Cubs loss ends on controversial call as Cardinals force 1st-place tie

SHARE Cubs loss ends on controversial call as Cardinals force 1st-place tie
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Ben Zobrist questions umpire Mark Wegner’s game-ending strike call.

PHOENIX – That’s two, said Ben Zobrist.

The Cub veteran doesn’t want to wait for No. 3. He wants a new system for calling balls and strikes.

“I was a little confused and shocked as to what the call was,” said Zobrist, who was called out on strikes to end the game Saturday night on a 2-2 pitch by David Hernandez that seemed to clearly miss the strike zone low.

“I said, `What’d we have on that?’ He said, `I had it for a strike.’ I said, `You can’t end the game on that, really,’ “ said Zobrist after the 6-2 loss to the Diamondbacks that allowed the Cardinals to forge a virtual tie with the Cubs for first in the National League Central. “He goes, `I had it for a strike.’

“Shoot, that’s all he can do. If we want to change something like that we’re going to have to have an electronic strike zone,” Zobrist added. “Because umpires are human beings; they’re going to make mistakes. I think [umpire Mark Wegner] is probably going to look at it and not be too happy with himself, either. I think it’s something the league’s going to have to really look at when you start ending games, and games turn on one pitch like that.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation. Now that we have the technology we should probably get it right.”

Zobrist said he has had only one other call “in my career that felt worse than that, especially to end the game.” That was in 2013, playing for Joe Maddon’s Rays, when Marty Foster called him out to end a one-run game that gave Joe Nathan his 300th save.

Foster later apologized for the poor call.

“It’s part of the game that isn’t fair sometimes, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Zobrist, who has been in favor of an electronic system for calling balls and strikes for the last two years and believes the idea has gained increasing favor among players.

Had he reached base in that at-bat, the Cubs would have loaded the bases and brought the potential tying run to the plate in rookie Ian Happ.

“I just wanted to see that happen,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Listen, we’ve all made mistakes. To end the game like that is very difficult to watch.”

The play seemed dramatic. The call seemed egregious.

But it wasn’t close to deciding the Cubs’ seventh defeat in 10 games.

That was a four-run sixth by the Diamondbacks that included a go-ahead double by J.D. Martinez after an intentional walk to Paul Goldschmidt and a costly throwing error to the plate by shortstop Javy Baez for one run and helping extend the inning.

“We have to make that play at the plate,” Maddon said. “That’s routine. [Starter] Jon Lester was outstanding. He was outstanding. He was pinpoint with everything. Stuff was great. He absolutely deserved a better fate.”

If the drawn-in Baez makes the play at the plate on a ball hit right to him instead of sailing the throw high and wide of catcher Alex Avila, it would have been 1-0 with two outs – and possibly a much different finish to the inning.

“This game’s built around what-ifs,” said Lester, who has a 3.09 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break and had a personal three-game winning streak snapped. “I’ve got to make better pitches.”

Maddon said the Baez play underscored the significance of missing starting shortstop Addison Russell, who has been on the disabled list with a foot injury since Aug. 4.

“Javy’s having a wonderful year overall,” Maddon said. “It’s just a matter of putting him out there too often sometimes. I like to give him a break once in a while. Right now there’s no break.

“We need Addison back to balance it out. When Javy’s on the other side [of second] we’re really good on the infield. That’s hopefully forthcoming really, really soon.”

What can’t come soon enough is the Cubs’ next winning streak if they plan to stave off the surging Cardinals, who beat the Braves Saturday for their eighth consecutive victory.

“It’s never easy,” third baseman Kris Bryant said.

With 47 games left, Zobrist pointed out that the Cubs have seven left against the Cardinals (all in the final 16).

“It’ll make for a more exciting finish to the season,” he said. “But we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got to play better.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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