CHICAGO – Last weekend on the South Side, Cubs manager Joe Maddon waxed enthusiastic about pitcher Yu Darvish starting the unofficial second half for his team.
Darvish pushed hard to pitch, and although he did not get the “W” next to his name, he was a big reason the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3, Friday at Wrigley Field.
It was another no-decision for Darvish, who tossed six scoreless innings of two-hit ball, walking one and striking out eight.
The Cubs grabbed a 3-0 lead against Pirates starter Chris Archer in the seventh, only to watch Pedro Strop suffer a blown save when he gave up a three-run homer to Starling Marte in the eighth.
But Jason Heyward’s single to score heads-up baserunner Kris Bryant in the bottom of the inning rescued Strop.
Darvish was adamant about wanting the ball.
“It’s tough after the All-Star break, the first game,” said Darvish, whose ERA dropped from 5.01 to 4.72. “I have to do my job and just focus each pitch. Last year, I didn’t do anything, so I want to pitch a lot of games this year. I know the first game after the All-Star break is tough for a pitcher and everybody, but I believe I can do it, so I told them I can pitch.”
Maddon, whose first-place team improved to 48-43, saw his faith in Darvish justified even though the right-hander still is searching for his first career win at Wrigley.
“He was really wanting to do this, also, so we felt good about that,” Maddon said. “My goodness, we’ll take that, right? Anywhere, anytime I’ll take that. He’s getting really comfortable in his Chicago Cubs skin right now. He’s just a different cat, the way he interacts, the way he gets ready. He is so much more comfortable than he had been at any time last year.
“And then you’re seeing the stuff, my God. He had the splitter going today, too. He wanted to bring it back out. He felt good about it. He threw it back out there, and it was outstanding to go with the cutter-slider, and then he would change speeds off that to give it a bigger break. He just pitched extremely well.”
It’s no secret the Cubs need this version of Darvish if they’re going to make their fifth straight postseason appearance.
The other guy they need is Bryant, and he continued his All-Star season with a homer to start the seventh inning, when the Cubs scored three runs.
In the eighth, Bryant walked with one out. After Anthony Rizzo struck out, Victor Caratini walked against reliever Kyle Crick. Heyward singled to medium left. Bryant, who had taken a proper secondary lead off second base, beat the throw home to score the winning run.
“That’s my game right there,” said Bryant, who has 18 homers with a line of .297/.404/.559. “Scoring from second, scoring from first. I’ve been doing that for so long, in college and Little League growing up. That’s something I always practice. It’s the easiest part of the game to control. I always take pride in it.
“Too often, I see guys that kind of take it easy out there, talking to the [shortstop] and second baseman. But I owe it to my teammates to give them 100 percent of my focus when I’m out there.”
Maddon said it’s all about caring.
“KB, I’ve talked about it before, is a really good baserunner,” he said. “If you take a good secondary lead, that equals being a great teammate, period. In this game, if you want to measure how much a position player cares, watch his secondary leads. And that’s what KB’s really good at.”