Weird baseball: Cubs fall to Yankees in 18, teams set MLB record for strikeouts

Weird baseball: Cubs fall to Yankees in 18, teams set MLB record for strikeouts

A frenetic rally against Aroldis Chapman, over 500 pitches, a major league record record 48 total strikeouts and six hours of play still conspired to end with the Cubs getting swept.

Starlin Castro’s go-ahead infield single in the top of the 18th inning sent the Cubs to a 5-4 defeat to the New York Yankees Sunday night into Monday morning in front of 40,584, most of whom had left the frigid late-night conditions of Wrigley Field by the end of the game. 

The Cubs were equal parts disappointed and delirious after losing this two-day marathon. The game didn’t just border on ridiculous; it was ridiculous, and that was the sense as the clubhouse TVs read, almost laughably, “Bus at 2:15” for the team’s ride to the airport for their overnight flight to Denver.

“We lost but you gotta try to have fun with it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

“… Games like this could definitely bring both sides together. I know they won, the Yankees, but both teams are I think going to be better off just coming together as a unit. And yeah, we came back, we battled back against one of the best closers in the game, we scratched through three runs off of him and made it interesting.”

It was a game that didn’t appear destined for anything special for most of the evening, as the Cubs had just a four percent chance of winning (according to FanGraphs’ win expectancy) when Chapman took the mound with a 4-1 lead in the ninth. 

The Cubs’ rally started with Russell drawing a leadoff walk and Jon Jay flipping a single into center. After Willson Contreras struck out, Albert Almora Jr.’s RBI single in the ninth inning off brought Baez to the plate as the winning run. Baez worked a solid at-bat against Chapman and lined a two-strike single to left to score Jay and bring the Cubs within one, and later took second to get in scoring position as the winning run.

After Kyle Schwarber struck out, Bryant was intentionally walked after Chapman fell behind the Cubs’ third baseman 3-1. That brought up Rizzo, who feebly struck out as the tying run in the eighth inning against right-hander Dellin Betances and had two hits in his last 31 at-bats. 

But Chapman drilled Rizzo with a 98.9 mile per hour fastball on the first pitch of the at-bat, bringing the tying run to the plate. That gaffe knocked Chapman out of the game, and right-hander Tyler Clippard retired Ben Zobrist to keep the score knotted at four. 

“To come back and get it tied against Aroldis, bully for us,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Those were some really good at-bats right there. And then of course, culminating in a hit by pitch. That’s not easy to do to get three runs against that fellow in these circumstances.” 

From there, the game devolved into mostly strikeouts and popouts. The first 10 batters of extra innings all struck out, and a total of 25 batters whiffed or were called out on strikes from innings 10-18. Cubs players popped out five times, too. 

“I know they’re good, their pitchers are, but we have to do better than that,” Maddon said. “We have to make adjustments. We were not making adjustments. You’ve seen it before happen to us tonight, you’ve seen other major league games get into extra innings like that, guys have a tendency to try to do too much, and then you start not getting your hits and everybody’s trying to end the game with a home run. We just gotta try to piece it together.”

The Cubs had a chance to end things in the 12th, with Rizzo leading that frame off with a double. He advanced to third on Miguel Montero’s deep flyout to left, but former Cubs right-hander Adam Warren struck out Russell and got Contreras to ground out to first to end the inning. 

The Yankees finally pulled ahead in the 18th when Aaron Hicks bunted and advanced to second on Contreras’ throwing error. Ronald Torreyes then bunted Hicks to third, and the speedy outfielder scored when a drawn-in Russell couldn’t hurry a throw home on Starlin Castro’s sharp ground ball. Pedro Strop took the loss.

Baez grounded out, Schwarber struck out and after Bryant walked, Rizzo was intentionally walked to bring pinch hitter Kyle Hendricks to the plate. Hendricks, the third Cubs pitcher to pinch hit (along with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey), struck out to end the game. 

The previous high for combined strikeouts at Wrigley Field was set on May 31, 2003, when the Cubs and Houston Astros combined for 37 strikeouts. The major league record was 43 strikeouts between two teams, which was set in a 20-inning California Angels-Oakland A’s game in 1971. 

“A crazy game,” Maddon said. “It would’ve been nice to have won it.”

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.


2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.