Better lucky than good? Cubs escape with wacky win over Pirates


Better lucky than good? Cubs escape with wacky win over Pirates

A win's a win, right?

Not sure that really applies to every victory, but the Cubs still escaped with their fifth straight win Friday, walking off for an 11-10 victory over the Pirates in 12 innings at Wrigley Field in a game that lasted five hours.

[MORE: Carrying three catchers comes in handy again for Cubs]

The Cubs mounted a rally in the bottom of the 12th when Starlin Castro walked with one out. Miguel Montero followed that with a single before Jorge Soler was intentionally walked. Matt Szczur popped a fly ball into right field, and Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco fell down, leading to a Cubs walk-off and another dance party in the clubhouse.

So...better lucky than good?

"We'll take it," Szczur said. "Anything we can get."

Szczur was faced with the exact same situation - bases loaded, one out - in the 10th inning and also hit a pop fly into right field, but Polanco stayed on his feet for that one, throwing a perfect strike to nab Castro at home by a wide margin.

Still, manager Joe Maddon, Castro and the Cubs maintained it was the right call to gamble and send Castro.

The Cubs jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fifth inning, but the Pirates plated four in the sixth. The Cubs came right back and scored one in the sixth and two in the seventh to make it a 10-5 ballgame.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

But the Pirates just wouldn't stop. They scored four more times in the eighth and then tied things up in the ninth off Cubs closer Hector Rondon with two outs.

"I could have lived without it," Maddon said. "We really should have put that away earlier. We played really well today. Don’t be deceived; we played really well today. We did not pitch well today, but we played a good game of baseball.

"I’m really happy with the way we played, whether it was the at-bats, the hitting, the defense, the baserunning, everything.

"It would really have been a sin not to have won that game, based on how well we played. And that’s my takeaway."

Kyle Hendricks was cruising along, having allowed just one run before a two-out, three-run double from Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli opened the floodgates. Hendricks was charged with five runs in 5.2 innings of work.

The Cubs bullpen had been looking much better lately, but they allowed five runs in 6.1 innings Friday, with two pitchers - Justin Grimm and Jason Motte - failing to record even one out in their appearances.

"I know the bullpen, we’ve had those moments already this year," Maddon said. "We have to get better. We just can’t maybe get better; we have to get better at that, because you’re not going to the dance without that functioning properly. That’s a fact.

"... The big thing about the bullpen is, when you bring a guy from the bullpen, that you know what to expect. We need to know what to expect."

[RELATED - Cubs feeling comfortable in one-run games]

The two teams combined to throw 496 pitches in the 12 innings, with 30 hits, 17 walks (three intentional), three hit batters, five homers and one wacky finish.

The Cubs' new "Bash Brothers" (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo) each hit a homer and combined to drive in six runs while reaching base six times. Soler drew four walks, Castro walked twice and singled twice and Szczur finished with two hits and three RBI.

The Cubs are now 11-6 in one-run contests. This is a game the Cubs would have lost the last few seasons, but this is a new team with a new vibe, still figuring out how to win.

They're going to need a few "lucky" wins if they're going to really make a run at the postseason.

"We could recap all the times we’ve had bad baseball luck this season also," Maddon said. "That was good baseball luck today. And we’ll take it."

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1


Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast