Cubs

David Ross, Javier Baez the latest stars of Cubs’ show

David Ross, Javier Baez the latest stars of Cubs’ show

David Ross took a cutter right down the middle to begin his final at-bat of the night, and he didn’t care. 

The 39-year-old catcher, whose sixth inning home run was the difference in the Cubs’ 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates Saturday night at Wrigley Field, was soaking in the moment of a raucous crowd of 41,424 cheering for him and singing “Forever Young,” his at-bat song.

“I took the first pitch because I wasn’t concentrating,” Ross said. “I was in the crowd. When you get that feeling in this game, you have to take it in.”

The party continued on Clark and Addison thanks to a combination of simple and spectacular plays from Ross and third baseman Javier Baez, who made a highlight-reel defensive play and even more impressive slide into second base to help push the Cubs to their seventh win in eight games against the Pirates in 2016. 

The Cubs fell behind 3-1 after three and a half innings, with Jon Lester giving up a leadoff home run to Jordy Mercer in the first inning and hitting the Pirates shortstop with the bases loaded in the fourth (Andrew McCutchen’s third inning RBI single brought home the Pirate’s third run). Lester, who hadn’t allowed more than two runs in a start since May 21, only lasted six innings, allowing those three runs on seven hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. 

Baez sparked the comeback, though, with a mesmerizing slide to avoid a tag at second base after it appeared Pirates left-hander Jonathon Niese had him picked off. After a review, Baez was ruled safe on a play that’ll probably get played over and over again in 2016 season highlight montages. 

“If the ball beats me, I’m not going to give up and just let him tag me,” Baez said. 

“I don’t understand it, because mine would be a belly roll, probably,” the self-deprecating Ross said. “If I tried to do that, something would dislocate. So I have no idea.”

Baez followed that slide by stealing third base, and then came home to score on Ross’ successful safety squeeze. 

“You cannot waste Javy’s trip around the bases right there,” Maddon said of his thinking to call for the bunt. “… Seriously, that’s a great trip around the bases.”

Baez made a spectacular play on a sharp ball off the bat of Sean Rodriguez to begin the sixth, firing a strong throw from his knees to retire the Pirates right fielder. He made a few other difficult plays charging in at third base, too, that were significant in a one-run ballgame. 

“Javy amazes me every time he plays, whether it’s left field, third, second, short, wherever he is on the diamond he seems to always impact the game,” Lester said.

Added Ross: “He’s such a great athlete and maybe one of the best defensive players I’ve ever played with.”

Kris Bryant’s mammoth 448-foot home run in the fifth inning was the equalizer, which set up Ross’ go-ahead blast off Niese in the sixth. Ross, who will retire after the season, is hitting a healthy .245/.351/.447 with five home runs this season. 

“That was a big momentum change,” Lester said of Ross’ homer. “Little bit of a grinder tonight. That was big for him personally and picking me up, that’s huge.” 

Baez was nine years old when Ross made his major league debut in 2002. While both are on the more extreme ends of the age spectrum, their key involvement in Saturday’s win can be viewed as a microcosm for the success this team has had this year. 

It’s been a combination of youngsters and veterans that’s worked so well to create significant distance — 11 1/2 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and 14 ahead of the Pirates through 66 games — between the Cubs and the rest of the division. 

“I don’t think the guys are really concerned about that,” Lester said. “We’re just trying to worry about us and who we’re playing either tonight or tomorrow. I think that’s what makes us really good is we live in the moment.”

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

This past weekend Ian Happ rocked Cincinnati harder than anyone since Dr. Johnny Fever, and the White Sox from last Sunday to yesterday posted a winning 4-3 record.

It’s Monday, so let’s examine the box scores from the previous seven days for another edition of Who Knew?

Leading off

Tim Anderson started this season 5-for-5 in plate appearances leading off games: double, single, single, home run, single.

He finally made a leadoff out on Sunday.

Déjà Vu

On Monday, Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff home run off José Quintana for the second time this season. 

It was rare enough that a batter had multiple leadoff home runs against the Cubs in the same season. The last batter to do that was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in 2006 (one each off Greg Maddux and then-starter Carlos Marmol).

But multiple leadoff home runs against the same Cubs PITCHER in the same season? Quite rare. At first, I believed it to be the first such occurrence since at least the 1880’s, but there was one other time since that I initially missed.

