Cubs

Jorge Soler's perfect throw home saves day for Cubs

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Jorge Soler's perfect throw home saves day for Cubs

Miguel Montero caught a quick glimpse as Tony Cruz chugged toward home plate and suspected the Cubs had a shot to make a play. From their vantage points, Dexter Fowler and Trevor Cahill were far more confident about Jorge Soler’s chances.

Meanwhile, Clayton Richard missed most of it from the bullpen.

But what occurred in a 57-second span in the sixth inning on Tuesday night and again several minutes later wildly altered the Cubs’ fortunes. 

Soler first saved the day when he squashed a game-tying St. Louis Cardinals rally with an outfield assist and Anthony Rizzo capitalized on the momentum swing with a solo homer three batters later. The Cubs rode the two plays and a Kyle Schwarber homer to a 6-4 victory in Game 4 to complete an upset of the Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. The victory advanced the Cubs to the NL Championship Series, which begins Saturday in either Los Angeles or New York.

“I saw (Cruz) was still out there, so I’m like ‘All right, let me go back and see if I can make this play,’” Montero said. “But it was actually a good throw. Probably didn’t have too much on it. But it was a good throw.

“We killed the rally right there and Rizzo was able to hit another homer so it was huge.”

[MORE: Jake Arrieta on Cubs: ‘Nobody wants to play us right now’]

The Cardinals’ sixth-inning recovery against Cahill had the ability to dash the Cubs’ postseason hopes in an instant. While there wasn’t a critical error to extend it like in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS or the seventh inning of Game 5 in 1984, St. Louis was on the verge of a comeback that could have sunk the Cubs. Instead of completing the upset in four games, the Cubs could have had to head back to St. Louis for a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday.

Down 4-2, Jason Heyward led off the sixth with a single against Travis Wood. Jhonny Peralta then greeted Cahill with another single to silence the sellout crowd of 42,411. 

Cahill responded with strikeouts of Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong to bring the crowd back to life. He also jumped ahead of Cruz— a late addition to the lineup after Yadier Molina was scratched because of a thumb injury — 1-2 in the count only for the backup catcher to cue a 95-mph sinker into right field for a two-out RBI single. Pinch-hitter Brandon Moss then looked as if he may bring the Wrigley crowd to its knees when he ripped a 0-1 changeup to right for a single. Not only did Peralta score the tying run, the slow-footed Cruz headed for home to try and put the Cardinals ahead. 

“I was like ‘Uh oh,’ ” Cahill said.

But as the play developed, Cahill realized the Cubs might be headed for the dugout as Soler quickly collected it on a hop. 

“Soler has a cannon,” Cahill said.

Without hesitation, Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo waved Cruz home, a call manager Mike Matheny agreed with.

“We needed to test the outfield,” Matheny said.

[RELATED: At Wrigley, Cubs become baseball's biggest party and best story]

Fowler wouldn’t have made the same choice as Soler has what Baseball America described as “an easy plus arm.” He figured Soler had a great shot to nab Cruz.

“With his arm, I don’t think you can go right there,” Fowler said. “But they had to make a choice.”

So did Montero. 

Catchers always have to evaluate whether or not there is a chance to make a play on a throw home or if they should run up to cut off the throw and avoid any chance of the ball skipping past.

Bench coach Dave Martinez said it was a no-brainer for Montero because of where Cruz was and because it was Soler. His voice hoarse from yelling and jersey soaked with champagne, Martinez said he had confidence in Soler because they work on similar plays on a daily basis.

“You pretty much know you’ve gotta let the ball go and we’ve gotta take a shot,” Martinez said. “I knew if (Soler) came up with it we’d have a good chance.

“It was a perfect throw.”

Once Montero peeked down the line, he decided to back up. Soler’s throw perfectly one-hopped and in one motion Montero caught it and tagged Cruz with plate ump Mark Carlson immediately calling Cruz out.

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The Cubs were optimistic they escaped a potential landmine but had to wait to see if Matheny would challenge the call. The momentary pause caused Richard, who stopped warming up to watch the throw, to rapidly start throwing again because left-hander Matt Carpenter stood in the on-deck circle.

