In their 2-1 walk-off win against the Brewers on Saturday, the Cubs combined with Milwaukee for ten double plays and the longest Cubs-Brewers game ever played at Wrigley Field. And Willson Contreras' game-winning home run that landed on Waveland Avenue was the third walk-off homer the Cubs have hit just this week.
There are layers to winning any baseball game, and even more so in one that lasts for 15 innings. Among those layers are the obvious, things like Cole Hamels throwing 7 one-run innings and David Bote scoring on an El Mago-esque slide at home, but there's also the pitching performance of Tyler Chatwood, who threw the final four innings of Saturday's game.
"You’re not put into very good positions when you’re coming in late to a game. You cannot afford to give up runs, and he’s answering the call," Hamels said of Chatwood after the game.
When Chatwood was called upon in the 12th inning, the Brewers already had Christian Yelich on first base with no one out and the game tied 1-1. Chatwood responded by getting Jesus Aguilar to ground into a double play and then striking out pinch hitter Ryan Braun. There was no margin for error for Chatwood, and he walked that tightrope for four innings. Along the way, Chatwood struck out seven batters, walked three, and didn't give up a hit.
Even in the spots when the shaky command that cost him his rotation spot in 2018 looked like it might come creeping back, Chatwood adjusted and got out of the inning.
"That command is getting better and better and better. You’ll still see out of the zone once in a while, but he’s able to get it back," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "And man, it’s electric stuff."
In the 13th inning, Chatwood walked both Travis Shaw and Orlando Arcia, but he mixed in two strikeouts that inning as well, including leaving Eric Thames to look at his 96 mile-per-hour fastball for a third strike to end the frame.
"Chatwood, unbelievable. I mean, that dude has been unbelievable the last two, three weeks. He goes out there, just throws strikes hard," Bote said. "He’s throwing 95, 98 with that curveball and that slider, with starter stuff. To be able to do that is impressive."
Even as the pitches piled up in the cold drizzle that covered Wrigley for the entirety of the afternoon and into the early evening, Chatwood said that he made up his mind to stay on the mound as long as it took. He wasn't sure how much he had left near the end, Chatwood said, but he was determined for Maddon not to have to call upon anyone else to pitch. "I’m going to go out there as long as I can," Chatwood told him.
It's too early in the season to call this Chatwood's redemption story, but he has to be getting close. Last year was disastrous, but Chatwood put in the work to put that behind him.
"I knew something was off and I was fighting myself," Chatwood said of his 2018 season.
Though he felt fine physically and mentally year, Chatwood said, things just weren't right.
"Last year I knew I didn’t lose my stuff. I didn’t have a good year, but my stuff was still there. I think I had some of my best stuff, I just wasn’t able to throw it over the plate," Chatwood said. "So I went back, I refocused and worked on some stuff. Obviously right now I’m seeing the benefits of it."
Hamels, who was ostensibly acquired to take Chatwood's spot in the rotation late last season, was not short with praise not only for what Chatwood did Saturday, but also for what it's taken to get him to this point.
"You have to give him the credit because what happened last year and where he was coming into this season," Hamels said. "He’s got tremendous stuff. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen. He’s got lightning stuff that you have to give him the type of credit because he is, he’s attacking, and you see it, you see what he’s able to do."
Maddon said after Saturday's game that Chatwood's pitching improved as he went on. Thanks to some fatigue, Chatwood was not trying to do too much, Maddon said. Extra-inning games can turn otherwise disciplined hitters into big swingers, so winning can come down to pitchers continuing to execute. In Saturday's win, Chatwood was able to do that and give Contreras a chance to jump on a mistake pitch from Brewers reliever Burch Smith in the 15th inning.
Chatwood's performance in the win was another step toward being the kind of pticher Cubs fans hoped for when he signed prior to the 2018 season. And he's feeling it.
"I told you guys in spring I was feeling good. I put in a lot of hard work," Chatwood said. "So this year I’m out there having fun and enjoying it right now."