DENVER – After six hours of rain delays, lead changes and extra innings, the Cubs took an 11th-inning lead against the Rockies, only to lose in the bottom of the 11th on an errant relay throw and the free trip to the plate awarded when the ball rolled into the dugout.
The wild finish in the 7-6 loss snapped the Cubs’ four-game winning streak as they opened a nine-game road trip on a day they placed two of their key pitchers on the disabled list in John Lackey and Hector Rondon.
It left an already depleted bullpen especially thin and especially young with the additions of Felix Pena and Rob Zastryzny from Class AAA Iowa.
But when the bullpen spoiled Kyle Hendricks’ impressive six-inning start by blowing a 5-1 lead, it wasn’t the kids’ at fault.
Heavily taxed lefty Travis Wood struggled in relief of Hendricks as the Rockies scored an unearned run in the seventh after a two-out double, then tied it with a three-run eighth.
“Listen, he’s been pitching a lot. He’s been pitching great,” manager Joe Maddon said of Wood, whose 61 appearances are one shy of the league lead.
After Dexter Fowler’s two-out single in the top of the 11th regained the lead for the Cubs, it was Aroldis Chapman, pitching in his fourth game in four days, blowing a save for the second time as a Cub.
With one out, Nick Hundley singled, and Ryan Raburn followed with an RBI double off the wall in right – and after Raburn rounded second, Javy Baez’s relay throw wide of the plate bounded into the dugout, giving Raburn the two bases on the ball out of play, and the win.
Until then, Pena and Zastryzny looked like big parts of a victory – Pena pitching a perfect, two-strikeout ninth, and Zastryzny surviving the big shots in the top half of the Rox lineup in a scoreless 10th to be in position to earn the win.
“Outstanding. They really held their own well,” Maddon said. “I thought their composure was really good. I thought they made pitches when they had to. They absolutely gave us a chance to win the game tonight.”
Fowler also delivered a homer leading off the game. And Addison Russell added a two-run shot in the sixth before the game unraveled late for the Cubs.
Along the way, Hendricks lowered his ERA to 2.16, which will lead the majors Saturday night after the Dodgers’ game becomes official and the injured Clayton Kershaw (1.79) no longer has enough innings to qualify.
“When I was at this point last year, I definitely didn’t see this a year later,” said Hendricks, who struggled mechanically through much of his inconsistent 2015 season. “You’ve got to take it in stride. But those are results. And in this game when you get focused on results things can change in a hurry. In order to keep having success, you’ve got to stay grounded, stay consistent. Simple thoughts. Trust the process.”