If the Cubs are going to get late-inning rallies started by relief pitchers and walk-off homers to cap five-hour, extra-inning marathons, well maybe they really won’t ever lose again.
In a season full of unlikely heroes, Trevor Cahill and Javier Baez turned in two of the game’s biggest swings Sunday, helping lead the Cubs to a 4-3 win in 13 innings over the visiting Washington Nationals that completed a four-game sweep, stretched the team’s winning streak to seven and went down as victory No. 24 just 30 games into this season with World Series expectations.
“Our guys are in that game to the last drop. Long game like that, they’ve been playing well, you could just mail it in. But our guys are into that game till the very last drop,” manager Joe Maddon said. “To the last moment, everybody was there to win that game, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Cahill came in to relieve Jake Arrieta after the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner needed 100 pitches to make it through just five innings. And while his relief work was critical — the first of four bullpen pitchers that strung together eight scoreless frames — it was his seventh-inning at-bat that loomed largest.
With the Cubs trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Maddon opted to let Cahill hit rather than use his last remaining bench player. In a move that seemed doomed to fail, Cahill smashed an infield single off Oliver Perez because with this Cubs team, of course he did.
Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch, and Jason Heyward — mired in a lengthy slump — laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over ahead of Kris Bryant’s base hit to center field that tied the score at 3.
“When I got to third and (third-base coach Gary Jones) was telling me all the stuff like ‘freeze on a liner, ‘if it’s hit to this guy, go ahead’ and all this other stuff, I was confused. I was like, ‘Just don’t get thrown out at third,’” Cahill said. “(Bryant) had a good base hit — and I froze, I think — and I scored and Fowler scored. It tied the game up, and I think it shifted the momentum a little bit.”
The score stayed there for some time, though, and while Heyward nearly ended the game when he was thrown out at home plate in the 11th, it was Baez who delivered the game-winning hit, a solo home run he smashed into the left-field bleachers to put an end to a Mother’s Day marathon.
“I was trying to get on base and get a good pitch to hit,” Baez said. “That guy throws hard. After the second strike, I sat on the slider because they’ve been throwing it to me this series a lot. And I was just looking for that pitch.”
It seems nothing can stop this Cubs team now, and the biggest key to that is the contributions coming from each and every player on the roster.
That sentiment is becoming a daily talking point with guys like Tommy La Stella and Ryan Kalish and David Ross continuing to make big plays with their bats and with their gloves. Sunday, it was Cahill.
In the end, it might be the Rizzos and Bryants and Arrietas who win the awards and produce the most over a 162-game season. But the contributions from all over are the reason the Cubs are off to an out-of-this-world start.
“The whole group is complementing one another,” Maddon said. “Nobody’s worried about credit and all that other crazy stuff. We’re just worried about winning, and that’s why we’re playing so well.”
There’s no end to how impressive this Cubs team has been through its first 30 games of the campaign. But perhaps the largest statement the team has made yet came this week, with a perfect 7-0 showing against playoff-caliber opponents from Pittsburgh and Washington. After an April schedule loaded with weaker competition, these back-to-back potential playoff previews were dominated by the Cubs.
It’s only May, but it’d be hard to find a team right now looking any better for October.
“Give our guys all the credit in the world, they just come ready to play,” Maddon said. “I know that sounds way too simplistic, but they do. They’re ready to play, they complement each other so well. You have to pitch well to be able to pull something like that off against such good competition, and we have. The hitting’s been there, clutch hitting, defense.
“Just a good week of baseball.”