Let the record show that Mike Montgomery began tonight’s game by not hitting Ronald Acuña, Jr. in the elbow with his first pitch.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t nominate such a thing for Top Play of the game. But if we normalize Win Probability Added for “Absence of Douchebaggery” (measured by sabermetricians in “Anti-Ureñas”), we find that that particular pitch was worth +.819.
For comparison’s sake, Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech measured only +.797.
Acuña would have stopped the game to announce “Today…I consider myself…the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” But unfortunately, he realized he would’ve been drowned out by the tomahawk chop.
What You Need To Know: Fun. Baseball. Game.
That right there was what happens when the two best teams in the league meet with a month to go in the season. Bunches of powerful clutch hitting seemingly generating its own momentum. Lead changes in the blink of an eye. Defensive majesty that looked like it belonged on the Lincoln Center stage from Albert Almora and Javy Báez. Endlessly nasty bullpen pitchers staring down postseason award candidates and emerging victorious.
And, of course, it all turned on one swing from the Cubs’ number one source for power off the bench…say it with me now…
David BoteTOMMY LA STELLA.
The Cubs arrived in town, ruined Atlanta’s night, and left immediately. Joe Maddon missed an opportunity by not declaring this the General Sherman road trip. Over the past four days, they’ve won games started by Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Mike Foltynewicz. Which is the kind of break that falls your way when you realize Jason Vargas can only start one day a week.
Foltynewicz got jumped early in the second inning with Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward reaching on a leadoff double and hit by pitch. The inning then turned on a bizarre Foltynewicz balk based on what appeared to be the very slightest of flinches. It wouldn’t have even earned him two punches in the arm from a fourth grader. It was as if Eddie Izzard had inserted himself as the second base umpire just in time to declare “Your aura balked.”
You can tell when Eddie Izzard is umpiring. Because Daniel Murphy disagrees with every call.
In a sequence that had to make Joe Maddon proud, both Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber followed with productive groundouts to second that scored runs. The second of which came on a contact play with the infield drawn in but Ozzie Albies sailed his throw home to the backstop just in time for Steve Martin to emerge and yell “He hates the SunTrust logo!”
Next Level: Montgomery started out quite strong, setting down the Braves the first time through the order with three strikeouts on his exciting new pitch that Sahadev Sharma profiled this morning. It was so dynamic, in fact, that Montgomery still isn’t even sure of its name…
SHARMA: Is it a slider?
MONTGOMERY: Not really.
SHARMA: A cutter.
MONTGOMERY: No, I don’t think so.
SHARMA: Then what do you call it?
MONTGOMERY: The second best pitch I’ll ever throw.
The second time through the order, though, things got a bit more difficult with the top of the Braves lineup generating a two-out rally to score their first run in the third. With Murphy playing so deep that he appeared to be positioned in Turner Field, Freddy Freeman grounded one to his right.
Unfortunately, because Murphy has the range of the Chick-Fil-A cow over his shoulder, he couldn’t make up enough ground to get to the ball with a futile dive. It was a reminder that ground balls sneaking through into right field is a sight we’re going to have to get used to because that’s the tradeoff the team has made for Murphy’s bat to be in the lineup every day. So far this year, he has amassed a steaming pile of -4.6 FRAA. Which would make for his second-best fielding performance of the past six years.
Montgomery righted things and managed to hold himself together for the rest of the second time through the order. And because the Cubs are still just over a week into this 23 games without an off day stretch, Maddon decided to let him try a third time around…
Bottom Play (WPA): At which point, the World Series Hero must have realized, “Holy shit, these aren’t the Royals.” With the Cubs leading 3-1, Acuña led off with his third consecutive sharp single through an infield hole. Johan Camargo then lined an 0-2 high fastball into right for a single to put runners on first and third.
And before you could say “I think he’s tiring,” Freddy Freeman crushed the very next pitch to left center field past a diving Jason Heyward for a game-tying triple (-.226). Making matters worse, Heyward had to leave the game with left hamstring tightness (No number can quantify this kind of sadness).
A Kurt Suzuki sac fly later and the Braves had the lead 4-3…
Top Play (WPA): … but they hadn’t counted on the clock striking 3 AM.
With one out, Kyle Schwarber smashed a first-pitch single through three infielders on the right side and up stepped Tommy LaStella. On a 1-1 offering, Foltynewicz left a ball up in the zone and LaStella pounced on it like it was Theo Epstein’s parking space.
It was a no-doubter as soon as it left the bat and the man who entered the game with a .304 slugging percentage had given the Cubs back the lead on a ball that landed deep into the right-field club seating (+.291).
LaStella was greeted in the dugout with huge bear hugs from Schwarber, Albert Almora, and Javy Báez. Twitter erupted with Streetcar Named Desire gifs. And appropriately enough, an infuriated Foltynewicz leaped off the mound as if he were trapped inside a bounce house.
And the best part? Thanks to Theo, we all know the phone number to text our congratulations.
Up Next: The Cubs now fly to Philadelphia for the second part of this road trip through some of the NL’s top contenders. The series opens with Jose Quintana taking on Nick Pivetta.
Lead photo courtesy Adam Hagy—USA Today Sports