“We didn’t know if it was going to get reviewed or not so I had to keep on throwing,” Richard said. “Unfortunately, I missed everything.”

Once the replay showed, Matheny knew he couldn’t win a replay challenge and backed down. The crowd roared to life and the Cubs headed off the field with Cahill both upset and relieved.

“(Soler) absolutely saved my ass,” Cahill said. “I was really upset I gave up the lead, they tied it up on me.”

Three batters later, Rizzo made it moot with a solo homer off Kevin Siegrist to put the Cubs ahead for good. While Montero called the play huge, he’s not sure the Cubs would have reached that point had it not been for the base runner. Moss’s single took a late, high hop on Soler, which slightly slowed down the right fielder’s momentum and affected the throw.

“Probably didn’t have too much on it,” Montero said. “But it was a good throw.

“Good thing it was Cruz running, another catcher. Catchers, we are really slow.”

'Cubs by the letter'

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USA TODAY

'Cubs by the letter'

Chris Kamka goes through his Cubs version of the alphabet in a poem inspired by Ogden Nash's "A Lineup for Yesterday" from 1949.

A: Arrieta

Respected and feared

He tossed two no-hitters

And grew a large beard

 

B is for Billy

A sweet-swingin' lefty

Was rather soft spoken

His hittin' was hefty

 

C is for Catcher

Mike Barrett’s right fist

Contreras, Girardi

And others I missed

 

D is for Dawson

His contract was blank

He won MVP

Then went to the bank

 

E is for Ernie

He bled Cubbie Blue

a beautiful day

So why not play two

 

F is for Fergie

He could do it all

Played hockey, played hoops

Pitched into the Hall

 

G was for Goat

But not anymore

That nonsense of "curses"

We choose to ignore

 

H is for Harry

His trademark black frames

He’d yell “Holy Cow”

And mispronounce names

 

I is for Ivy

Along Wrigley's Walls

Responsible for

Many vanishing balls

 

J is for Javy

He goes by El Mago

The flashiest glove

In all of Chicago

 

K is for Strikeout

And also for Kerry

His 20-K game

Was quite legendary

 

L is for Lester

He just needs one run

He'll make 30 starts

And then start Game 1

 

M is for Maddon

Had plenty of luck

Used hundreds of lineups

And tried not to suck

 

N is November

Of 2016

One hundred eight years

They wiped the slate clean

 

O is for Orie

And countless others

Who'd be superstars

If we had our druthers

 

P is for Pappas

Was one pitch away

The ump called ball four

Which ruined Milt's day

 

Q for Quintana

Colombian pride

Has hurled for both

The South and North side

 

R is for Ryno

Out at second base

He turned double plays

With Dunston & Grace

 

S is for Sammy

Into the abyss

Goes dozens of baseballs

Heart tap and a kiss

 

T is for Tony

You know who it is

Regarding first base

No one beats The Rizz

 

U for Uehara

With Cubs for one year

Not many to choose from

To fill the spot here

 

V is for Vegas

A wonderful place

Hometown of the player

Who covers third base

 

W for Wrigley

And Waveland too

Also the white flag

With a W in blue

 

X is for X

Roman Numeral Ten

Was worn by Ron Santo

Won’t be worn again

 

Y is for Yu

He had a tough year

In 2019

Yu'll be glad he's here

 

Z is for Zobrist

A solid teammate

You'll hear his wife sing

As he walks to the plate

 

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

It sure seems like we can pronounce the Cubs' courtship of Bryce Harper DOA. 

Though there was never much doubt left after manager Joe Maddon bluntly said it wasn't going to happen, news of the Cubs' disinterest in Harper continues to trickle in: 

Take every single tweet ever with a grain of salt -- because that's all any of them are worth -- but this seems mighty cut and dry. Granted, this is the same Jim Bowden that spent a not insignificant amount of time trying to convince White Sox fans that their team was the FRONTRUNNER for Bryce Harper, but Bowden is admittedly more well-connected than other baseball tweeters. 

Maybe it's just posturing, and if the reports of Manny Machado's $175 million contract are to be believed, it's almost definitely posturing. The more important thing to take away from this, however, is that Hot Stove season is insufferable and would everyone please just sign players so we don't have to Sherlock Homes 16 tweets a day.