Cubs Record: 83-47 (1st, NL Central)
W: Rob Zastryzny (1-0, 1.08)
L: Jeff Locke (9-8, 5.39)
MVP: Miguel Montero
Magic Number: 19
This team sure has its share of interesting games, doesn’t it?
The Cubs jumped on the board early in this one, scoring a first-inning run against Pittsburgh starter Steven Brault. Dexter Fowler led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on a throwing error off a Kris Bryant grounder. Anthony Rizzo drove Fowler home with a grounder to third, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead.
Chicago tacked on a couple more runs in the bottom of the 3rd. Bryant and Rizzo led off the inning with back-to-back walks and Bryant came around to score on a Jorge Soler double, making it 2-0. Jason Heyward followed that with an RBI ground out to first to bring in Rizzo and put the Cubs ahead 3-0.
Pittsburgh scored its first run of the game in the top of the 4th thanks to a Josh Bell opposite-field home run to left off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. It was Bell’s second homer of the year, both against the Cubs, making it 3-1.
Arrieta ran into trouble in the 6th when Josh Harrison hit a one-out single and Bell followed up with a walk. Arrieta got Andrew McCutchen to pop out to shortstop, but Gregory Polanco laced a ball into the bleachers in left field, giving the Pirates their first lead of the game, 4-3.
The Pirates added on in the 7th, but it was not quite so cut and dried.
David Freese led things off with an infield single, bringing up catcher Francisco Cervelli. After running the count full, Arrieta threw a ball that appeared to catch the outer portion of the plate and Willson Contreras fired to second to nail the running Freese. However, home plate umpire Tripp Gibson called the pitch a ball, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Arrieta rebounded to induce a Jordy Mercer comebacker, but instead of going to second to start the double play, Arrieta threw to third. Although he got the lead runner, Mercer beat the throw to first. That was it for Arrieta, as Joe Maddon turned to Travis Wood to get the final two outs.
Wood started his appearance off well, getting Matt Joyce to strike out looking. But Harrison hit a double down the left-field line, scoring Cervelli and Mercer, making it 6-3 Pirates.
Down but not out, the Cubs made things much tighter in the 8th. Heyward led off the inning with a double and Contreras followed with a two-run shot into the basket in center, making it a 6-5 ballgame.
After Felix Pena worked a scoreless top half of the 9th for Chicago, Jorge Soler came up with one out and crushed a 1-2 pitch to right-center for a solo home run that sent the game to extras knotted at 6-all.
The Cubs had a chance to win it in the 10th after loading the bases with one out, but Rizzo hit a grounder to first baseman Sean Rodriguez, who stepped on the bag and threw home to get Javy Baez for a double play. The play was reviewed, and while Baez appeared to slip his hand in under the tag, the call was upheld.
In the bottom of the 12th, the Cubs once again threatened to end the game. Baez hit a one-out triple, but he was thrown out at home yet again, this time by Starling Marte on an Addison Russell fly ball to left.
Rob Zastryzny entered the game to pitch the top of the 13th for the Cubs and things got off to a rocky start. The Pirates loaded the bases with nobody out, and after a Rodriguez strike out, Harrison hit a sac fly to left to give Pittsburgh a 7-6 lead.
In an ending fitting of this game, the Cubs finally got to Jeff Locke (who was entering his fourth inning in relief) in the bottom half of the 13th. Fowler hit a leadoff single and advanced to third on a Bryant single. Rizzo came up and hit a run-scoring single past the drawn-in infield, tying the game at 7-all. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked to load the bases for pinch-hitter Miguel Montero, who promptly hit a walk-off single to left, giving the Cubs a crazy 8-7 victory.
Heyward had another two-hit night, running his hitting streak to eight games. During this stretch, the right fielder is hitting .333 (11 for 33) with five extra-base hits (four doubles and a home run). While this is obviously a small sample size, Evan mentioned in an earlier piece that the recent run of success coincides with an adjustment to his swing that appears to have quieted things down for him at the plate.
Sticking with the offense, a couple of Cubs youngsters (I guess technically that could be half the team) had great nights at the plate. Soler was 3-for-5 with a home run, a double, and two RBI, while Baez was 4-for-6 with a double and a triple. Not bad.
The top of the 7th for the Cubs was, in a word, ugly.
After allowing a weak infield single, Arrieta appeared to strike out Cervelli on two separate occasions but neither pitch was called correctly. The latter of the two calls was particularly brutal as it came with the runner going on what should have been a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. Arrieta made the situation worse by then going after the lead runner at third instead of going to second for an easier double play on the ensuing grounder by Mercer.
The 7th also helped display that Wood probably shouldn’t be pitching to right-handed hitters in big spots going forward. Heading into the game, he had been very good against left-handers (28 IP, 1.61 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 14 H, 5 ER, 11 BB, 19 K) this season. However, his effectiveness against those batting from the right side has not been nearly as positive. While Wood’s strikeout rates against righties is actually better (21 K in 24 2/3 INN), his overall numbers are much worse (4.74 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 28 H, 13 ER, 11 BB).
These splits bore fruit in the 7th, as Wood got a strikeout against the lefty Joyce before allowing a two-run double to the righty Harrison. He closed the inning by inducing a ground out by the switch-hitting Bell.
The Cubs caught Starling Marte in a rundown between third and home in the 5th inning, but it was hardly how Tom Emanski would draw it up were he still making instructional videos for back-to-back-to-back AAU National Champions to follow.
The play went 1-5-2-6-1 (Arrieta-Bryant-Contreras-Baez-Arrieta) for those scoring at home.
The two teams continue their series Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks (12-7, 2.19) will be the starter for the Cubs, as he looks to continue his impressive breakout season. The Pirates will counter with right-hander Chad Kuhl (3-1, 3.50). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. (CST).