Today the Cubs and Pirates celebrated Memorial Day in the traditional manner that MLB knows best: commemorative camo green uniforms and caps.
MEL BROOKS VOICE: Merchandising! Where the real money from the day of solemn observance is made!
And it was appropriate that the Cubs spent a holiday dedicated to somber remembrance in Pittsburgh. Because as you’ll recall from his comments about Javy Báez and Willson Contreras last month, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle demands that baseball be played with all the joy and exuberance of Platoon.
This marked the first meeting between the two clubs since Hurdle bleated “Where’s the respect for the game?” to the media after Báez flipped his bat in frustration upon popping out back in April. Because as any team that employs Sean Rodriguez can tell you, the only time you should show emotion in baseball is when you think the Gatorade cooler started talking shit.
It was probably impressive that Hurdle showed up in the dugout at all as I suspect he spends most of his time at PNC Park yelling at the Bill Mazeroski statue to “Act like you’ve been there before!”
We would hear more from the Pirates’ manager before this one was over…
What You Need to Know: If I were Mike Montgomery’s agent, I would take out a billboard on Addison Street and have it simply read…
Monty for the Rotation
Only if you like strikes
On a day following two consecutive games where the starting pitchers turned in a combined total total of seven innings, Montgomery stepped up in the biggest possible way while taking Yu Darvish’s spot. Locating his fastball with absolute precision and mixing in his changeup and curve to devastating effect, the World Series Hero was Bizarro Chatwood, refusing to allow a baserunner until the fifth and giving up two hits overall—one of which was a 15 foot squib by Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, after playing the Sunday Night game, the Cubs’ offense spent the first six innings looking exactly like they had gotten two hours sleep the evening before. And as anyone who’s been in Pittsburgh after 10:00 pm can tell you, that’s really tough to do in The Steel City.
Anthony Rizzo’s second inning solo home run was all the scoring the Cubs could muster for two thirds of the game. They would have gotten a second from Kyle Schwarber but a great leaping catch by Corey Dickerson at the left field wall brought it back and turned it into an out.
Pittsburgh starter Chad Kuhl threw his hands in the air in celebration. Sadly, before he could wave them all around like he just didn’t care, he remembered the bloated pink-faced voice in his head bellowing “WHERE’S THE RESPECT?! WOULD DOCK ELLIS SHOW UP THE OPPOSING TEAM?”
(Technically no because Dock Ellis was tripping balls and trying to figure out how to slay the dragon that had just eaten Willie Stargell…)
But once the Pirates brought in their bullpen, the floodgates opened with a pinch hit homer by Addison Russell in the seventh, a controversial error in the eighth, and a two-run single by Rizzo in the ninth.
Next Level: At the moment, Bryzzo appears to be going in opposite directions from one another. And for seemingly the first time all year, Rizzo appears to be the one on the upswing.
In his last six games entering today, Kris Bryant has slashed .174/.296/.261. More alarming, after making so much contact throughout the year, Bryant’s seven strikeouts in that stretch represented a full one-fifth of his total to date. He began today with another K and finished 1-for-5 with a much needed single that fell in front of Dickerson in left.
We all know how this is going to go. After a few more days, someone will say “Bryant’s been awfully quiet lately…” And then he’ll go 4-for-5 with two homers and The Sparkle with remain undimmed.
While KB scuffles, today was an absolute vintage Anthony Rizzo game. His second inning homer was a laser beam on the first pitch that landed over the farthest reaches of the Roberto Clemente wall in right field (How’s that for respecting history, Clint?). Rizzo’s ability to ambush the first pitch and crush it into its component molecules remains a hallmark of his game and a real good indication that he’s found his timing.
Even more encouraging, in the third inning he fell behind 0-2 to Kuhl and proceeded to work the plate appearance into a walk. This is the Anthony Rizzo we know and love. For the day, he finished 3-for-4 with three RBI and the aforementioned homer.
What the Hell Was That?
And then there was that bizarre eighth-inning kerfuffle. With the lead at 3-0, the Pirates unfortunately had the Cubs’ hitters exactly where they wanted them: with the bases loaded and nobody out. At moments like this, the WSCR producer should have his finger directly over the button that plays Ron Santo moaning “What is going on?!”
Sure enough, Chris Gimenez proved that he belonged in the Cubs’ lineup by bouncing a routine double play ball to shortstop. Rodriguez threw home to get the first out as Rizzo barreled down the line and slid as the force at the plate was being recorded.
In the midst of his slide, Rizzo clipped the foot of Pirates catcher Elias Díaz, who promptly threw the ball into right field as the two trailing runners scored. The play looked a little Coghlan-esque (not a compliment). But for his part, Díaz sold the play like Al Czervik auditioning to be captain of the Italian National Soccer Team.
Hurdle and Joe Maddon both charged out of their respective dugouts as the umpires initiated a crew chief review. When the call came back that the play was not going to be overturned, Hurdle went from his usual red-faced state to what can only be described as “auditioning for a Henry Rollins cover band” and was ejected. Presumably because he informed crew chief Mark Carlson he demonstrative safe signal offended the spirits of Eric Gregg and Doug Harvey. Or something.
After he was given the thumb, the Cubs scored two more runs and retired all six Pirates batters they faced. Proving that old saying, “Any game without Clint Hurdle is infinitely better.”
And there is a 100 percent chance that after the game, Hurdle will complain to the press about Rizzo’s hard-nosed, old-school baseball.
Top Play (WPA): Russell’s two-run homer in the seventh—well out of Dickerson’s reach this time (+.215).
Bottom Play (WPA): Rodriguez’s swinging bunt single to lead off the sixth (-.063). The difference between the top play and bottom play is about 350 feet. That’s awesome.
Up Next: Game two of the series will feature Jon Lester, Nick Kingham, and an almost-certain hit batsman wearing the blue number 44. Sigh.
Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports