A new day, a new way for the Cubs to find ways to beat themselves. Bad Craig Kimbrel reared his not-so-pretty head, and the Cubs blew a win they absolutely couldn’t afford to give away in this short season.
Alec Mills was not sharp leaving after only three innings pitched with a line of 4 H, 4 R, 1 BB, and 2 SO. He surrendered three home runs in the abbreviated outing. Before Kimbrell’s ugly ninth (foreshadowing), the bullpen had been solid. Adbert Alzolay followed up his season debut in St. Louis with a scoreless fourth. Ryan Tepera and Rowan Wick pitched a scoreless fifth and sixth, respectively. But all was for naught, as the Cubs let a winnable game slip away.
Finally, the Cubs offense looked respectable. Ian Happ lead off the game with a home run off the fair pole in right, and David Bote added a two-run shot in the fourth. Overall, it was a solid team effort with only Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr failing to reach base. Almora, who found himself with a rare appearance in the starting lineup. Any time an offense puts up five runs in seven innings, you’d like to think your team has a chance to win.
The Cubs entered the top of the fourth inning trailing 4-1, when chaos broke out. It started when Reds starter, Tejay Antone, threw a pitch over the head of Anthony Rizzo. Though Rizzo had homered three times in the series thus far, it didn’t appear to be intentional. Still, Rizzo and the Cubs bench took exception to it. After Cubs catching coach Mike Borzello was ejected by home plate umpire Nic Lentz, David Ross came out to argue and earned his first career early trip to the showers as a manager. Things, however, were just getting starting.
In the bottom of the fourth, Alzolay threw a pitch up and a bit in. It wasn’t nearly as tight as the one to Rizzo, but the Reds took exception. Reds skipper David Bell came out for a lengthy argument. Meanwhile, Joey Votto was barking at anyone who would listen. Rizzo shouted back. Testosterone was flowing in the heat of the moment. Both benches and bullpens ended up clearing for a quasi-socially distanced show of masculinity. When the dust settled, David Bell, Joey Votto, and Jesse Winker were also ejected from the game.
This sequence of events falls into the “bad” category because it was frankly a bit silly. The Cubs overreacted in their half of the fourth. The umpire overly inserted himself into the situation by having a quick hook. Then Votto and company decided to take a pitch that was practically over the plate, albeit quite a bit high, and turn it into a thing. Personally, I think the macho bench-clearing is a silly tradition in baseball. Everyone runs in. The pitchers from the ‘pens join them. And everyone stands around, pretending to look tough. It wasted everyone’s time and is a bad optic in a sport that is trying its hardest to make its way to the 60-game finish line amid a global pandemic.
Count me among the many Cubs writers and fans who were clamoring for the Cubs to sign Craig Kimbrel last season. He had struggled in the previous postseason, but he was one of the best closers in this era of the game. Whatever has gone off the rails for him returned tonight. In two-thirds of an inning, he walked three and turned a one-run lead into a one-run loss. The winning run came home on a wild pitch. Granted, his catcher could have helped him out on that one. Why Willson Contreras seemed so utterly unprepared for a ball in the dirt with the kind of movement Kimbrel has on his pitches is beyond me. Regardless, the pitched bounced through the ol’ five-hole, and you just have the feeling as a Cubs fan that this loss is going to really haunt them at season’s end, perhaps more than Kimbrel’s contract will haunt the supposedly cash-strapped front office.
There’s no time for crying over spilled milk. The Cubs need to erase this one from the memory banks and come out tomorrow firing to salvage a series split. Tyler Chatwood takes the mound for the Cubs. The Cubs offense will have their hands full with righty Luis Castillo. First pitch is at 12:10 CT on The Marquee Network.
Featured Photo: David Kohl /Getty Images
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