As Monday night gave way to Tuesday morning, Miguel Montero stepped to the plate for the first time after having sat for more than five hours.
The Cubs had already rallied once before, only to see two plays at the plate that hadn’t gone their way be confirmed by video review and keep them from finishing off the Pirates much earlier than they did.
So when Montero stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 13th inning after the clock had struck midnight at Wrigley Field, the veteran catcher who has been overshadowed not only by a 39-year-old fan favorite but moreso by a dazzling rookie – finally got his chance to play hero.
Five hours and three minutes after he first took a seat on the Cubs’ bench, Montero answered the call. His pinch-hit single over a drawn-in infield and into left field gave the Cubs a dramatic 8-7 win over the Pirates in the longest game of a season that has already produced its share of late-inning drama.
“It’s a winning team, winning attitude,” Montero said. “That’s what it’s all about. We never quit, we know we can come back any time. We’ve done it all season long and we did it again today.”
The Cubs had chances to end the game much earlier than they did. God knows they had chances.
But after falling behind 6-3 after Jake Arrieta gave up a pair of home runs – including a three-run, go-ahead blast to Gregory Polanco in the sixth inning – the comeback Cubs had their work cut out for them. A two-run double by Josh Harrison in the seventh provided the Pirates with a three-run cushion that sucked the life out of most of the 38,951 in attendance.
But rookie catcher Willson Contreras got the Cubs to within 6-5 in the eighth inning with a two-run homer that started the Cubs’ rally. The Cubs still trailed by a run in the ninth when Jorge Soler drilled a solo homer into the right field bleachers off Tony Watson that drew the Cubs even and extended another late-night party that dragged into the wee hours of the next day.
“We never give up,” Soler said through a team interpreter. “Even to the last out, we’re always trying to battle on and continuing to look for the victory.”
The Cubs’ search continued through the 10th inning and again in the 12th when Javier Baez, who had four hits, was thrown out twice at the plate. In the 10th, Baez attempted to avoid the diving tag of Pirates’ catcher Francisco Cervelli after Anthony Rizzo lined a ground ball down the first base line.
First baseman Sean Rodriguez tagged the bag at first and then fired to Cervelli, who spun around and nabbed Baez. The play was reviewed after Baez was called out by umpire Tripp Gibson. As the Wrigley crowd chanted “safe, safe, safe” as replays were shown on the left field video board, umpires huddled while awaiting for a decision from New York.
“I didn’t know about the (umpire’s) view, but I felt I got in there,” Baez said.
In the 12th , Baez lined a triple to the base of the wall in right center and once again provided the potential game-winning run as the Wrigley faithful again came alive. But once again, Baez was thrown out trying to score – this time on an Addison Russell fly ball that left fielder Starling Marte made the perfect throw home on to send the game to the 13th inning.
Again, manager Joe Maddon challenged the call. Again, the call on the field stood. Again, the Cubs were forced to solider on.
After Rob Zastryzny – the Cubs’ eighth pitcher – loaded the bases with nobody out, he managed to avoid serious damage by only allowing one run on a Josh Harrison sacrifice that again provided the Pirates with a lead.
But once again, the Cubs had an answer.
After Rizzo singled through a drawn-in infield to score Dexter Fowler and knot the game at 7 in the 13th, the Pirates intentionally walked Zobrist to get to Montero.
And in a season in which Montero has been overshadowed by the David Ross’ popularity and Contreras’ emerging stardom, the third catcher on the Cubs’ roster finally got his moment to shine.
“The position he was in tonight, being on the bench for as long as he was and then to be ready in in that situation and get a big knock for us to win the game isn’t easy to do,” said Arrieta, who gave up six runs on five hits over 6 1/3 innings. “You respect that. You respect his ability to stay ready for that type of moment and I’m just proud of him to come through in that situation.”
After Montero lined the game-winner through the infield, he was immediately mobbed by his teammates. In a season that has required him to accept a lesser role as a teacher to the catcher who will rookie that not only the future of the position for the Cubs, but also the present, Montero used the moment to show he’s not ready to be pushed aside all together.
Not yet at least.
“(Having the mentoring role) doesn’t mean that I’m pleased to be on the bench watching baseball because I still feel like I can play,” Montero said. “But if I’m not playing, I want to help (my teammates.)
Did he ever.
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