Cubs fall in 13 innings to Diamondbacks as NL wild-card race tightens

The Cubs and D-backs are two of the teams locked in a tight NL wild-card race.

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Arizona Diamondbacks’ Evan Longoria, left, scores the winning run as Chicago Cubs catcher Yan Gomes applies a late tag during the 13th inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks won 7-6 in extra innings.

Arizona Diamondbacks’ Evan Longoria, left, scores the winning run as Chicago Cubs catcher Yan Gomes applies a late tag during the 13th inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Phoenix.

AP Photos

PHOENIX – The margin for error in the National League wild-card race is thin as the season winds down to its final weeks — a state of affairs that the Cubs’ 7-6 loss to the Diamondbacks in 13 innings Sunday perfectly encapsulated.

Even the last play of the game was decided by a matter of inches. Cubs catcher Yan Gomes caught the throw from right fielder Seiya Suzuki and dove across the plate at the Diamondbacks’ Evan Longoria.

Gomes’ tag beat Longoria’s hand to the front of the plate, but Longoria reached around Gomes’ mitt to score the winning run.

Small moments compounding became the story of the game.

“We’ve got to do a lot of little things better,” manager David Ross said. “But they continue to fight. Long, hard-fought game, back-and-forth there at the end. Couldn’t finish it today.”

The Cubs still occupy the second NL wild-card spot, but their loss Saturday trimmed their lead over Arizona and Cincinnati to a half-game.

The Diamondbacks already had claimed the tiebreaker in the series opener Friday. Of the four teams chasing the Cubs (78-71) — the Diamondbacks (78-72), Reds (78-72), Marlins (77-72) and Giants (75-74) — all but San Francisco own the tiebreaker.

“If you look at the standings and stuff like that, you can create a little bit of a different narrative, but all you’ve got to do is come in and play baseball tomorrow,” said reliever Mark Leiter Jr., who threw a perfect seventh inning, “It’s obviously a tough loss because it was a really good game. But I don’t think anything changes.”

After Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks handed the ball over with one out in the sixth inning and the score tied at 3, Jose Cuas, Leiter and Julian Merryweather locked down the rest of regulation. But the Cubs’ offense didn’t score, either.

The automatic runner on second base in extra innings took care of the standstill, but then the teams started trading runs.

In the 10th inning, Nico Hoerner took third on a double steal and scored when Gabriel Moreno’s throw from behind the plate got away from third baseman Jace Peterson. Then in the bottom half of the inning, Arizona’s Corbin Carroll led off with an RBI single.

In the 11th, Ian Happ and Hoerner hit back-to-back singles to retake the lead. Then the Diamondbacks’ Alek Thomas put down a sacrifice bunt to set up Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for a game-tying line drive.

In the 13th, Gomes scored on a double play. Then the Diamondbacks finally broke the pattern.

There were so many moments throughout the game that could have swung it the other way — a home run that was called back when the replay showed it was foul, an aggressive break home that led to a pickle, a decision to get the out at first instead of going after the lead runner, a deep fly ball that didn’t have quite enough oomph behind it.

The most memorable came in the bottom of the 13th inning. With two outs and runners on first and third, the Diamondbacks’ Emmanuel Rivera drove a liner back at reliever Hayden Wesneski. The ball hit Wesneski in the right arm and popped up.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson reversed directions to chase after the ball and unsuccessfully tried to field it on the bounce, thinking he’d try for the out at first.

“In hindsight, if I could have come in and dove and caught it, that probably would have been the best move,” Swanson said.

The tying run scored. And then Moreno stepped up to the plate to drive in Longoria with a single to right field.

If that comebacker had hung a split second longer in the air, who knows what might have happened. Small margins.

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