Nico Hoerner’s misplay looms large in Cubs’, Justin Steele’s unraveling

The Red Sox’ Masataka Yoshida, who might not have batted in the fifth inning had Hoerner made the play, hit a grand slam to right.

SHARE Nico Hoerner’s misplay looms large in Cubs’, Justin Steele’s unraveling

Masataka Yoshida watches the flight of his grand slam during the fifth inning Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Left-hander Justin Steele left his first start after representing the Cubs at the All-Star Game with an ugly line.

It goes in the books as six innings, 10 hits, six runs (all earned), one walk, six strikeouts and two homers in an 11-5 Red Sox win Sunday before 37,812 at Wrigley Field.

But Steele didn’t see it that way, and neither did manager David Ross nor shortstop Nico Hoerner.

Five of the runs and six of the hits came in the fifth inning, when everything unraveled for Steele and the Cubs.

It started innocently when Connor Wong hit a chopper toward Hoerner, who couldn’t corral it. Three more hits followed, including Justin Turner’s RBI single. That made it 2-0, and Steele got the next two batters to almost wriggle out of trouble.

But Masataka Yoshida, who might not have batted in the fifth had Hoerner made the play, hit a grand slam to right.

Adding to the frustration for the Cubs — who missed a chance to win their first series since before their London trip — was that the play was initially ruled an error. Changing it to a hit sent Steele’s ERA from 2.40 to 2.95.

Hoerner took responsibility afterward.

“Definitely a play I make almost every time,” he said. “It’s about the worst feeling in baseball when you make an error and it turns into runs. You take the field and things like that can happen. That was kind of the turning point of the game.”

Steele didn’t blame Hoerner, who has been filling in at shortstop with Dansby Swanson (left heel) on the injured list.

“Nico plays Gold Glove defense, and I feel like he could play any position on the field.” Steele said.

“The ball to Nico, he makes that play like 99 out of 100 times,” Ross said. “That’s a pretty routine play in the big leagues. You get that out, and you notice where the game goes.”

On balance, Ross said Steele’s outing was solid.

“They put together a couple hits there, and obviously [it was] a long inning and falling behind Yoshida and the homer,” Ross said. “I thought Steele threw pretty good.”

So did he.

“I felt pretty good today,” Steele said. “As far as all my stuff goes, I threw some good sinkers, some good sliders.”

Sometimes you get beat, Steele said — as happened with Devers’ third home run of the series in the first and his double in the fourth. The latter didn’t lead to a run, though, because left fielder Ian Happ threw out Devers trying to score from second on Jorge Alfaro’s single.

“The pitch Devers hit out was a pretty well-executed slider,” Steele said. “He just put a really good swing on it. And the double he hit, I did exactly what I was trying to do with the sinker in on his hands. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.”

Now Steele, who pitched one scoreless inning in the National League’s All-Star win Tuesday, can get back to his normal schedule.

“It was a good little break there between starts,” Steele said. “Had a lot of traveling I was doing and stuff. But, yeah, it’s a nice little home stretch coming up here, and it’s good to sleep in your own bed and get a good routine.”

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