Joe Maddon decided to focus on all the positive things the Cubs did on a chilly Wednesday night against the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. But for his team, those good moments were negated when Jhonny Peralta launched Pedro Strop's 1-2 fastball into the left field basket for a go-ahead home run with two outs in the top of the ninth.
Peralta’s blast dealt the Cubs a 6-5 loss at Wrigley Field, leaving Maddon’s side feeling empty despite earning a series split with their Missouri-based rival.
The Cubs battled back from an early 4-0 deficit headlined by starter Jason Hammel leaving the game after one inning due to a tight left hamstring. But Miguel Montero’s go-ahead three-run double in the bottom of the sixth off Cardinals All-Star Michael Wacha sent a Wrigley Field crowd of 37,993 into a frenzy that felt like a playoff game, and Travis Wood threw three no-hit innings in relief when the Cubs needed it most.
While Maddon said he was “really pleased with the way we played tonight,” Strop wasn’t interested in looking at the positive side of things.
“We had it, and we just lost it,” Strop said. “Two outs in the ninth inning with two strikes, I mean, it doesn’t seem like, 'Oh, we’re splitting.' We should’ve got that one.”
Montero, who played on two playoff teams during his nine-year tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks, agreed.
“At the end of the night, it’s a loss,” Montero said. “A loss is a loss. Not really happy about it.”
The Cubs seemed to be poised to nail down a statement win against a team that swept them in St. Louis to close out June. All they needed was one more strike.
Strop easily retired the first two batters he faced in the top of the ninth, getting Peter Bourjos to pop out and Tommy Pham to strike out swinging. He then issued a four-pitch walk to Matt Carpenter — who went 0-for-4 Wednesday and has eight hits in his last 57 at-bats — which Maddon found more inexcusable than the pitch on which Peralta took Strop deep.
Strop threw three sliders to go ahead of Peralta 1-2 and tried to fire a fastball up and out of the strike zone to set up another slider on 2-2. Instead, he missed over the plate, and Peralta lined it through the mist and just over the left field ivy for the go-ahead blow.
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“It is tough, especially that’s the team ahead in our division,” Strop said. “We’re trying to beat those guys and catch up in the season. Of course it’s a tough one to swallow, ninth inning, two outs and two strikes. I mean, it’s really tough. That’s one of the times that you gotta believe baseball is tough. It’s not as easy at it looks on TV.”
Maddon, though, was persistent in his positivity during his postgame press conference.
“Regardless of all that, I’m really pleased with the way we played tonight,” Maddon said. “I thought it was an outstanding night, what we did coming back like we did, your starter leaves the game in the second inning, attempt to piece the bullpen together to get to the end of the game which we did, and we were one pitch away from winning the game and of course we did not.
“I have nothing bad to say about our game tonight. We just had a tough break in the beginning with (Hammel), and then we made a pitch that their guy got to. Otherwise I’m really pleased with our group.”
But even if the Cubs did plenty right Wednesday night, they did enough wrong to lose to a team that’s the gold standard for franchise success not only in baseball, but in North American sports. If the Cubs want to make an impact if and when they reach the postseason, this is the kind of game they can’t afford to lose, no matter how well things went for the first 26 outs.
“Believe me, it's a tough one to swallow. These are the games that you gotta win,” Montero said, “especially when you got two outs, nobody on and then just all of a sudden two runs and you lose the game, that’s the game that you feel a sting.”