CHICAGO – The long, futile, hapless journey of the 2019 Cubs took another confounding downturn Saturday.
The longest nine-inning game in franchise history (four hours, 22 minutes) produced a fourth straight one-run loss, something that hadn’t happened to the Cubs since April 23 to 26, 1972.
The Cubs were winning a battle of windblown home runs heading into the ninth inning Saturday at Wrigley Field. But it took only two pitches from closer Craig Kimbrel to turn a potential one-run victory into a devastating 9-8 loss to St. Louis.
“Needed the 16-ounce gloves for that fight right there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We had the right guy there at the end. You talk about two shots to the jaw – like poom, poom – and they got the win.”
Of course, it’s not over yet. The Cubs still have seven games remaining, starting with Sunday’s home finale against St. Louis. But these Cubs continue to waver from unbeatable to incompetent, sometimes from week to week, other times from inning to inning.
Kimbrel’s first pitch in the ninth was a home run to left-center field by Yadier Molina. The second was a nearly identical blast by Antioch native Paul DeJong.
Kimbrel spent most of September on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation. He returned Thursday and has given up a game-winning homer in each of his past two outings.
“It’s easy to guess fastball on him,” Maddon said. “The key is to not miss. A lot of guys foul it off. They didn’t foul it off. Both of them hit it squarely.”
To his credit, Kimbrel was waiting to speak to reporters as soon as the Cubs’ clubhouse opened.
“I felt like I made two competitive pitches that I wanted to, and they went out,” he said. “It’s just frustrating. That’s the only thing I can say.”
Kimbrel couldn’t go on a rehab assignment after the elbow injury, since minor league seasons are over. He said health wasn’t an issue.
“I was pumped out there, I was excited, felt like I had good stuff,” he said. “Then right there off the bat, two home runs. Frustrating.”
The Cubs used seven pitchers, the Cardinals used nine. There was reason to feel squeamish about Kimbrel’s save opportunity, especially since the wind seemed to gain speed as the day went on. Maddon, however, remained confident.
“We were at that point today where we built the game toward him, and I want to continue to do so,” Maddon said.
“But I honestly felt really good about the moment right there, the way we fought back. He had already been in one game, has had ample time to get it back together, and it was kind of surprising.”
Until the ninth inning, the Cubs did get the timely home runs they’ve been craving. Ian Happ hit a pinch-hit, two-run blast to center in the fourth to tie the score at 5. Nico Hoerner added a go-ahead home run in the sixth.
The Cardinals went ahead, 7-6, in the seventh when Marcell Ozuna picked an 0-2 pitch off his shoelaces, and it carried into the seats in left-center off Kyle Ryan.
In the bottom of the seventh, Tony Kemp hit a windblown, pinch-hit, two-run homer to center on an 0-2 pitch. Kemp appeared to strike out on the previous pitch but was saved by a balk call that sent Ben Zobrist to third.
“It’s really a difficult loss based on all the good things we did today,” Maddon said.
Both starting pitchers had rough early innings. The Cubs took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first, thanks mostly to four straight walks from Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson, who left after three innings.
Jose Quintana’s bad inning was the fourth, when St. Louis collected two singles, a walk and hit batsman before the left-hander was pulled.
Javy Baez returned from a thumb injury to make the final out of the game, a swinging strikeout against St. Louis closer Carlos Martinez.