I had the pleasure of spending some time with my wife’s aunt and uncle and their kids this past week, and my stay included a trip to my young cousin’s Little League game. Unlike in my day, they now allow the kids to lead off and run from the pitcher’s delivery. As you can imagine, this means that nearly every single becomes a triple.
That’s pretty much the deal when Billy Hamilton reaches base too. The guy was 9 for 10 on stolen base attempts entering the game and he ended up with three more off of the battery of Jon Lester and David Ross. And please spare me the laments of Lester’s inability or lack of desire to throw to first to hold the runner.
If you had read my piece from a couple weeks ago, which you probably didn’t, you’d have seen that stolen bases against Lester have actually gone down as he’s thrown over less. In a nice karmic twist, Reds starter Mike Leake actually made an errant throw to hold Kris Bryant, allowing the Cubs third baseman to advance.
In any case, Hamilton is an elite speedster who is going to run almost every chance he can get. Those aforementioned attempts came in 19 times he had reached base coming into the game; for those of you keeping score at home, that’s better than a 50% chance that he’s going to run.
Friday’s game was no exception, as he swiped three bags against the Cubs. The first, following a leadoff single, came without a throw; he then took off for third on a wild pitch from Lester. Hamilton was at it again in the 3rd, singling to start the inning and then swiping both second and third since Joey Votto only likes to walk and can no longer be counted on to homer.
In both of his first two AB’s, Hamilton’s speed allowed him to get into position to score the Reds’ first runs. So with Cincy leading 3-2 in the 5th and Hamilton set to lead off yet another inning, Cubs fans were biting their nails to the quick in anticipation of yet another single-triple.
Ah, but luckily for everyone in blue Addison Russell can throw to first a hell of a lot better than Lester can. Russell has looked a bit overmatched at the plate thus far, collecting 10 strikeouts through his first 4 big league games, but that hasn’t hampered his defense.
It’s just a good thing for Russell that the golden sombrero was not yet weighing heavily on his head as he ranged right to track the sharp grounder Hamilton had ticketed for center. With a diving backhand stop and a quick recovery to fire the ball over to Anthony Rizzo, Russell just barely beat the slight speedster at first.
That’s what you call dWAR, right there (click here for full video). Russell’s play may well have saved a run or two, which more than made up for what he wasn’t able to do at the dish. No, the clutch offense tonight was provided by…Jonathan Herrera and David Ross, and Travis Wood? Wait, that’s not right. Yes, yes it is.
I suppose this means that my “Cubs are finding ways to win” narrative lives to be abused another day, so that’s good. What’s also good is that we get to focus on Lester throwing 104 pitches and striking out 10 Reds hitters. Sure, it would have been nice to see him go deeper, but it’s better that worries about his throw-over yips won’t rule the conversation.
The Cubs bullpen held strong once Lester left too, so that’s another sigh of relief from Cubdom. Russell and Jorge Soler are still missing too many pitches, though Soler’s zone is about the size of a Smart car, so that’s to be expected. Russell is adjusting, so I’m not worried about him too much…yet.
But as we saw tonight, there’s no questioning the kid’s glove and he can still contribute to the club even if his bat isn’t necessarily telling a very good story at this point. In the end, all that matters is the 7-3 final, which is something I think we can all smile about. Right, Kris?