Jon Lester squeezed in Jason Heyward for a 7-6 win over the Mariners in 12 innings … Cubs started longest winning streak of season
The Cubs and Mariners squared off on Sunday night at Wrigley Field on the last day of July. The Cubs split the first two games and was looking to end the month with a win. The Cubs struggled in July due to the 24 games in 24 days stretch leading up the break. A victory over the Mariners would give the Cubs a respectable, but disappointing 12-14 mark for the month.
What ended up happening was one of the signature wins of the season. The Cubs fought back from a 6-0 deficit in the third inning and tied it with three runs in the ninth. Jon Lester delivered the game winner pinch-hitting in the 12th inning. Lester dropped down a squeeze bunt that allowed Jason Heyward to score from third … and the Cubs celebrated a 7-6 victory.
Joe Maddon said after the game that was the type of victory that could start a winning streak. Maddon was right. The Cubs won 11 in a row and went 22-6 in August as Maddon’s team removed any doubt who would be NL Central Champs.
On Sunday Night Baseball in front of a national audience on ESPN, Brian Matusz made his Cubs debut. And he was gone by the third inning. Due to a contractual obligation, Matusz was called up to make the start. The lefty served up three, two-run home runs, one in each of the first three innings of the game to Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Dae-ho Lee. Matusz had nothing and while he was struggling, Felix Hernandez was striking out one batter after another.
Carl Edwards Jr. replaced Matusz that night and settled things down for the Cubs. Edwards Jr. was electric in the two innings he was on the mound. Edwards Jr. struck out the side in order in the fourth and the first batter he faced in the fifth. Edwards Jr. saw six batters in two innings. He struck out five and made only 30 pitches.
The Cubs finally put runs on the board in the fifth. Ben Zobrist worked a bases loaded walk with two outs and Addison Russell took one for the team. Russell was hit by a pitch and forced in Dexter Fowler. At the end of five, the Cubs trailed 6-2.
Joe Nathan, in what turned out to be his last appearance with the Cubs, replaced Edwards Jr. Nathan faced two batters, gave up a walk and a double. Maddon went to his pen for Travis Wood. And he walked Seth Smith to load the bases with no outs. With the game on the line, Wood struck out Shawn O’Malley and Leonys Martin. Robinson Cano popped out to end the inning.
The Cubs chipped into the Mariners lead in the seventh after Travis Wood bailed out Pedro Strop in the top of the inning with an unbelievable catch against the ivy to rob Franklin Gutierrez of extra bases and a RBI.
Dexter Fowler walked to start the seventh and scored on a Ben Zobrist triple. The Cubs made it a 6-3 and that’s the way it stayed until the ninth.
Anthony Rizzo doubled with one out in the ninth. Ben Zobrist singled. And with runners on second and third, Addison Russell stepped in and singled in Rizzo. Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Zobrist scored and made it a 6-5 game on a ground out by Willson Contreras that should have been a game-ending double play. Contreras hustled down the line and kept the inning going.
Steve Cishek uncorked a wild pitch with Matt Szczur at the plate. Russell scored and tied the game at six. And that is the way it stayed until the 12th inning.
Jason Heyward led off the 12th with a double and moved to third when Contreras flied out. Maddon called on Jon Lester with one out and Heyward on third representing the winning run.
And Lester came through with everyone knowing what he was sent up to do.
Lester was the best bunter on the team this past season. And he delivered with two strikes (2-2 count). It was a perfectly placed bunt. Heyward broke and scored the winning run.
Jon Lester stepped in the box looking the role of a pinch-hitter … notice the high pants, the only time all season he wore the high pants at Wrigley.
The Cubs put together a team win on the final day of July.
Joe Maddon used nine pitchers and 12 position players. Jason Hammel and Jon Lester both pinch-hit, Travis Wood played left field and Ben Zobrist lined up at second, left and right field. By the end of the night, Maddon used 23 players and the Cubs started what turned out to be their longest winning streak of the regular season.