Getting Over the Hump (Day)?
The Cubs won on Wednesday. What’s more they looked pretty good in doing it. Sure there were bat at bats here and there, and a certain non-right fielder was in right field doing what he does. But hey, they won—this is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.
At first it looked like the same old 2017 Cubs when John Lackey gave three hits in the top of the first, prompting Len Kasper to remark, “another first inning run allowed by the Cubs.” But Lackey battled and escaped the frame with no further damage.
Before the bottom of the first Len tried to invoke the spirit of Harry Caray by commenting that Rays pitcher Blake Snell’s name spelled backward is Llens. “With two Ls, like Willson,” added J.D. And groans could be heard emanating from throughout the Chicagoland area.
Joe Maddon continued in his wacky ways with yet another imaginative lineup featuring catcher Willson Contreras leading off, Ian Happ in left field and Ben Zobrist in right. First time through it looked like this lineup stood a chance to be described as inspired rather than crazy as Contreras got a hit, and reached second after tagging up, a la Albert Almora, Jr., on Kris Bryant’s fly ball to center. But then after Anthony Rizzo worked a walk, Zobrist struck out on four pitches, then Happ popped up on a 3-0 pitch to end the inning.
Despite that poor outcome, with the exception of Zobrist’s at bat, the Cubs’ hitters looked a lot like the 2016 versions, working at bats and running up Snell’s pitch count. They continued to work Snell and while they never did break through against him, they made him throw almost 100 pitches in five innings and come the sixth inning he was done.
Lackey threw a 1-2-3 second inning and continued to grind, giving the Cubs the kind of start they came to expect from him last year. The Rays got a run in the third and, after 1-2-3- fourth and fifth innings from Lackey, another in the sixth. At this point it looked like John might be in for a no support, hard luck loss but, as I said before, come the bottom of the sixth Snell was done and against the Rays’ bullpen the Cubs fortunes were about to change.
Happ reached on an infield single, and Javier Baez followed with one of his own. Then with two outs Jon Jay, pinch hitting for Lackey, deposited an Erasmo Ramirez pitch into the left field bleachers to tie the game.
Pedro Strop threw a 1-2-3 top of the seventh, and in the bottom of the frame the Cubs broke out some honest to God, old-fashioned fundamental baseball. Bryant walked, Rizzo slapped a single through the vacated SS position, and Zobrist sacrifice bunted them over to second and third, respectively. Then with the infield in, Happ hit a ground ball single through the middle to plate both Bryant and Rizzo. I heard that a tear was brought to Sherm’s eye at this point, but I can’t confirm this.
In the top of the 8th Mallex Smith hit a lazy pop into right field giving Zobrist the opportunity to do an uncanny impression of Jorge Soler and allow the ball to drop in front of him for a hit. But then Koji Uehara struck out Evan Longoria to end the threat.
In the bottom of the 8th the Cubs put together their second homerless rally of the day when Tommy LaStella, pinch hitting for Uehara, was hit by a pitch, Bryant walked and Rizzo doubled off the centerfield wall to bring them both home.
Wade Davis pitched a relatively uneventful ninth to put a bow on win number 42.
They may prove me wrong today, but I hope I actually saw some of the 2016 gumption breaking through in the Cubs today, and it wasn’t just me hopefully projecting that onto them. Time will tell, but they are still only 3 ½ games back in the Central Division.