Just when it seemed like the tough decisions facing the Cubs were getting easier, they pulled off the team’s biggest ninth-inning comeback in 42 years.
Trailing St. Louis 6-1 heading into the ninth inning, they scored 5 runs against three Cardinals pitchers and pulled off a 7-6 stunner Tuesday, with Ian Happ delivering the biggest hit.
“That was a nice one, that was fun,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I wouldn’t throw it back to the old days quite yet, but that was a fun win. That was a nice comeback. Guys were grinding and don’t have much to show for it early in the game. We had some things go our way and pretty spectacular that Happer comes up with that hit in that moment, all that he’s been working through. Super happy for him and our group. They continue to compete.
The Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out after Patrick Wisdom reached on a dropped third strike, Nico Horner reached on an infield hit and error, then Jake Marisnick walked on four pitches. Two more walks to Sergio Alcantara and Anthony Rizzo pushed in 2 runs.
With one out, Javy Baez grounded a 2-run single up the middle to make it 6-5. Then Ian Happ, an injury replacement for Kris Bryant, ripped a 2-run double down the right-field line, with Baez sprinting around from first for the go-ahead run.
Craig Kimbrel retired the side in order to finish off the victory. It was their first victory after trailing by as many as 5 runs entering the ninth inning since April 29, 1979. That 6-run ninth inning in Atlanta was capped with a 3-run homer by Bobby Murcer.
This was a huge moment for Happ, who had been struggling at the plate all season and hadn’t been playing a lot lately. He entered this game when Bryant left with right hamstring fatigue after diving for a ball in left field in the third inning.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of work. Been a lot of work and a lot of time put into this obviously,” Happ said. “Man, this game’s tough and to be able to actually get one that gets through and feel the energy from the team, the excitement there, be able to celebrate in the dugout — that whole moment was special.”
The Cubs hadn’t won a game when trailing after eight innings all year, but have now done it twice in four days.
“They don’t stop competing,” Ross said. “When things haven’t been going out way, it would be really easy to kind of cash one in, especially a game like that on a Tuesday night. The fact that guys hustle, get down the line, put pressure on the defense, own the strike zone. The pinch hitters again off the bench.
“There’s just a lot of little things that make you happy. Nobody going up there getting selfish, continue to have good at-bats and try to get on base for the next guy. When we’ve been at our best, that’s been a real characteristic that we’ve been good at.”
Cubs starter Trevor Williams made it through 5 innings, giving up 4 earned runs in his first start and second appearance since recovering from an appendectomy.
Even if there are trades before the July 30 deadline, the Cubs will have some things to watch the rest of the way. They’d like to see if Wisdom and Rafael Ortega continue to play well. Matt Duffy could return from a rehab assignment later this week. Left-hander Justin Steele is expected to get a tryout as a starter after a few more weeks in the minors, which could definitely affect the plans for next year.
Ortega has been one of the Cubs’ best hitters this month, with a .381 batting average heading into Tuesday. His .959 OPS is second on the team in July behind newcomer Robinson Chirinos, who hasn’t played that much.
Ortega has taken some playing time from Ian Happ, who has struggled at the plate all season.
“Happer knows he’s working toward something, and he is,” Ross told reporters before the game, according to cubs.com. “I’ve talked to him multiple times. We had a good discussion (Monday). Ortega’s playing really well right now. You need to reward the guys that are playing well.”
Duffy has hit .313 in five rehab games with Iowa. First baseman Frank Schwindel, in his first game for Iowa after being claimed off waivers from the Oakland A’s, homered and drove in 4 runs on Tuesday against Columbus.