Prior to Ozzie Albies (off Quintana), the last batter with multiple leadoff home runs against a single Cubs pitcher in a season was Heinie Sand of the Phillies, who led off two games in 1924 with home runs off Cubs right-hander Vic Keen.

Before Sand, you DO have to go back to the 1880s. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing hit two leadoff home runs off Fred Goldsmith (who claimed to have invented the curveball, but likely did not) in 1883.  It may have happened in 1884, but there are some missing details in the home run database and I can’t be certain. But it’s rare!

Saves without Strikeouts

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has 10 saves this season. In half of them (including his latest save Tuesday), he did not record a strikeout.

Only Wade Davis, who closed out games for the Cubs last season, has more strikeout-less saves in 2018 (no punchouts in seven of his 16 saves). Davis, for the record, saved 32 games for the Cubs last season, but in only nine of those 32 did he not strike anyone out.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Edwin Díaz of the Mariners has 15 saves this season and has at least one strikeout in all 15.

National Treasure

Leury García took Jameson Taillon deep Wednesday in Pittsburgh, giving him 13 career home runs, all in a White Sox uniform.

The thing is, seven of those 13 home runs have been against National League teams!  Check out his career splits with the Sox:

Versus NL 26 games .325/.373/.636 7 home runs
Versus AL 225 games .227/.267/.306 6 home runs

Uncanny!

Hit Bonanza

The Cubs started Friday’s game in Cincinnati like this:

Zobrist single, Bryant double, Rizzo single, Contreras single, Russell single.

It was the first time the Cubs started a game with five straight hits since Sept. 8, 2009 when they had EIGHT straight hits to start a game. They started that game as follows:

Ryan Theriot single, Milton Bradley single, Derrek Lee single, Aramis Ramírez single, Jeff Baker single, Geovany Soto double, Kosuke Fukudome double, Bobby Scales single. A Ryan Dempster sacrifice bunt snapped the streak, giving up an out in the first inning with a 6-0 lead.

Palka Dots

Sox slugger Daniel Palka has made an impact so far in the Majors. Half of his 16 hits have been of the extra-base variety.

In only 18 career games, Palka already has multiple doubles (three), triples (two) and home runs (three). Through 18 career games, Frank Thomas could check off two of those three boxes, although maybe not the two that you think.

The Big Hurt had six doubles and THREE TRIPLES in his initial dozen-and-a-half career games, but no home runs! The last White Sox player who had at least two of each type of extra-base hit through his first 18 career Major League contests?

Go back to Greg Walker, who collected two doubles, two triples and three home runs in an 11-game taste of the Majors in 1982 and his first seven games of 1983.

Ace of On-Base

Ian Happ returned to his old stomping grounds (kind of… he attended the University of Cincinnati) over the weekend and had quite a four-game series:

Friday 1 hit 3 walks
Saturday (Game 1) 3 hits 1 walk
Saturday (Game 2) 1 hit 2 walks
Sunday 0 hits 3 walks

Now granted, there aren’t as many four-game series as there used to be, but Happ was the first Cub to reach base at least three times in each game of a four-game series since Mark Grace during a four-game set versus Mets at Wrigley Field Aug. 9-12, 1991.Five hits and nine walks; Happ reached base at least three times in all four games!

Happ’s season slashline was boosted from .233/.301/.417 to .254/.361/.509 in those four games alone. His nine walks (five intentional, four unintentional) in the series is better than Javier Báez (six walks: four intentional, two unintentional) has for the entire season.

Happ on Friday became the first Cub to be walked three times intentionally in a game since Andre Dawson (FIVE times) on May 22, 1990. Back then, it actually required pitches to intentionally walk a batter.

Happ was also the first Cub to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Chris Coghlan July 8, 2014 – also at Cincinnati. But Happ was able to do something Coghlan didn’t: in both games, Happ hit the lone Cubs home run! That’s something no Cub had done since Alfonso Soriano hit the lone Cubs' home run in each game of a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2007.

Extra Extra!

José Abreu continues to produce. He doubled and homered Saturday night, making him the 23rd player in White Sox history to reach 300 career extra-base hits. He reached 300 extra-base hits in only 655 career Major League games, a number surpassed in White Sox history only by Frank Thomas (626). 

It was also Abreu’s 222nd career multi-hit game in a White Sox uniform, matching our “Beltin’” Bill Melton.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.