Cubs Jump the Shark, Happy Day Ensues
I’m not sure which lasted longer, the seven seasons of Happy Days that followed Fonzie’s epic stunt or the first inning of Jeff Samardzija’s return to Wrigley with the Giants. After his current team had spotted him two runs in the top of the 1st inning, Shark gave the lead right back to his old one as he required 47 pitches to retire nine Cubs batters.
More than a quarter of that tally came against leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, who coaxed a 13-pitch walk that included eight fouls. With Kris Bryant batting, a Shark splitter on 0-2 bit the dirt and skipped under Buster Posey’s (who’s beautifully spoonerized name is Bustey Poser) glove, allowing Fowler to advance into scoring position. Bryant fouled off a couple pitches before turning an inside fastball out to push a run across.
Anthony Rizzo then hit a grounder that forced Bryant out and Ben Zobrist singled to put men on first and second. The hot-hitting Jason Heyward came to the plate and flipped a single to left to plate the Cubs’ second run. At this point, Samardzija was already up to 32 pitches and the Giants had a man working in the pen as pitching coach Dave Righetti came out for a talk.
In a matchup I’ve been anticipating for just over two years, Addison Russell stepped into the box to provide further proof that the Cubs had indeed fleeced the A’s. And he promptly struck out. Newly reactivated Chris Coghlan then laced a double just under Brandon Belt’s glove and into right to score the third run of the inning. An intentional walk to David Ross and a strikeout of Mike Montgomery closed out the frame, and Samardzija swaggered off with a thumbs-up and an “Ayyyy!”
Okay, not really. But you can imagine what it’d be like if he had.[beautifulquote align=”right”]The former All-American WR from ND was lifted after only 4 innings and 87 pitches.[/beautifulquote]
My incredibly clever headline almost had to be tweaked when the Giants tied the game in the 2nd on a Punter Hence bomb to left and reclaimed the lead in the 3rd as Samardzija settled in. The elevated pitch count quickly got the better of the man who can’t go a day without being referred to as the “former All-American wide receiver for Notre Dame,” and he was lifted after only 4 innings and 87 pitches. Josh Osich and George Kontos held the Cubs down for an inning apiece in Shark’s stead.
On the bump for the Cubs was Mike Montgomery, who sort of limped through another spot start as part of a six-man rotation. It was far from an abject disaster, but the lefty compiled a game score of only 35 (Samardzija’s was 42) over 4 innings of 3-hit, 4-run ball. A trio of walks didn’t help and Montgomery’s stuff just doesn’t look as sharp in general when he’s starting rather than coming out of the pen. This has been the case over the course of his brief career, though, so it’s not at all unexpected.
Let’s go ahead and make this clear right now: the Cubs weren’t actively trying to win Thursday’s game. They weren’t rolling over and giving it away, mind you, just that Joe Maddon wasn’t exactly pulling out all the stops. Montgomery was the starter, rookie Rob Zastryzny (and what’s the deal with the fascination over his name?) was next in line, followed by fresh-off-the DL Joe Smith. And to top things off, Carl Edwards Jr was getting a chance to close for the first time.
It was truly a case of punting just to play the field position game. Yet, the unheralded trio of relievers — okay, maybe Edwards has gotten a decent share of heralding — pitched 5 perfect innings to hold the Giants in check after the starter’s departure. Rob Z continued a rather dominant run by going two innings with a strikeout, and Smith’s bruised ego and strained ERA appeared to be fully healed as he funked up San Fran’s lineup to the tune of 3 K’s over two innings.
Edwards needed only 13 pitches (10 strkes) to close things down in the 9th for his first career save, channeling his adrenaline into a handful of 97 mph fastballs and keeping the jitters down until his postgame interview. But wait, you can’t get a save unless your team has the lead. And when we last left our daring heroes, they were still dog paddling in shark-infested waters.
After stifling the Cubs for 5 innings, the Giants looked to righty reliever Hunter Strickland — how many teams have two guys named Hunter, by the way? — to keep the lead. He immediately allowed a single to Fowler and walked Bryant before being lifted for southpaw Will Smith, who got jiggy with Rizzo and induced an ugly swinging strikeout. Rizzo has had a few bad swings lately and hasn’t hit lefties nearly as well this year (.253 vs. .309 against RHP), but those are small gripes. Better to get it out now and be on point in October.
Fowler stole third during Zobrist’s at-bat, which eventually turned into a bases-loading walk. Heyward nearly had a three-run double to right, but his broken-bat bloop sailed wide of the line and he ended up popping out harmlessly to second. As he’s wont to do, Tony La Russa made yet another pitching change to bring in a righty to face Addison Russ..what’s that? Oh, that’s Bruce Bochy? Yeah, I guess the head’s a dead giveaway, just kept thinking of TLR with all those relievers.[beautifulquote align=”right”]Russell stuck the clutch like Starsky and Hutch and deposited a two-run single to left.[/beautifulquote]
Anywho, Cody Gearrin took the mound to face Russell, who stuck the clutch like Starsky and Hutch and deposited a two-run single to left. I know runs batted in are a function of circumstance, but you can’t convince me that having 88 of them isn’t a sign that a guy is pretty flippin’ good. Russell leads all NL shortstops with 88 RBI and leads all MLB shortstops in defensive runs saved. Wait, so he’s better than anyone at stopping the other team from scoring and better than almost everyone at driving runs in? Huh.
No other NL Central teams were active Thursday, though it’s all academic at this point. The Giants, who began the second half with baseball’s best record, are now clinging to a 1.5-game Wild Card lead and have looked downright bad over the last few weeks. As good as the Cubs are, it doesn’t say much for San Francisco that they couldn’t put up a W against the JV staff. Who knows, maybe they’ve got a run left in them yet.
Regardless, the Cubs continue to keep their foot on the gas even though their magic number is no longer legal to drive. It’s gonna be a good September.