to continue to work on things with an eye toward 2017. If, however, he decides he doesn’t want to do that, his short time in Chicago may be at an end.
The Cubs and Marlins will kick off a three-game series at Wrigley Field Monday night. Kyle Hendricks (9-7, 2.39) will be on the mound for Chicago, while Miami will send out left-hander Adam Conley (7-5, 3.38). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. (CST).