MILWAUKEE – At this time last year, the Cubs bumped Travis Wood out of their rotation, turning a one-time All-Star starter into a lefty reliever and creating what could have been an awkward situation. The Cubs also took away what Wood (nine career homers) probably loved most: Hitting.
But the Cubs became a playoff team last season with across-the-board contributions, racing out to the best start in baseball this year with a similar philosophy and a confidence that borders on arrogance.
The Cubs outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning at Miller Park, earning a 2-1 win and their 12th come-from-behind victory this year. It only took 13 innings and five hours against a sub-.500 team in what’s supposed to be a great stadium for offense.
But what a finish for Wood, inheriting two runners in the 12th inning and escaping a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Cubs manager Joe Maddon went with a five-infielder alignment as Wood induced a shallow flyball to center fielder Dexter Fowler and a pop-up to shortstop Addison Russell.
“When he came in the game, I said: ‘Understand one thing: If you get out of this, you get an at-bat,’” Maddon said. “That kind of jacked him up a bit. That’s just how he operates, man.”
After retiring Hernan Perez and Aaron Hill, Wood earned his at-bat by forcing another pop-out, this time from pinch-hitter Martin Maldonado. Wood then bailed out the offense again by drawing a five-pitch walk against Carlos Torres – Milwaukee’s sixth pitcher – with two outs and the bases loaded in the 13th inning.
“You’re always on your toes with Joe,” Wood said. “That way you never relax and you’re always in the ballgame.
“Nobody gave up and nobody gave in.”
“If you’re going to play that long, you might as well win,” said Kris Bryant, who used three different gloves while playing left field and covering at first and third base.
“(Wood’s) always said that he wants to hit a walk-off homer. I guess that was kind of close to it, especially to work an at-bat like that after sitting on the bench for that long. And just coming off an inning like that, you can’t say enough about it. He’s a fun one to watch and he’s a big part of the success of our team.”
After a guy named Chase Anderson no-hit the Cubs for seven innings and almost put together a one-hit complete-game shutout on Tuesday, Jimmy Nelson shut down a lineup that leads the National League in runs scored. Overall, the Cubs went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, leaving 14 on base and not exactly looking like an American League uber-team.
“Whenever you win a game like that on the road, that really says a lot about your group,” Maddon said. “We hit the ball well all night long. To say you hit the ball well in a 2-1 victory in 13 innings is kind of like ‘I’m an idiot.’ But I’m not.
“We had a hard time dismissing people tonight, but our at-bats were good, the swings are good, I thought everybody looked really good. Give them credit – their pitching and their defense.”
Wood increased the level of difficulty by giving up a leadoff double in the 13th inning, but Neil Ramirez and Clayton Richard (Maddon’s sixth and seventh relievers) combined to get the final two outs. The Cubs will need another strong performance from Jason Hammel (5-0, 1.77 ERA) on Thursday afternoon, to win this series and give the bullpen a break after Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Wood threw 91 pitches combined.
“Victory provides its own energy,” Maddon said. “A win like that jacks up the whole group. I wanted Davey (bench coach Dave Martinez) to walk around (and ask): ‘Who needs tomorrow off?’ Nah, everybody’s good now. There’s so much energy in victory it’s incredible.”