There are many ways to celebrate Independence Day. Reciting the Declaration of Independence. Utterly misreading the lyrics to a Bruce Springsteen song. Or, if you’re Kyle Schwarber, dressing up as the inside of Wayne Messmer’s brain.
But for today’s game, the Detroit Tigers were scheduled to start Francisco Liriano. Which meant that the Cubs would be spending the 4th of July by facing their own personal Ivan Drago.
It’s a little weird that the Cubs’ Drago currently sports a 5.36 DRA–almost as if the producers of Rocky IV decided at the last minute to replace Dolph Lundgren with Yakov Smirnov. But make no mistake…over 82.2 innings, the Cubs have slashed a “throw in the damn towel”-esque .190/.295/.319 against Liriano.
If you try to look up Liriano’s splits against the Cubs, Baseball Reference takes you to a page that simply reads “If he dies, he dies.”
So this morning, Joe Maddon retreated to an abandoned cabin in the Caucasus mountains, cranked Survivor’s “Burning Heart,” and drew up a lineup with Victor Caratini and David Bote playing the infield corners.
Which seemed like re-staging Rocky IV’s climax by making Drago fight James Brown. However, it all worked out in the end…
What You Need to Know: The Cubs played exactly as you’d expect they should play against a Tigers team that had lost 12 of their previous 14 games. Bote hit his first big league home run in the second inning to the juniper bushes in center, reminding all fans to be thankful that John Sterling is not a Cubs broadcaster so that we could all be spared a catchphrase like “David…makes a Bote call!”
(Although if Len Kasper had wanted to attempt “David Bote goes wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” I’d allow it.)
Jose Quintana turned in the Cubs’ first quality start since June 20, giving up only five hits and a couple of solo home runs in six innings on a day where the wind was blowing out. He did his part to keep the game from turning into part four of the Minnesota series.
The defense absolutely lived up to the hype with impressive stops on hard-hit grounders from the aforementioned Bote and Caratini (quickly dubbed “Botatini” by Jim Deshaies, thus ensuring the Cubs’ backup third and first basemen a nice endorsement check from The Olive Garden).
Then, with the game tied in the sixth, Addison Russell made one of his best catches since his sprinting dive into foul territory against the Pirates in 2016. With one out and a runner on second, Jacoby Jones blooped what looked for all the world like a go-ahead RBI duck snort behind shortstop.
Russell raced back, adjusted his angle in mid-route, and reached his glove out as he hurtled through the air, completing the sprawling over the shoulder catch as if he were trying to perform 80 percent of the events in the decathlon all at once. The game remained tied thanks to a play that, for lack of a better term, I’ll call a “duck inhaler.”
And that might not have even been the play of the day. After Willson Contreras homered to give the Cubs their first lead of the game in the sixth, the Tigers responded with a Jose Iglesias leadoff double in the top of the next inning. Victor Martinez then tried to give Anthony Bass a reason to worry and be sad by lacing a 1-2 offering for a single to center.
Albert Almora quickly fielded it and as third base coach Dave Clark sent Iglesias, he unleashed a strong throw just to the right of home plate. Contreras adeptly fielded it, kept his wits about him, and dove back over the dish just in time to meet Iglesias’s thigh with the ball for the first out of an inning in which the Tigers coach made Wrigley Field glad all over.
This was the kind of game where if baseball were scored by judges, the Cubs would’ve just won the pennant.
Top Play (WPA): In addition to the go-ahead homer, Contreras just about put the game out of reach in the seventh inning. With two outs, the Cubs were in danger of wasting the first two batters reaching base. But with a first-pitch line drive double to the bullpen door in left, Contreras took care of that (+.279).
And that was the top play. Really. No kidding. WPA says so.
You know what? WPA is a dirty Goddamn liar: Because there was also a baserunning play earlier in the game. You might have seen it trending on Twitter.
With the Cubs trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, Javier Báez led off with a line drive single to left. After drawing an initial throw from Liriano, Javy took off for second as Liriano threw over again and he looked for all the world like he was picked off. But as we’ve come to expect, Javy never broke stride and dared the Tigers to make the play.
They… did not.
First baseman Jordan Hicks’s throw sailed far past Iglesias’s glove into left field. Báez immediately got up and took off for third, daring the Tigers to get him there instead.
They… continued to not do so.
This time the throw got past Jeimer Candelario as Gary Pressy immediately got his fingers in full on “Yakety Sax” position. Javy deked a run for the plate but thought better of it. Only because he had a more spectacular way to score in mind.
Russell then walked to give the Cubs runners at first and third. He immediately began taking a giant lead at first and if the WGN field mics had been turned up, they almost definitely would have caught him chanting “Pitcher’s got a big butt!” Everybody who remembered the Mets series from the beginning of June knew what was about to happen.
Finally, Liriano threw over to first and sure enough, Javy broke out in a full-on sprint for the plate. Hicks charged forward to aggressively field the ball and throw home in one motion and the ball got there in time for James McCann to attempt a tag. Fortunately, it also gave Báez time to somehow Matrix his body around McCann’s glove in a new variation of the swim move that enabled him to tag the plate before the ball touched him. It honestly looked like Javy’s body should have made Six Million Dollar Man noises. But that would have left him severely underpaid.
There is no smoking at Wrigley Field. Except after watching Javy Báez run the bases. Good God, that was amazing.
REMINDER: Javy Báez should be starting the All-Star Game. There’s no more patriotic act than celebrating the 4th of July by voting.
Bottom Play (WPA): Hicks’s third-inning homer gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead (-.116). It was one of two get-me-over curves from Quintana that got over the outfield wall.
Up Next: Another off day tomorrow and then the Cubs seek vengeance from the Reds. Mike Montgomery begins the vendetta against Tyler Mahle.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports