Marcus Stroman exits as Cubs fall to Cardinals, split London Series

Stroman left the Cubs’ 7-5 loss in the fourth inning Sunday with a blister on his right index finger.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman holds the ball on the mound while pitching to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the second inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 25, 2023, in London.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman holds the ball on the mound while pitching to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the second inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 25, 2023, in London.

AP Photos

LONDON — Marcus Stroman felt the heat in his right index finger as he warmed up in the bullpen Sunday before the second game of the London Series.

It was a familiar feeling. As a sinker-slider pitcher, he puts a lot of pressure on that finger, so he has dealt with blisters in the same spot before. That was the first sign that the Stro Show’s first date in London was going to be cut short as the Cubs fell to the Cardinals 7-5 on Sunday.

Stroman’s start rightfully drew hype. Who better to introduce the game to potential fans across the pond than a true showman?

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” manager David Ross said when asked Saturday what the U.K. should expect. “He’s carried us. He’s been our ace. He loves the moment. He’s going to be a star on a big stage.”

Stroman entered the game with a National League-best 2.28 ERA and was 7-0 in his last seven starts. In the first inning, fans got a glimpse of how good he is.

If it weren’t for an error behind him, Stroman would have retired the first three batters in order.

He induced Cardinals leadoff hitter Brendan Donovan to hit a ground ball, which shortstop Dansby Swanson fielded up the middle. But first baseman Trey Mancini couldn’t handle Swanson’s low throw. The official scorer ruled it a throwing error.

Stroman took eliminating the baserunner into his own hands. With one out, he backhanded a comebacker and threw to second. Swanson completed the inning-ending double play by slinging the ball to first. Stroman’s celebration was Cupid Shuffle-like.

The Cubs had a four-run lead, but the game was about to take a turn for the worse.

Stroman’s finger was growing progressively more sensitive, a ticking time bomb on his outing. The Cardinals loaded the bases in the second inning, but with two outs, Tommy Edman hit a routine grounder to the right side of the field, and it looked as if Stroman had pitched out of the jam.

Mancini ran after it and realized too late that second baseman Nico Hoerner was there. Mancini scrambled back to first base and tried to catch Hoerner’s flip with his bare hand, but it dropped to the ground. The Cardinals cut the Cubs’ lead to one before the inning was over.

“The game’s 100% on me,” Mancini said, brushing off the impact of his two-run double in the first inning. “I’m sorry to my teammates and all the fans because it’s been such a great trip here, and it would have been nice to get two wins.”

By the third and fourth innings, Stroman said it felt like his blister was “going to rip any pitch.” He shook his right hand after several pitches, including the last four he threw. He hit the Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan with a cutter and then threw three pitches to Paul Goldschmidt, resulting in an RBI single.

Cubs head trainer Nick Frangella then jogged out to the mound to check on Stroman, and then walked him off the field.

Battling traffic on the bases and defensive miscues, Stroman was charged with six runs, three earned, in 3⅓ innings.

The blister didn’t rip, which Stroman said likely would have sidelined him for his next start. He’s optimistic that he won’t miss time.

“Just comes down to doing laser, hardening it up, I have to let my nails go back out,” Stroman said. “But I think I should be there.”

He’s scheduled to make two more starts before the break, and he’s on track to receive his second career All-Star nod. Then he’d have a decision to make.

“I need a break, man,” Stroman said. “The biggest thing for me is to be as healthy as possible and to push for this team.”

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