Staves, Raves, Saves, and Caves: Game 5 Had a Little of Everything

Never has anyone been more excited to be forced to go back to Cleveland. By holding off the Indians Sunday night to secure their first World Series win at home since [insert an event that took place after October of 1945], the Cubs bid a fitting farewell to Wrigley Field and ensured that they’ll play the franchise’s first-ever game in the month of November.

Game 5 was anything but conventional, even by the lofty standards for eccentricity Joe Maddon has established in Chicago. Had things gone differently, the Cubs skipper would still be getting flogged with a second-guessing cat o’ nine tails, though the victorious outcome staved off the barbed questions as surely as it did elimination. Still, it’s fair to wonder why Jon Lester wasn’t lifted for a pinch hitter earlier or why he wasn’t left in even longer (the latter was actually Lester’s call). Or why Carl Edwards Jr. was the first reliever in the game or why Kyle Schwarber never got an at-bat or why…

We could keep adding to the list, but the answer to any and all of those questions — the only one that matters, anyway — can be found by pointing to the scoreboard. That’s not to say there won’t be more armchair managing from the next two games, just that the only thing that matters about the why and what is the first letter of those words.

So let’s talk about how the Cubs managed to #FlyTheW on Sunday. First up, the not so pretty:

Javy’s gone fishin’

His bunt single in the 5th inning was a great piece of strategic hitting, but Javy has been utterly lost otherwise. In all honesty, he’d be better off just keeping the bat on his shoulder for at least the first pitch following his second strike. His two-strike swings have become indistinguishable from an involuntary tic, a reflexive action he can’t control no matter how hard he tries. Everyone watching knows exactly what’s coming and the result is another helplessly awkward wave at a breaking pitch in the dirt.

I don’t have a solution other than continuing to lay down bunts and maybe, seriously, just keeping the bat on his shoulder. Javy’s not getting hittable pitches once he’s got a single strike, let alone a couple of them. He can run into a mistake, but pitchers aren’t even working close enough to the zone in most cases to hang one. The glove and baserunning are enough to make him a mainstay, it’s just incredibly frustrating to know what’s coming and to see it play out over and over. And that’s just for the fans. I can only imagine what’s going on in his head.

Circus catches

The Cubs have been tied to their share of fateful events, so it’s no surprise that there appeared to be some supernatural influence involved in a Carlos Santana pop foul in the 2nd inning. David Ross rushed to the railing of the Indians dugout to snag the ball, only to see it ricochet off of his glove. Flying in to provide backup, Anthony Rizzo batted the ball up with his bare hand and then snatched it out the air with his mitt.

The best part of this is how Ross’s large adult son just nonchalantly trotted back to his position and then let his old man know that he wasn’t getting credit for an assist on the play.

“You, no catch [waves it off as incomplete]. Me, [gives signal for complete catch],” Rizzo ruled, thankfully without the need to go to a review. This guy knows the NFL’s rules better than they do.

“Tipped ball (I’m almost sure that’s not what he said, but my lip reading’s bad and “ball” is close enough),” Ross countered.

As if that wasn’t fun enough, there was yet another crazy catch in the very next frame. Trevor Bauer caught just enough of a Lester fastball to loft it foul out to short right, sending Jason Heyward rushing toward the wall. Believing it was headed into the stands, Heyward leaped up and grabbed the top of the barrier for stability before having to reach back into the field of play to haul it in. Was it a misplay that he made harder than it should have been or a spectacular piece of extemporaneous glovework mandated by swirling winds? I don’t know and I don’t really care.

What I do know is that this wasn’t the same situation from 13 years ago that people were trying to make it out to be. There was some praise for the fans for not being “that guy,” but it sure looked like they were all ready to reach for the ball until the moment it becomes obvious that it’s not actually coming into the stands. But hey, I’m cool with however you want to spin it.

J-Hey, holy mackerel!

Heyward’s catch was easily his most viral play of the game, but it wasn’t his only contribution. Digging in against Cleveland closer Cody Allen, Heyward had one of his best at-bats all season. For as many times as I’ve written that he’s about to turn the corner, you’d think the dude had been running around in a maze this year. Now that I think about it, though, that’s probably the best analogy I can use for what we’ve seen from the coveted free agent.

After looking all kinds of tied up inside his own body and mind for much of 2016, it appeared as though J-Hey really let it loose when he stepped to the plate in the 8th inning. After taking four straight pitches to get to 3-1, he unleashed three swings that each resulted in batted balls of 100+ mph, one of which may have reached Sheffield on the wrong side of the foul pole.

He eventually smoked a one-out single, after which the big right fielder stole both second and third to give the Cubs a great opportunity for some insurance. Instead, Baez and Aroldis Chapman went down swinging to end the threat. Could Schwarber have done better as a pinch-hitter, even if meant losing Javy’s glove? Was Maddon skating on thin ice by letting his closer hit for himself in that situation? The process is up for debate, but I go back to the result.

Long man

Chapman has generally been viewed as a guy who needs to come into a clean inning in a save situation in order to really thrive, but he disproved some myths in his eight-out save Sunday. I was sure Maddon was planning to use him for only five outs before letting the War Bear eat and then leaning on another reliever to close the game. No way does this guy who doesn’t even like bridging two innings stay in the game for nearly three. Sure enough, that’s exactly what he did.

There were some dicey moments, like when he nearly made Brandon Guyer a eunuch with an inside heater to put two men on in the 7th or when Rajai Davis singled and stole two bases to put the tying run 90 feet away with Frankie Lindor batting. Cheese at the knees put that latter threat to bed and a clean 9th sealed the deal. The Cubs said heading into the playoffs that they were going to ride the big Cuban in the postseason, and he certainly shouldered the load in Game 5.

Grindy Grinderton

You don’t really expect a gamer like Jon Lester to recommend to that his team go the pen, but he admitted after the game that he’d been grinding for a couple innings and would just as soon give his relievers a clean start. He knew he’d have been pulled after allowing a hit or a walk anyway, so might as well not worry about trying to be perfect.

Lester exited after 6 innings and 90 pitches, having allowed a pair of earned runs on four hits. Even the home run he gave up is one of those where you just shake your head and tip your cap to Jose Ramirez, who drove a down-and-in fastball into the bleachers. Should the Cubs force a Game 7, the ace lefty will be part of an all-hands-on-deck approach and could very well be called upon in relief of Kyle Hendricks. Let’s hope we get to discuss that possibility further.

Final thoughts

After talk of how quiet she’d been in the previous two games, Wrigley was rocking Sunday night. I think it was mostly to provide a proper send-off to the exposed bullpens, though I suppose the Cubs’ efforts had something to do with it as well. Speaking of, the mound in left did try to exact one last bit of vengeance in the 8th inning. Ben Zobrist was tracking a Jason Kipnis fly when he scuffled a bit and almost saw the ball pop free. I may be in the minority here, but I’m not particularly sad about the demise of that particular feature.

Despite the energy we saw in this season’s swan song, getting out of Chicago right now might be the best thing for the Cubs. For as much as we’ve heard about and discussed them not letting pressure exceed the pleasure, it looked as if they were overburdened in those first two games. With momentum back in their favor and a chip on their shoulder, I feel pretty good about them traveling east for (fingers crossed) another pair of games.

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