Technically, it’s impossible to lose a game if the bottom of the sixth inning never ends.
There was a Luke Bryan concert in Cincinnati over the weekend. And based on the condition of the outfield, Bryan has apparently ditched country music in favor of a three hour long cover of “Reign of Blood.”
Then the game started. And it made the field look like the Gardens of Versailles.
What You Need to Know: For the first five and a half innings, it appeared to be a good old-fashioned pitchers’ duel. As you probably know, the Mets had exiled Matt Harvey to Cincinnati a couple of months ago based on the theory that he might regain his effectiveness in a city where the best late night option is Kroger.
And for this game anyway, it appeared to work out well as Harvey channeled a bit of his vintage self, allowing only five hits and two runs over six innings. It says something about how far Harvey has fallen that his career is the only context in which the year that gave us the Harlem Shake is considered “vintage.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks looked to be outdueling him, giving up all of two hits over five scoreless innings. After fighting his mechanics for his entire outing last week against the Cardinals, it seemed that The Professor we all know and love was back and holding class outside…
Unfortunately, the topic on the syllabus for today was “ominous foreshadowing.” (Also “strained metaphors.”)
Next Level: Don’t get me wrong with what I’m about to say here…Billy Hamilton is a fun player. With his speed tool grading out a level that can only be termed “Late 90s Mountain Dew commercial,” he’s really a sight to behold on the basepaths.
Unfortunately for him, if you focus on any baseball-related skill that doesn’t involve his legs, Billy Hamilton is abysmal. He never gets on base, slashing .244/.298/.332 for his career. The advanced metrics hate him even more, grading him out at a .231 TAv.
To be as succinct as possible: once you put a bat in his hands, Billy Hamilton sucks.
So why don’t the Cubs know this?
Over his career, Hamilton’s line against the Chicago National League Ballclub is .266/.336/.397. His wOBA is .323. In other words, when he faces Cub pitching, Billy Hamilton turns into the hitter that we’re all excited to see Jason Heyward finally becoming.
And he turned this game into a Goddamn nightmare. Because Hendricks started the sixth by walking him on four consecutive pitches that weren’t even close.
There are no words.
Hamilton tried to do Billy Hamilton things, immediately stealing second and attempting a theft of third while Tucker Barnhart fouled pitches off. And even with all that, it appeared that Hendricks had a shot to get out of it unscathed, retiring the next two batters.
Unfortunately, the next batter was Joey Votto, whose numbers against Hendricks entering the game were: 8-for-16, 2 HR, 10 BB. The only way he could have been more Votto was if he interrupted 12 of those plate appearances to fat-shame a heckler.
Now back in the fourth inning, Hendricks absolutely carved Votto up, throwing three sick fastballs with late movement for what had to be one of the quickest strikeouts of his career. It was almost as if the Cubs had heard the Letterman/Seinfeld story and decided that every time Votto came to the plate, they would distract him by hiring George Wendt to rise from the stands like he was just cast as Roy Hobbs’ wife in a Natural reboot.
So Hendricks was certainly capable of retiring Votto tonight. But instead, with first base open, he chose the path of least resistance by pitching around him with four high fastballs nowhere close to the zone. After an infield hit from Scooter Gennett, The Professor got two quick strikes on Eugenio Suarez. But in his attempts to put him away, he threw three ineffective and bouncing changeups followed by an overthrown fastball for yet another ball four.
Three walks in an inning, each one more infuriating than the last. And the worst was yet to come…
Bottom Play (WPA): Randy Rosario was brought on to get out of the situation. And he served up a grand slam to Jesse Winker. (-.457) After which, of course, the bases were no longer loaded.
It’s a different way of extricating the Cubs from that dilemma. I’ll give him that.
Top Play (WPA): The Cubs got both their runs in the third. With two runners on, Javy Báez took two pitches off the plate and then a fastball on the outside corner. He got the same fastball on the next pitch and took it the other way for a gorgeous two-run double into the right-field corner (+.206).
It was as if El Mago announced to the ballpark: “For my next trick, I will step out of the box. And when I step back in, I will do so as Rod Carew!”
In Cincinnati, that trick is known as the Great American Bar Mitzvah.
Up Next: Game two features Jose Quintana opposing Luis Castillo. If Quintana makes Billy Hamilton take an 0-for-3, I’m nominating him for a Nobel Prize.
Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports