Mike Tauchman robs home run to save Cubs’ win vs. Cardinals, extend streak

Notes: The Cubs recalled Hayden Wesneski to serve as the opener in a 3-2 win against the Cardinals on Friday.

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Chicago Cubs’ Mike Tauchman, left, is congratulated by teammate Miles Mastrobuoni after making a catch at the wall on a fly ball by St. Louis Cardinals’ Alec Burleson to end a baseball game Friday, July 28, 2023, in St. Louis.

Chicago Cubs’ Mike Tauchman, left, is congratulated by teammate Miles Mastrobuoni after making a catch at the wall on a fly ball by St. Louis Cardinals’ Alec Burleson to end a baseball game Friday, July 28, 2023, in St. Louis.

AP Photos

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T. LOUIS — All eyes followed Cubs center fielder Mike Tauchman as he drifted back to the center-field wall, leaped and pulled back what would have been a walk-off home run.

Did he really catch that?

“It’s going to be one of those funny ones when you go back through video and go from face to face and see people’s reactions,” second baseman Nico Hoerner said after the Cubs’ 3-2 victory against the Cardinals on Friday night. “Sometimes I get fired up. And that one I was just like, ‘Whoa,’ and just taking it in.”

He mimicked his dazed expression.

“Probably the most dramatic single play I’ve been a part of in the big leagues.”

The win, which extended the Cubs’ winning streak to seven games as they fight to persuade their front office to add at the deadline, had plenty of twists and turns — Hayden Wesneski serving as the opener, lefty Drew Smyly holding the Cardinals to one run in 4⅓ innings in a bounce-back outing, Trey Mancini staying aggressive in a 3-1 count to drive in the winning run. But ninth-inning defense became the story.

Tauchman was quick to point out that his defensive gem wasn’t the only strong defensive play of the inning.

“That moment doesn’t happen if Nico and Dansby [Swanson] don’t turn off a phenomenal double play there,” he said of the play that preceded his catch.

With two outs and a runner on third, closer Adbert Alzolay put a 98-mph fastball at the top of the zone, exactly where he wanted it, and Alec Burleson got his bat to it.

“My initial read was not that it was going to necessarily be that close to the wall,” Tauchman said, “But as outfielders we’re taught, get to the wall, and then you have time to make the adjustments you need to.”

He made the best defensive play of the year sound simple.

“It’s good to keep it going,” Tauchman said. “There’s a lot of belief in this clubhouse.”

Wesneski recalled

The Cubs liked what they saw when Wesneski carried the adjustments he had worked on as a reliever in the major leagues into Triple-A starts. Weighing their options for their second experiment with a right-handed opener against the Cardinals in the span of a week, they recalled him to start.

“[Wesneski has] been throwing the ball really well,” manager David Ross said. “And we’ve had some taxing innings on the bullpen a little bit. So, just giving [Michael] Fulmer, or whoever would have started today, a little bit of a breather before we go to Drew.”

The Cubs used Fulmer as the opener before Smyly last week, trying something new against a right-handed heavy lineup that the Cubs would be facing eight times in 11 days. Fulmer and Smyly combined to give up five earned runs in 5⅔ innings, but the Cubs -believed in the thought process enough to try it again Friday, this time with Wesneski preceding Smyly. In a corresponding move, the Cubs optioned reliever Michael Rucker to Triple-A.

In the Cubs’ 3-2 win Friday, Wesneski gave up one run, a leadoff homer to left-handed hitter Lars Nootbaar, in two innings. Smyly replaced Wesneski in the third as Nootbaar’s turn in the order came up again. New pitcher, same result: Nootbaar homered off Smyly too. But then he settled in.

The Cubs’ plans for Smyly and Wesneski moving forward remain flexible. The trade deadline, and changes to the roster that will come with it, call for adaptability.

The Cubs have been happy with the shape and consistency of Smyly’s curveball and cutter. But his fastball command, compounded by bad luck, seemed to be the root of his issues in recent months.

“In those moments, when you have these other two pitches that are really playing, one thing you think about with the fastball at times is, ‘OK, just don’t get beat on this pitch,’ ” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Sun-Times. “It’s not as aggressive of a mindset.”

Smyly’s adjustment to a more attacking strategy hasn’t yet consistently shown up in the box score, but that’s what he’s working towards.

Even during Wesneski’s last stint in the majors as a reliever, he was refining his routine and his release point across pitches.

“He would, at times, try to manipulate his slot to manipulate the pitch,” Hottovy said, “which could work, but it’s very inconsistent.”

And even when it does work, it’s easier for batters to pick up.

“He took it great and then just took off from that point,” Hottovy said. “So it’s been fun to see him hone in on that as a starter [in Triple-A] coming out firing right from the get-go.”

Mikolas suspended

MLB announced it had handed down a five-game suspension to Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas for intentionally throwing at the Cubs’ Ian Happ in the first inning of their series opener Thursday. Mikolas elected to appeal.

Mikolas threw inside on successive pitches after Happ hit Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras, his friend and former teammate, in the head with his backswing. Mikolas plunked Happ and was ejected.

For the incident, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol received a one-game suspension, which he served Friday.

Contreras was back in the lineup Friday as the Cardinals’ designated hitter.

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