Cubs Go from Lame to Flame in Statement Game

What started out as “Here we go again” quickly became “Here we f*$&ing go!” as the Cubs turned an 0-4 deficit after half an inning into a 10-4 lead after three innings. The wild ride concluded at 17-8, with both teams just playing out the string over the final four innings, but that’s what you get when a team scores two touchdowns and a field goal early.

To call it a statement game may be somewhat troublesome from a semantic standpoint, kind of like when Kris Bryant shared Anthony Rizzo’s proclamation about their August 22 comeback being a “season-defining win.” Then again, that earlier affair featured a late Bryant homer to push the Cubs to a tight win against a non-playoff team after getting ahead early and then falling behind. That actually does sound like their season.

Which is why Jon Lester giving up loads of contact while the defense hucked the ball all over the field to no one in particular didn’t feel out of the ordinary. It just produced a deflating — though not entirely unamusing — sense of foreboding, like this would be one of those games you could turn off early. Theo Epstein himself had recently talking about this Cubs team “falling down and not getting back up,” and there they were lying flat on their collective face.

Making matters worse was the fact that the Cubs hadn’t been dealt a knockout blow by the Pirates. Rather, they’d punched themselves in a face a couple times, then sat on their own dicks when they fell. But things have a funny way of turning around when the wind is howling out at Wrigley, so the bottom of the 1st was really just the moment in a fight where the superior brawler discovers that his scrappy opponent has made him bleed his own blood.

Just like that, the Cubs got to work. Leadoff man Anthony Rizzo got all hitterish with a little opposite-field poke and went along for the ride on a Nicholas Castellanos homer, his 15th in just 40 games as a Cub. Then Willson Contreras hit the first of two 450-foot homers in the game, making him the first to blast such a prodigious pair of dingers this season and just the fifth to do so in the last 10 years. And that wasn’t even the best of it.

Kyle Schwarber doubled, then Nico Hoerner blasted his first big league homer on the first pitch he saw in his new home ballpark. He’d go on to add another pair of runs batted in later in the game, making him the first Cub since at least 1908 to have multiple four-RBI efforts in his first five games. That his family was there to see it make it that much more special.

Also special was Jon Lester gutting out four more innings after throwing 34 pitches in that potentially disastrous 1st. Steven Brault was not quite as fortunate, though he too remained in the game after allowing a high-five. The Cubs continued to tattoo the heavily-inked lefty, putting up a total of 10 runs on eight hits. Five of those hits left the yard, increasing his total allowed for the season by a full 50 percent.

There were other important details from the game, like how Rizzo stroked a 2-iron for a grand slam and gave Lester a bear hug at home plate. Or how Brad Wieck struck out all three batters he faced in the 6th. And how those batters were all on the right side. And how Wieck threw nothing but fastballs, dispatching the Pirates’ side on 13 pitches. That stuff was cool, but it’s just an ancillary part of the story.

The bigger narrative, one that we’ll have to see played out further over the next few games if we’re to feel comfortable leaning on it, is that the Cubs did get up and dust themselves off. They didn’t get down, they got mad. And, like, the kind of good mad that allows you to focus rather than flying into a blind rage. They weren’t going to let Lester wear a loss, nor were they going to let themselves be embarrassed in the first game of a pivotal homestretch.

Friday’s results may not be replicated again in the near future, but it sounds like Maddon is going to stick with the same formula moving forward. Which is to say that Rizzo will remain in the leadoff spot, with Ben Zobrist shifting down further in the order upon his return. Nico Hoerner may likewise remain at short when Addison Russell gets out of the concussion protocol, as Maddon told reporters.

It’s possible the rookie will get a little more seasoning at Triple-A next season, but there isn’t anything about his game that suggests the need for it. That has nothing to do with RBI totals or the first-pitch homer and everything to do with his demeanor and approach at the plate and in the field. If you’d just started watching this team earlier this week, you’d have no idea that Hoerner was brand new.

Is he the fix the Cubs have sought all season or just a flash in the pan who’ll have everyone printing “Win it for Javy” shirts like the folks in Milwaukee have done for their dearly departed Prince Yeli? The answer depends on both time and your penchant for melodrama. The Cubs have little of one, I’ve got plenty of the other.

So you can take this as a statement game or as just another kitschy souvenir shop along the road of a weird season. I like to extrapolate, you may be more prone to quarantine the result pending further review of the next several. Given how the Cubs have played, the latter is most definitely the smarter choice. But who needs smart when you’ve got heart like the Cubs showed Friday afternoon?

Now they just need to keep it pumping for another 15 games.

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