Though he has few public rules when it comes to the manner in which he demands his players comport themselves, Joe Maddon has always required that they respect the 90 feet from home to first. And between the other bases as well, though we can save the other 270 feet for another time.
With the score tied 2-2 and Kyle Schwarber on first after ripping a single through the shift, Willson Contreras laid down a bunt in an effort to reach base. He busted down the line as third baseman Anthony Rendon fielded and fired over his head, hustling to second as Schwarber motored to third. Two men in scoring position with no outs, nice.
First base umpire Nick Mahrley waved it off as interference, calling Contreras out and recalling Schwarber to first base. Contreras had violated Rule 6.05(k), which holds that a runner must be in the running lane — as defined by the chalk line to the outside of the foul line — during the last half of the distance from home to first when a ball is being fielded and thrown to first.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Contreras was definitely inside the foul line most of the way, and definitely when he was closing in on the bag. But the tricky part of the rule is where the runner “in the umpire’s judgment…interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base.”
Rendon’s throw was trash and wouldn’t have found a home in his Matt Adams’ glove even had Contreras laid down 10 feet shy of the bag. But the umps felt as though the throw was close enough so as not to be ruled uncatchable, which Maddon took issue with. The manager was incensed as he hustled from the dugout and proceeded to explain with various visual aids why the call was wrong.
I half expected him to pick up first base a la Sweet Lou Piniella, but no such histrionics were in order. Given the situation and the result, that play could well have been pivotal. As it was, the Cubs ended up scoring the winning run after a pair of singles from Ian Happ and Addison Russell allowed Anthony Rizzo to force Schwarber home with a walk.
Though still displeased with both the call and the rule that allowed for it to be made, Maddon was at least able to joke about the matter after the game.
“I got upset but I did respect 90,” he said.
For what it’s worth, I totally understand how and why the umpire made the call he did and I’m really not sure why Maddon remained so steadfast in his indignation. Even Angel Hernandez, a notoriously suspect caller of balls and strikes, owned his incorrect third strike on Rizzo the other day. That cuts both ways and Maddon would have done well to have owned his own mistake.
And I get it, right, the situation fueled a lot of it. While the play would have been bad no matter where Contreras ran, it’s a judgment call with no chance for review. And by the letter of the law, the right call was made. But those are the breaks, I guess.
Rizzo’s game-saving walk
You know, Ron, you just feel like that could have been a turning point. With the Cubs down two runs and being no-hit by Jeremy Hellickson two outs into the 6th, it didn’t look good. It looked worse when Rizzo took a called strike to go 2-2.
But then he fouled out five consecutive pitches of four different varieties before finally running the count full. Then he fouled off two more, including a fifth type, and eventually drew ball four. It took 13 pitches, but he strode to first and may have broken Hellickson in the process.
Two more walks would follow, and on five fewer pitches than Rizzo had seen, to load the bases and force Hellickson from the game. Perhaps sensing Bryce Harper’s looming presence, Jason Heyward laced a two-run single to right to knot the game.
Hellickson left without allowing a hit, though he walked a season-high four batters in the affair. What’s wild about that is he hadn’t walked more than two men in any of his 16 previous starts and he had walked a total of four in his previous five starts combined (26.1 IP).
For Rizzo to do what he did under any circumstances was pretty incredible, but down two runs with two outs and his team doing squat on offense? Incredible. And to waste every pitch in Hellickson’s arsenal was not only impressive to those watcing, it completely sapped the pitcher’s confidence. Dude couldn’t throw strikes after that.
I mean, if you’re issuing a four-pitch walk to Javy Baez, let alone when he’s got the chance to tie the game with one swing, that’s saying something.
Strop shuts it down
Pedro Strop isn’t the closer the Cubs deserve, but he’s the closer they need. The man who could well be the most underappreciated pitcher in Cubs history this side of Jeff Pico was on his game Friday afternoon. If not for a botched play that allowed Adam Eaton to reach, he’d have had a very quiet outing.
Only using 18 pitches to face four batters isn’t bad, but the best part was how Strop came back after dropping the flip from Rizzo that should have ended the game. Rather than get down on himself or try to hump up and overthrow, Strop dug in and put Trea Turner away.
When he’s just letting it flow free and easy, Strop’s got some of the best pure stuff you’ll find. He varies the timing of his delivery and can rip that slider in there with deadly effectiveness. And when that splitter is working…oh my. He’s also using his cutter much more, something we’ll share more with you in a separate piece.
What’s really been great to see, perhaps even more than the way he’s stepped in to fill Brandon Morrow’s shoes, is how Strop has become a team leader. He’s an easy guy to root for and it seems as though he’s finally winning over even the most curmudgeonly fans at this point.