For the second time this season, Pedro Strop has added another chapter to the legend of El Mago.
And for at least the second documented time over the last few years, Strop also helped give Javy Baez the motivation needed to lift the Cubs to victory.
On an 0-2 pitch from Mets reliever Seth Lugo in the eighth inning, Baez smacked a 3-run homer into the right-field bleachers, notching the Cubs shortstop another curtain call and sending the 39,077 fans at Wrigley Field into euphoric bliss.
"That was big. He was so frustrated," said Strop, who picked up his 9th save in the 5-3 victory. "When I was walking to the 'pen, he was so frustrated after that first strikeout [against Jacob deGrom]. He was like, 'He's not throwing fastballs, just sliders!' I was like, 'Bro, it's good that you know that. So go up with another plan. Do your thing. You're gonna win this ballgame.'"
Baez's 100th career homer accomplished exactly that and in doing so, changed the entire tone and tenor of the first weekend of summer on Chicago's North Side.
There's no way the Cubs wanted to go into a four-game set with the contending Atlanta Braves after having just dropped three of four to a hapless Mets team that is melting down inside the clubhouse. It also would've been the Cubs' ninth loss in their 13 games, but Baez's clutch blast helped them salvage a series split and maintain sole possession of first place entering a new week of baseball.
"That's the last thing you want to do is lose another one," said Cole Hamels, who gave the Cubs 7 strong innings, but did not factor in the decision. "... That's the momentum we need to take forth, especially with the series that's coming up."
It also continued one of the strangest/coolest statistical oddities of the 2019 MLB season, given that it came on an 0-2 count.
Baez now has more homers after falling behind in the count 0-2 this year than NINE other MLB teams and nearly half of his homers (9 of 19) have come after getting into the extreme pitcher's count:
Home runs after falling behind 0-2 in the count this year:— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) June 23, 2019
9 Javy Baez
9 Red Sox
9 White Sox
What makes Baez so tough on 0-2 counts?
For starters, he's never afraid of striking out, possessing a fearless nature Joe Maddon and other Cubs players have admired for some time.
But Hamels also provided some great perspective on why Baez might be so good in a count when pitchers typically dominate:
"I think that's kinda the difficult part with him — sometimes it can always be 0-2 with him," Hamels said. "Even if you haven't thrown a pitch yet, you treat it like 0-2. If that's just the nature of what pitchers do to him — if it's considered almost always an 0-2 count — he's gonna get really good at it because that's just the way he survives and the way he lives and plays the game.
"With him though, being a teammate, you just know that he's never out of it. He's trying to hit a homer every at-bat, every pitch. That obviously can make a pitcher think a little bit longer and maybe try to be too perfect and therefore that's why they make mistakes."
The win puts a nice bow on what was otherwise a sloppy weekend for the Cubs, who often looked flat at the plate and made uncharacteristic mistakes on the basepaths and in the field.
Prior to that homer from Baez, the Cubs had only managed to push across 1 earned run in 13 innings against a Mets bullpen that entered the weekend with a 5.39 ERA and more blown saves than any other team in baseball.
It's the second time in just over a week where the Cubs managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but the last time (Anthony Rizzo's homer off Kenley Jansen last Saturday in L.A.) apparently wasn't enough to spark the team to get back to their winning ways.
Was this Baez blast enough to wake the team from their midseason slumber and be this year's seminal moment that we all look back on in September?
The Bulls and the Blackhawks made top 10 draft selections that they hope will have a long-term impact on their respective franchises. The Bulls nabbed speedy North Carolina guard Coby White with the 7th overall pick, while the Blackhawks got center Kirby Dach at No.3 overall in the NHL draft. The Cubs and White Sox both had intriguing weekends, while Sunday marked the 35th anniversary of one of the biggest moments in Cubs history.
Sunday marked the 35th anniversary of "The Sandberg Game". This is the game that many recognize as the moment Ryne Sandberg became a household name. The infamous June 23, 1984 game between the Cubs and the Cardinals took place on NBC’s “Game of the Week.” The game also played a huge part in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry becoming perhaps the best that the MLB has to offer.
The 2019 Cubs are waiting on closer Craig Kimbrel t reach game-ready status. In the meantime they have activated veteran Tony Barnette off of the Sunday 60-day injured list. Between their newfound six-man rotation and their now, crowded bullpen, the Cubs are hoping they possess enough depth to gain some ground in the race for the NL Central crown.
The Bulls, by all accounts, had a very successful 2019 NBA Draft night. They got their PG of the future in North Carolina guard Coby White and selected a rim-protecting big man in Arkans center Daniel Gafford with their second round selection. The Bulls front office is confident in White’s versatility paying off big time and he certainly will help Chicago get out in transition more often. White stole the show on draft night, having quite the candid reaction to finding out the North Carolina teammate Cam Johnson got selected by the Phoenix Suns at No. 11 overall.
The next step for Bulls fans will be seeing the Bulls draft picks (along with some undrafted free agents and fringe NBAers) play in NBA Summer League action. Bulls fans will be pleased to hear that the Bulls summer league schedule does have them facing off against 2019 No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson on July 8, 8:30 p.m
It’s been a whirlwind of a week for White Sox youngster Zack Collins. After getting a walk in his first taste of MLB action, Collins turned heads with a home run in the second game of his MLB career. Collins gave White Sox fans a preview of what to expect down the line. Collins is going to hit for power and hopefully draw his fair share of walks along the way. He certainly showed off that potential on Friday night.
The Blackhawks chose center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. The Blackhawks had many options at the No. 3 pick, but they went with Dach with the hope that the 6-foot-4, 197-lb center has the type of game that will shine through in high-pressure moments. It’s a good omen for the Blackhawks that the last time the draft was in Vancouver, they selected franchise center Jonathan Toews (back in 2006). Here’s to hoping that Dach can one day have the same type of impact as “The Captain”. But now all the attention has shifted to Sunday, when the negotiating window for NHL free agents opened up. And the Blackhawks are expected to be one of the more active teams throughout this process as they prepare for July 1.