Road runners: Cubs deFeat deGrom to sweep Mets and run road winning streak to five games
Victor Caratini, playing for injured first baseman Anthony Rizzo, drove in all four runs with two homers off Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom for a 4-1 victory Thursday.
NEW YORK — What in the name of Tom Seaver just happened?
The struggling Cubs – who have been inexplicably much worse on the road this season – just beat two of the best starting pitchers in the league the last two nights for their first road sweep since April in Miami against the woeful Marlins.
Ten runs in three innings against Noah Syndergaard Wednesday night. An injury replacement blasting reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom for two home runs in a 4-1 victory Thursday night.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Same result in the same place every day they showed up.
Talk about Groundhog Day.
Cue the Bill Murray entrance.
No, really. The Chicago actor showed up for a clubhouse cameo after the Cubs’ fifth consecutive road victory.
“I saw him,” said Victor Caratini, the guy who filled in for injured Anthony Rizzo and delivered a tying home run in the second and three-run, go-ahead shot in the seventh.
Not that Caratini seemed to know exactly who Murray was – or necessarily anything about his movies: “They’re OK.”
But every millennial in that building knew who deGrom was when he took the moundThurday – and Syndergaard before him, and Marcus Stroman the night before that.
“This whole series was huge for us, facing those three guys coming in here and getting a sweep,” said Cubs starter Jon Lester, who gave up a first-inning home run but settled down to pitch six crafty innings to out-duel deGrom. “We all know our road woes.”
Until winning their last two road series, the Cubs hadn’t won one in 12 consecutive on the road.
And none all season looked less likely than this one – especially what a gantlet of pitchers that included a right-hander Thursday who was 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in his previous eight starts.
“Who would have thought two homers off of deGrom?” Lester said of Caratini.
Caratini admittedly has grown into a more confident hitter, catcher and handler of veteran pitchers since picking up more playing time in recent weeks with starting catcher Willson Contreras sidelined with a hamstring injury.
The less explosive, quieter contribution of Lester on this night might have signaled the bigger development.
Three of Lester’s previous five starts in August were rough ones, including six runs on nine hits in a loss to Washington Friday, in which he didn’t get out of the fifth inning.
“Usually I pitch better this time of the year, and I think that added the extra frustration this last month to what was going on,” Lester said.
Manager Joe Maddon said even before the game that with Lester’s velocity at a normal level, he was confident in the big-game veteran’s ability to execute and finish strong despite recent struggles.
“I think he’s ready for that,” Maddon said. “I think he knows how important he is for us. The guy just flat competes, and I love that about him.”
Said Lester: “We’re all important down the stretch. We all have to play well and pitch well going forward. But I know how important I am to the rotation, just keeping the line moving, saving our bullpen.”
The Cubs moved to 1½ games back of the idle, first-place Cardinals in the Natoinal League Central with 29 games to play.
That includes 15 at home, starting with a quick stop home for five games against the Brewers and Mariners.
All but six of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents, including seven against the Cardinals in the final 10 games of the season.
Lester thinks that despite the dispiriting sweep last weekend by the Nationals at Wrigley Field, this one in New York might finally be the turning point they’ve expected for four months.
“The biggest thing is coming into New York and facing Stroman, Syndergaard and deGrom,” he said after the Cubs scored 19 runs off those All-Star starters. “That’s big for us, especially our hitters. It’s a big confidence booster for those guys.”