You could not possibly have wrung any more emotion out of Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon.
The Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals staged another classic in their ancient rivalry, with the Cardinals hitting back-to-back homers off Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester to take a 2-0 lead in top of the eighth inning.
They Cubs weren’t finished. In today’s parlance, the Cubs probably said the equivalent of “hold my beer.”
They scored 3 in the bottom of the inning with Kris Bryant hitting a broken-bat single to tie the game and then scoring all the way from first base on Anthony Rizzo’s bloop double to shallow left-center. Cubs closer Wade Davis walked two in the ninth but held on for his 19th save and a 3-2 Cubs victory
Bryant was doubtful because of a sprained pinkie finger, but he took some early swings and talked himself into the lineup.
Lester choked back tears during his postgame news conference. He had the letters “PLACT” on his cap in honor of an uncle who died Friday. That stands for “play like a champion today,” Notre Dame’s sports motto.
“For the Notre Dame fans … he went to Notre Dame,” he said. “So it was play like a champion today. I was letting him know I was thinking of him.”
All of his played out before 41,969 fans, with many coming up from St. Louis and all being thoroughly entertained.
“Beautiful game, because we did win, of course” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team is 50-46. “Two days in a row we played really good baseball. Yesterday they beat us up in one inning, but another great game. We hung in there to the very end, like we normally do. KB (Bryant) being able to play was the difference in today’s game, a combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that, maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. Happer (Ian Happ) possibly.
“But KB is such a good baserunner. He had it (scoring) in his head the moment the ball was hit. All Jonesie (third-base coach Gary Jones) had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup. And there it was.”
Bryant injured his finger sliding Wednesday at Atlanta, and he might have missed this entire series, and not just Friday’s game. But the finger checked out only “sore” Saturday, and as Maddon said: “Soreness plays.”
Back to back homers by Paul DeJong (a graduate of Antioch High School) and Randal Grichuk gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sent starter Adam Wainwright back out for the bottom half.
A one-out single by Jon Jay and a two-out RBI double by Ben Zobrist brought the Cubs within 1. Bryant singled off Matt Bowman, and Rizzo dunked his double in off Brett Cecil, with Bryant putting on a baserunning clinic — combining speed and awareness — to score.
“Full count, I got a head start, so that was huge,” he said. “That’s something that I take pride in, my baserunning, surprising people, and hopefully I did that today.”
With the National League Central bunched at the top with the Brewers, Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals, Bryant agreed this one was especially important.
“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” he said. “Lester pitching great. Wainwright pitching unbelievable, too. Just a pitchers duel. Nice quick game. It was a quick game for like seven innings and then scoring innings take a little longer. It was just a great game on both sides.”
Maddon coined a new word for this time of year: “It’s already ‘Jaugust,'” he said, combining July and August. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the (all-star) break, I believe. We’ve come back with renewed energy. Yeah, you don’t want to give up anything right now.”