In the third inning Saturday, Brewers pitcher Brent Suter slipped while starting his delivery and fell down on the mound.
He rolled, popped back up and quickly finished striking out Ian Happ.
That’s the kind of week it’s been for Happ and the Cubs, who for much of the week have looked more like the guys who had fallen down — and, more specifically, the guys who couldn’t get up.
That lasted until about two hours later. Against one of the most powerful closers in the game. After 17 consecutive innings without a run.
Whether the Cubs redefined their September during Saturday’s four-batter sequence against Josh Hader in the ninth inning, they turned the look of this team on its head in a matter of minutes by turning certain loss into the unlikeliest of victories — the big blow in a 4-2 win the three-run homer by lefty-hitting Jason Heyward against the lefty Hader.
“These types of things carry into other games,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Once you’ve done it, once you’ve come back, once you’ve faced one of the best in the game and beat him at the back end when things weren’t going good throughout the day, it mentally gives you a lot of momentum and positivity when things might be going bad.”
It’s hard to overstate the value of Saturday’s ninth-inning shocker for a team that has hung onto first place by virtue of its 13-3 start and misfortune of a two-week COVID-19 outbreak and shutdown experienced early by its biggest division rival.
“Those things are important, especially going forward,” Ross said. “If we want to continue on the championship path that we want to be on, those types of wins you log in your brain and remember those.”
With one out in the ninth and nobody on, the Cubs were on the verge of a third consecutive loss after getting a quality start from a rotation that has spent six weeks on shaky ground — after going 20-1 in games with a quality start before that.
For weeks they couldn’t pitch well enough to put together a streak, and with 13 games and an inning left in the season, they looked like their hitting was going to keep them from doing it — on the verge of falling to 13-18 since that big start.
“It’s always going to hit that point where the tide turns,” said heating starter Kyle Hendricks.
Maybe against somebody else. Certainly not trailing by two with one out in the ninth against Hader.
How dire the moment?
The Brewers were 17-0 when leading after eight innings this season before Saturday, almost entirely thanks to the guy who was pitching the ninth for them on this night.
How big the moment that followed?
Until pinch-hitter Anthony Rizzo followed Javy Báez’ one-out single with one of his own, and Heyward followed with the homer, left-handed hitters were 0-for-8 against Hader this season. Rizzo, by the way, in 2018 became the only lefty hitter to homer against Hader during the pitcher's first two seasons.
“This is a huge win,” said Heyward, who represented two of the lineup’s 16 strikeouts in a 1-0 walk-off loss the night before.
“Last night, Jonny Lester was looking like Jonny Lester. He had it in his eye. His stuff was sharp. And we weren’t able to come away with a win for him,” Heyward said. “Tonight, Hendricks went out there and pitched his ass off, and we were able to get some runs on the board.”
Against all odds.
Consider that Rizzo’s hit came on an 0-2 pitch, Heyward’s on a 1-2 pitch, and even light-hitting infielder Ildemar Vargas followed Heyward by lining a 3-2 pitch into the left-field seats.
Vargas has been a Cub for less than a week after having been designated for assignment by two different teams this year. That’s who.
If the Cubs wind up winning the National League Central, this one will be remembered, possibly even pivotal. Not only did it come on a night the Cardinals also won — which meant preserving their three-game lead over them and extending their lead to five over the Brewers while also keeping the Brewers from clinching the season series (and tiebreaker).
“That was just huge for us,” said Hendricks, who allowed only Ryan Braun’s two-out, two-run homer in the fourth during the 7 2/3-inning start (1.67 ERA in three starts this month). “That was unbelievable.”