Kris Bryant has only been here for two months, but he’s already noticed how much Chicago likes its hockey team.
Hours before Bryant scored the game-winning run in the Cubs’ 4-3 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, he and his teammates got a first-hand look at how popular the Blackhawks are in the city — and, if this World Series-starved franchise is allowed to thing big, just how much buzz there could be around the Cubs if they make a playoff run this year.
During a rain delay that lasted 2:48, Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Lightning played on the newly-installed Wrigley Field video boards — except, ironically, when a message had to be shown urging fans to seek shelter due to lightning in the area.
The crowd of 40,693 roared when a replay of Patrick Sharp’s goal played on the left field video board and the Blackhawks’ goal horn and Chelsea Dagger blared over the Wrigley Field loudspeakers. Chants of “Let’s go Hawks” broke out after Antoine Vermette scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal. What was left of the crowd when the Blackhawks game ended erupted in cheers to celebrate the team being one win away from their third Stanley Cup since 2010.
“It’s kinda cool, you got a baseball game and a hockey game in one. You don’t get that too often,” Bryant said. “But yeah, the Chicago fans are the best in baseball, the best in sports, I think. It’s pretty cool to see that first-hand.
“… I hope that they’d be doing that for us, too, and I know they would. We can’t look really too far ahead right now.”
In beating Cincinnati on Saturday, manager Joe Maddon observed the kind of victory he feels could be characteristic of a team playing into October as soon as this fall.
Starlin Castro’s walk-off single came nearly five and a half hours after first pitch thanks to that lengthy rain delay that stopped the game after five innings. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks only allowed a solo home run to Joey Votto and struck out seven while needing just 57 pitches to roll through his five innings of work.
The Cubs took a 3-1 lead into the delay on Miguel Montero’s two-run blast and some smart baserunning from Bryant, who hustled in from third on Castro’s grounder to shortstop Eugenio Suarez — who was playing back but still threw home — and was ruled safe after a lengthy review. But that lead quickly evaporated after the rain stopped, as James Russell served up an equalizing two-run home run to Suarez in the sixth.
Addison Russell led of the bottom of the eighth with a double, though, and with the top of the Cubs’ order up it looked like a perfect chance to end the late-night stalemate. But Dexter Fowler whiffed on a bunt attempt and Russell stumbled trying to get back to second on catcher Tucker Barnhart’s throw, falling victim to a 2-6 pickoff.
Fowler promptly doubled and advanced to third when second baseman Kristopher Negron could only keep Chris Coghlan’s smash in the hole in the infield. That set up Anthony Rizzo for an opportunity to break out of his mini-slump, but the first baseman bounced into a double play to end the frame.
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Cincinnati put the go-ahead run on third with two out in the ninth, though Jason Motte was able to pitch over it to set up Castro’s heroics.
Bryant led off the ninth with a hustle double to left, and after Montero was plunked, Castro lined a Tony Cingrani fastball into center for the walk-off hit.
Maddon said, despite the lengthy delay and some mishaps after it, he never saw the fight go out of his team. The dramatic victory proved his point, and the guy who managed the Tampa Bay Rays to the playoffs four times feels he saw the right kind of attitude from his team Saturday night.
It's the same kind of attitude that could lead to massive celebrations for a Cubs win at an October Blackhawks game someday.
“We had double, double, single and don’t score (in the eighth). That’s hard to do, actually,” Maddon smiled. “Frustrating to a certain extent, very gratifying on a bigger scale because of the way we did it and what it means and how our guys should feel about it. That’s what I want to really highly emphasize, is that’s what gets you to play in October, to win a game like that.”