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CHICAGO—There’s something about baseball at a venue like Wrigley Field — with the ever-changing wind, the brick walls, the ivy, the uneven dimensions and funny bounces — plus the double-switches and other aspects of the National League game that can add to the challenge. To purists, it’s the way baseball was intended.
And every time you think you’ve seen it all, something like the Cubs’ 10- inning, 6-5 walk-off victory on Sunday comes along to leave you shaking your head. The Jays battled back to tie the game in the sixth inning and carried it to extra innings, thanks to a gutsy performance by reliever Ryan Tepera to escape the bottom of the ninth. They even took the lead in the 10th. Then came the meltdown.
The final inning deserves a closer look.
The Blue Jays’ 10th
With former Red Sox closer Koji Uehara on the mound for Chicago, Josh Donaldson led off with a single deep in the hole that shortstop Javy Baez dove for and stopped, unable to make a play. With one out, catcher Alex Avila, who had just entered the game, inexplicably spiked a routine throw back to the pitcher and it rolled out to the left of the mound, with an alert Donaldson moving up a base. The Cubs quickly walked Jose Bautista intentionally.
Darwin Barney hit for Ryan Tepera, who was in Miguel Montero’s original spot. Barney flied out. Then, on the seventh pitch from Uehara, Kevin Pillar lined a high fastball to right field and Donaldson scored on a head-first slide around Avila’s tag. The runners moved up. The excitement was palpable.
Lefty Justin Wilson entered and walked Ryan Goins. Nori Aoki then worked a Wilson walk to give Toronto what seemed to be an insurance run. Steve Pearce flied out to centre, bringing Roberto Osuna into the game for the save.
The Cubs’ 10th
Manager John Gibbons and bench coach DeMarlo Hale seemed to enjoy the weekend of roster challenges in an NL park; the final inning was not any different.
Donaldson had made his first career start at shortstop and Jose Bautista started at third base, a position that had not been his primary one since 2008. But to begin the 10th inning, Bautista went back to right and Donaldson to third, with Barney at second, Goins at short and Aoki in left.
Then the bottom of the inning started and the nightmare began for Osuna and catcher Raffy Lopez. With a two-run advantage, that first out is ever-important. Osuna struck out Kyle Schwarber on a nasty breaking ball in the dirt that bounced back to the screen for a wild pitch that put the Cubs’ leadoff man on. That two-run lead the Jays had built loomed large.
Ben Zobrist ripped a solid single to right field that sent Schwarber lumbering around to third base. After Osuna threw a wild pitch on ball two to Anthony Rizzo, scoring Schwarber and moving the tying run to second, Gibbons sauntered to the mound and seemed to read the riot act to his ace reliever —likely about cutting the off-speed crap and attacking the hitters. The manager said he didn’t recall ever doing that with Osuna before, but “I had some things for him.”
Osuna began to attack the strike zone and Rizzo grounded to second, moving the tying run to third with one out. Gibbons drew his infielders in on the grass to cut the tying run off at the plate.
In a tense battle, Osuna struck Baez out on a full count, but the ball bounced off to the left side of the plate with Lopez in hot pursuit. He grabbed it, checked the runner at third and then froze as Baez scampered across the first-base bag safely. He threw but there was no chance after the inopportune brain cramp.
“He definitely took too much time,” Gibbons said. “Nobody feels worse than Lopie. He’s played very good for us back there, along the way. But you get a couple of strikeouts and you get a couple of outs on them, who knows how it develops in the end? He’s a great kid. He busted his ass. No one feels worse than he does.”
The 29-year-old Lopez had a slightly different take on the play.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “You feel like it’s your fault but sometimes the game gets the best of you and you just have to bounce back. Learn from it and I just have to respond from this. I was just trying to get the ball, check him and go. I made a bad throw and my feet weren’t in the proper position. My body was facing their dugout and I didn’t get my body in the proper position to throw to first.”
With Jason Heyward at the plate, Baez stole second and Osuna hit Heyward with a pitch to load the bases with still only one out. Alex Avila singled to right and Lopez took the strong throw from Bautista and swept around to make a tag too late on Baez as the 6-5 walk-off celebration began. Lopez stayed on his knees with his head on the grass for several seconds after the winning run.
Marco Estrada had started the game for the Jays and went six innings. He was not involved in the decision but was emotionally involved in the outcome.
“You’re just in awe, you can’t believe those things are happening,” Estrada said. “We played our butts off today and we had it. Unfortunately it all fell apart. There’s nothing you can do about it now—move on, regroup. It’s tough to take with that loss, the way things happened. It just sucks.”