After blowing a four-run lead in the top of the ninth, it was understandable if some fans asked themselves, “These are the new Cubs?”
The bullpen debacle in Saturday’s game against the visiting San Diego Padres was all too reminiscent of Cubs teams past.
But that wasn’t the end of things. No, the Cubs recovered and got a walk-off single from Starlin Castro in the bottom of the 11th to send them to win No. 6 on the season, a 7-6, extra-inning victory at Wrigley Field.
It’s the kind of win that might just end up defining the “new Cubs.”
“It’s really good. That’s one of the games that makes us feel better,” Castro said after his heroics. “Last year or the year before, we’d lose a lot of games like that. We played a lot of extra-inning games, and we’d lose them. We continued to fight nine innings. If we play more than nine, we keep fighting. We’re going to try to win the game.”
All Castro needed to do was find the outfield grass, as the bases were full of Cubs with just one out and the Padres infield playing in. Anthony Rizzo walked with one out, and Kris Bryant followed by hustling out an infield single. David Ross walked on four pitches ahead of Castro’s game-winner off Padres closer Craig Kimbrel. Game over.
It’s not the first time these Cubs have won in dramatic fashion, either.
There was Dexter Fowler’s eighth-inning go-ahead homer in Colorado. There was Jorge Soler’s game-tying homer in the eighth inning to open this homestead against the Reds, a game later won on Arismendy Alcantara’s walk-off single in the 10th.
Winning games late. It might just be a trend in the making for the Cubs.
“(It’s good for the) confidence level,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “When you do that a few times, everybody feels comfortable that you’re going to come back and win the ballgame. Never panic, that’s what a winning team does. You’ve got to create that momentum, and you’ve got to believe that it can happen. When it happens a few times, you know it can happen. It’s not going to happen all the time, obviously, but you can believe that it can happen any time. And that’s what we’re doing right now. We know we can come back, we know we can win the game. You just never give up, and we battle all the way.”
Of course, the game wouldn’t have even needed rescuing from Castro if not for the bullpen’s ninth-inning blunder. San Diego opened the ninth with four straight hits off relievers Phil Coke and Hector Rondon, two of those scoring runs. An RBI groundout made it a one-run game, and with the Padres down to their last strike, pinch hitter Yangervis Solarte pushed a hit into right field to tie the game at 6.
It was the second straight day of trouble for a bullpen that’s been very reliable early on. Brian Schlitter gave up a game-winning three-run homer to Wil Myers in Friday’s game.
But the Cubs didn’t wither after that devastating blow. Credit the new manager for keeping the Cubs alive.
“I normally just keep going up and down the dugout, just yelling crazy stuff. I’m just that guy,” Maddon said. “I used to play quarterback, and I was a catcher. And I’ve been around some really insane coaches. The biggest thing you’ve got to get across at that point is: ‘It’s over with, we got out of it, now let’s move forward and let’s win this thing.’ And that can be an even bigger morale booster. And we did it.”
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Maddon likes this late-game trend, too, realizing the benefits it can have down the line.
“Whenever you win late and then you know you can win late, that matters a lot. When teams don’t quit, when they play nine innings hard every night, that matters,” he said. “We played nine innings hard yesterday, we almost had a chance to get something done late again. We got something done late in Colorado. We’ve gotten something done late often to this point. That to me is very pertinent in regards to us having a successful season, and to establish it early is very good.”
Before the nightmare ninth, the Cubs had put together eight pretty great innings of baseball. After starter Kyle Hendricks yielded a two-run homer in the first, he set down 17 of the last 18 hitters he faced over six innings of work. That allowed a Cubs comeback. Bryant bounced back from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut with a 2-for-3, three-walk day, including his first major league hit: a broken-bat bloop single to center that tied the game at 2 in the fifth. Montero blasted a pair of homers, one to put the Cubs ahead in the sixth and another to grow that lead to four in the seventh.
But the biggest play, at the end of the day, was Castro’s single, the one that delivered a victory and exemplified what kind of team this could be this season.
“It’s really good, it’s really good. We tried to win that game. We tried to make it a 1-1 series, and we can win tomorrow and we can win the series,” Castro said. “They tied the game in the ninth, but we keep fighting to try to get it. And in the end, we did.”