“The Cubs win on a walk-off bunt by Jon Lester in the twelfth inning,” is a collection of words which have no business being fit together to explain a real life event, but, here we are. It was a game in which five Cubs played left field, and one of them was Travis Wood, who made one spectacular catch against the ivy. It was a game in which the Cubs’ first two runs came on a bases-loaded walk and hit batsman with none other than Felix Hernandez on the mound. It was the kind of game that makes Joe Maddon look possibly clairvoyant, as the decisions he made left their marks all over the path to this unlikely win.
Top Play (WPA): Until the ninth inning, the Cubs’ top play had been Kris Bryant’s first inning walk, which gave Chicago two runners on with no outs. It’s as clear an indicator as any that, as far as numbers and odds were concerned, this game should have been out of reach from nearly the start.
The home team entered the ninth down 6-3. Addison Russell’s single scored Anthony Rizzo, who had reached on a double. 6-4. The Cubs continued to bat around, with Ben Zobrist scoring on a Willson Contreras fielder’s choice. 6-5. The tying run which wiped the slate clean and earned the Cubs some extra innings to put things right? A wild pitch by Steve Cishek, which allowed Russell to score from third (+0.411). Again, it was that kind of night.
Bottom Play (WPA): The reasons Brian Matusz was selected to start for the Cubs on this occasion ranged from giving the starters an extra day of rest, to wanting to show him off as trade bait before the deadline, to the most pressing, which is that Matusz had an opt-out in his contract requiring the Cubs to call him up by this date or lose him.
Matusz certainly looked nothing like a desirable trade target, and his troubles began as soon as he took the mound. A Shawn O’Malley leadoff single and a subsequent wild pitch put the Mariners in scoring position with no outs in the first. After advancing to third on a sacrifice, the speedy O’Malley was able to trot home leisurely thanks to a massive home run by Nelson Cruz (-0.179). Considering that Matusz immediately followed this up by nailing Kyle Seager on the shoulder and had demonstrated no effectiveness with any of his secondary pitches, getting out of the inning with 27 pitches and only down 2-0 seemed almost like a compromise favoring the Cubs.
Unfortunately, in true nightmare fashion, Matusz got to relive this first inning twice more. The second inning brought another two-run homer off the bat of Robinson Cano, and the third inning saw Dae Ho Lee serving up yet another two-run blast. Matusz finished his outing with three innings pitched, and it was indicative of how the Cubs offense had been faring that Matusz was pulled before he even saw one plate appearance.
Key Moment: Naturally, this has to be the walk-off in all its unfathomable glory. The crowd at Wrigley was already primed to take this one in the twelfth; Jason Heyward started off the inning with a double that, for a glimmering second, looked like it might make its way over the fence. Contreras moved him to third on a fly-out, and then it was Jon Lester’s turn.
Even considering that the pitcher’s spot was coming up with Maddon having already used all of his position players, it was an unusual choice to send Lester to the plate. Arrieta would have seemed the go-to guy in this extremely specific circumstance, having 12 hits in 48 plate appearances this year with two home runs and six RBIs to boot. But Lester donned the helmet, and with two strikes, he laid down the sacrifice bunt which allowed Heyward to perfectly execute his part of the squeeze, sliding into home for what has to be the strangest win of the season.
Trend to Watch: Since his June 21 call-up, Carl Edwards, Jr. has been fantastic, carrying a 1.84 ERA and 0.750 WHIP into this game. With an eye toward September and October, however, Joe Maddon has been measured in how he deploys the 24-year-old Edwards, sending him out for an inning at most, despite the fact that Edwards was, not so long ago, the Cubs’ top starting pitching prospect.
Yet circumstances dictate. With six innings remaining in the game (at the time), Edwards took the mound for two perfect innings in which he struck out five of six Mariners batters, an especially valuable feat even before the Cubs wound up using every one of their bullpen arms (and then warming up John Lackey on top of it all). While we shouldn’t necessarily expect long relief in Edwards’ future, he has quietly become a key midseason “addition” for the Cubs, an essential depth piece in a bullpen which deserves commendation tonight, blanking the M’s from the fourth inning on.
Also worth noting was a fine night at the plate for Ben Zobrist, which featured a single, an RBI triple, and a walk in four plate appearances. In the first 30 days of July, Zobrist put up a .188 batting average and a .293 OBP, but all of his games with at least two hits have come since July 23. As a central part of this Cubs lineup, Zobrist’s resurgence couldn’t come sooner.
Coming Next: With an extra day of rest under his belt, Kyle Hendricks will face lefty Adam Conley in the first of three games against the Marlins. All eyes, however, will be on Ichiro, who comes to Chicago just two hits short of 3,000. Monday’s game will be broadcast on WGN and 670 The Score with first pitch slated for 7:05pm CST.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports