The Cubs, fresh off of a series win over the Rangers, welcomed another AL West foe to the Friendly Confines as the Mariners visit for a few days. Seattle’s lineup has plenty of power and they’ve got a solid pitching staff, so the Cubs had their work cut out for them. After getting in an early hole and then allowing a late comeback, the home team pulled out a walkoff win to take the opener.
Both teams were scoreless through three innings until the Mariners broke through against Drew Smyly in the top of the 4th. A bloop double was followed by a walk and a sharp single to load the bases, then a sac fly from AJ Pollock put the M’s on the board. Smyly escaped with minimal damage, but that wasn’t the biggest bases-loaded threat of the game.
The Cubs answered back immediately in the bottom of the inning when Ian Happ walked, stole second, and came around to score on a Cody Bellinger double that just snuck inside the right field line. A soft single by Trey Mancini pushed Bellinger to third, then an Eric Hosmer base hit put the Cubs in front. It looked for a while as though that would be all the offense they’d need, but then Jarred Kelenic happened.
Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr., and Brad Boxberger combined for three scoreless innings with no walks or strikeouts and turned it over to Michael Fulmer to close the game. A lineout by Teoscar Hernandez opened the frame, but Fulmer left a cutter over the plate and Kelenic banged it off the video board in right field 414 feet away.
Fulmer got out of the inning and the Cubs failed to score in their half of the 9th, sending the game to extras and prompting David Ross to call for Keegan Thompson to keep Seattle at bay. With the Manfred Man on second to start the inning, Thompson walked leadoff batter Cooper Hummel before getting help from Patrick Wisdom with a diving catch of a J.P. Crawford bunt attempt.
Julio Rodriguez walked to load the bases with one out, but Thompson struck out Ty France and got a grounder from Eugenio Suárez (you have to say it like Pat Hughes) to open the release valve. The M’s turned to Matt Brash, who has some of the nastiest stuff in the game despite blowing a save on Sunday. Pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart almost had a disastrous bunt attempt, but the catcher didn’t react quickly to the foul pop and Barnhart got new life.
Nick Madrigal, on second as the very alive ghost runner, took off from second as Brash began his motion, catching everyone off-guard and logging his first-ever steal of third base. A Barnhart strikeout gave way to Nico Hoerner, who had never authored a walkoff hit in his career. After fouling off two pitches and taking another, Hoerner stayed on a Brash slider and flipped it into shallow right-center to end the game. (Box score)
I mean, Hoerner ending it with an excellent piece of hitting is really the only choice here, though Thompson escaping that late jam was probably second. His fastball was touching 94 mph and you’d still like to see it creep further to give him a little margin for error, but he’s pitching really well even when he gets a little shaky.
Why the Cubs Won
They had just enough offense and got another tremendous group effort from the pitching staff. With only two of their eight hits going for extra bases, both doubles, the Cubs continue to show that small ball can win games.
Stats That Matter
- The Cubs stole three bases, equaling their total through the first five games of the season
- Hoerner was 3-for-5 and boosted his average to .341
- Hosmer went 2-for-3 and is batting .320 with 7 RBI
- Bellinger also has 7 RBI
- Smyly rebounded from a poor first start: 5 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 7 K, 1 BB
This was a very solid win against a team that figures to be a contender, and it came with the Cubs using the same winning formula they sought to create over the winter. There’s a whole lot of season to go, but it feels like they’re going to be able to grind out wins like this with frequency.