CINCINNATI – The Cubs are a flawed but entertaining team, filled with so many good/bad/ugly moments that can make you go: Did you just see that? That identity is probably not going to change anytime soon.
No one could have predicted a guy called up Triple-A Iowa on the Fourth of July beating the Cincinnati Reds and their All-Star closer/flamethrower in the ninth inning.
But there was pinch-hitter Taylor Teagarden lining Aroldis Chapman’s 101 mph fastball back up the middle for the go-ahead, two-out RBI single. That became the exclamation point to a 6-5 Game 2 victory that salvaged a split from Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park.
“That is about as crazy as crazy gets,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward. “You talk about a moment that’s great for esprit de corps. That’s it. Almost everybody was involved in that win.
“You’re always looking for those seminal moments. You’re always looking for those moments that they’re going to apply to the video at the end of the season when everything turns out well. Pretty good night for that.”
The Cubs (51-43) now hold a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card, with the New York Mets now trailing them by 2.5 games, in a race that should go down to the wire.
Teagarden’s clutch hit came immediately after the Reds intentionally walked Jorge Soler (and moments after Dexter Fowler looked for the sign from coach Gary Jones and hesitated rounding third base, getting thrown out at home plate).
“I know he’s coming right after me in that situation,” said Teagarden, the third catcher on the depth chart. “He throws 100 miles an hour. I’m not looking for any kind of offspeed. I’m just looking for something to catch the plate. Hopefully, I can put the barrel on it.”
Maddon went right after the Reds (42-51) in the third inning, sensing an opportunity and the urgency of the situation, helping the Cubs claw back into the game.
In a season already filled with head-scratching decisions – and an epic 77-F-bomb blame-the-media rant – Reds manager Bryan Price elected to intentionally walk David Ross (.171 average) to load the bases and get to pitcher Dallas Beeler.
But Beeler is a spot starter from Iowa who burned through 48 pitches in two innings. And Maddon had his slumping All-Star slugger getting a physical/mental break on the bench and Thursday’s off-day to reset his bullpen. Maddon went for it and Kris Bryant delivered a hard-hit, game-tying, two-run single into left field.
“I had a batter to warm up,” said Bryant, whose average had dropped to .257 by this point. “It’s funny how it works out in that situation. You come through when you’re not even ready.”
Of course, the Cubs probably wouldn’t have been in that 5-0 hole if Starlin Castro had simply fielded a routine groundball in the second inning and turned the double play. Then again, the enigmatic shortstop came through with an RBI double during that rally.
And there’s no explanation for how the Cubs kept it a tie game in the eighth inning. With Hector Rondon in a jam, Maddon decided to intentionally walk former National League MVP Joey Votto to load the bases for Todd Frazier, this year’s Home Run Derby champ.
Frazier blasted a line drive that ricocheted off Rondon directly to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who threw home for the second out, like a crazy move in a video game.
“We play FIFA all the time in the clubhouse,” Rizzo said. “We’re teammates and I always tell him to pass and he never passes. So he finally passed the ball. It’s a good bounce for us. It’s a huge bounce for us.”
“Yeah, I did call (it),” Maddon joked. “What do you do there? I thought there was a better chance of getting the ball on the ground versus Frazier as opposed Votto, even though my numbers indicated differently.
“Listen, man, flip a coin sometimes. A lot of it’s based (on) the ‘Blink’ moment. It’s about your experience. I’ve been through those moments before, chose to do that and it worked.”
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But Malcolm Gladwell, Simon the Magician and the Geek Department haven’t been able to prevent the Cubs from playing up or down to their level of competition.
Now the Cubs get 10 straight games against last-place teams – the Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers – which takes them through the July 31 trade deadline and the first weekend of August.
“We know it’s a big stretch coming up,” Rizzo said. “We got to be prepared every day to bring it, no matter who we’re playing. We tend to come for the bigger games, but every game is big from here on out.”
“Be careful what you wish for with Schwarbs,” Maddon said. “If we just wear his butt out by the end of the season, that bat will go away, I promise you.
“Let him play at his own pace. We’re going to work with him in the outfield, absolutely. I have ideas (and) we’ll just see how it goes. For right now, everybody’s euphoric about the game last night. We all are. And it was wonderful. But he’s a young man (who’s) still learning his craft.
“That’s what’s going to benefit us in September/October – not wearing people out right now, mentally and physically.”
Schwarber doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but he wants to stay at catcher and knows he can always play the outfield.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Schwarber said. “I’m going to keep working my butt off to get better defensively, and keep getting better offensively, too. My goal is to stay up here, so whatever it takes, I’m going to try to do it.”