By the end of Tuesday night, Cubs reliever Jason Motte didn’t even know what pitching coach Chris Bosio told him in the ninth – with the potential winning run at the plate and only one out and the heart of the St. Louis Cardinals’ order coming up.
“I don’t remember. I think he asked what I was going to throw,” Motte said. “I probably said fastball. … I don’t really remember, honestly.”
Give him a break. The guy was working his second ninth inning of a 12-hour day at the ballpark against the team with the best record in baseball.
But whatever Bosio said, it must have been good, because two pitches later the game was over – Motte getting All-Star Matt Carpenter on a popup and All-Star Jhonny Peralta on a grounder to short.
And just like that, the Cubs had a 5-3 victory and their first doubleheader sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in 23 years.
“Today we showed what we’re capable of doing,” said Motte, who earned his fifth save in as many chances – but who is explicitly not the Cubs’ closer.
Nobody is. That’s the way manager Joe Maddon likes it. And that’s one of the things that has worked best for this strange and competitive team that answered Monday’s late-inning loss to its nemesis – the eighth loss in 10 meetings this year – with an unlikely sweep that started with a 7-4 win in the opener.
“It’s about how you bounce after the fall that really matters,” Maddon said. “And really proud of our guys.”
Rookie All-Star Kris Bryant’s throwing error in the seventh inning Monday opened the door for two unearned runs after teammate Jon Lester had taken a no-hitter into the inning, and the Cubs went on to lose to the Cards for the fifth straight time.
But on an errorless Tuesday for the Cubs, Jake Arrieta and Class AAA spot starter Dallas Beeler combined for 12 2/3 innings and four runs (2.84) in their starts, and the Cubs trailed for only one inning all day.
Bryant singled and scored in the Cubs’ eighth in the opener, and he made a diving play to get the final out of the Cardinals’ seventh and save a run.
Along the way, Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer, and Chris Denorfia drove in three runs in the first game; rookie Addison Russell snapped a 0-for-12 skid with a run-scoring single that may or may not have stayed fair past the first-base bag with one out in the seventh.
Beeler even got his first hit of the season – at any level – when he lined a double off the left-field wall in the third inning.
“I’ve been saving that swing for 2 ½ months now,” said Beeler, who has a 3.38 ERA in three spot starts over two seasons for the Cubs (16 combined innings). “It’s probably the third ball I’ve actually hit in the air in my professional career. That’s what I’ve been working on in Iowa.”
As if that wasn’t strange enough, pinch-hitter Jonathan Herrera was delayed going to the plate in the seventh, then stopped play during his at-bat to change helmets.
Neither was his. The first he borrowed from Mike Baxter, but it didn’t fit well enough. The second belonged to Chris Coghlan – which he wore when delivering the single that set the stage for Russell’s disputed, game-tying hit.
“I couldn’t find my helmet,” Herrera said.
“How does that happen?” said Maddon, who then blamed the magician he hired in New York for making it disappear. “Simon, please return Johnny’s helmet.”
By the eighth inning it had reappeared, the smallish shell apparently having fallen somewhere in the bat rack.
There was no mistaking that Herrera had found his own for that at-bat.
“It looked like a giveaway helmet,” Maddon said. “Like with the ice cream in it.”
The only thing smaller was the gap the Cubs had closed on the Pirates for the top wild-card position in the National League – down to three games (with nine to play against the Pirates).
The Cubs won for the seventh time in nine games. They swept a doubleheader for the first time since 2008 in Atlanta.
They improved to 3-2 against the Cardinals at home (1-6 in St. Louis). And that 88-win pace the Cubs were on at Monday’s midpoint of the season is suddenly at the 90-win pace Maddon said he’d rather see.
“And it feels like we haven’t hit our real stride yet,” Maddon said.
Are they at least “over the hump” he talked about against the Cardinals?
“We’ll find out,” he said. “The thing is if you stop trying you’ll never know how close you were to accomplishing something.”