Russell Martin

Pirates outlast Cubs, win 4-3 in 16 innings


Fortunately, rain is expected to wash over PNC Park on Thursday. Neither the Cubs nor Pirates are going to want to play an afternoon game after this.

The Pirates topped the Cubs 4-3 in 16 innings Wednesday night when the final player on their bench, backup catcher Tony Sanchez, delivered a pinch-hit single off Carlos Villanueva that scored Jose Tabata. It concluded a 5 hour, 55 minute game that ended just before 1 a.m. The two teams are currently scheduled to play again at 12:35 p.m., unless there’s a rainout.

Some highlights:

– Emilio Bonifacio followed up his four-hit opener on Monday with four more hits in regulation and then a fifth hit in the 15th inning tonight. He became the first player since Dante Bichette in 1998 and just the fifth player in 100 years to have back-to-back four-hit games to start a team’s season and then the first known player to end the second game with nine hits. Bonfacio also made things interesting on the basepaths again, stealing two bases but also getting picked off first for the second straight game.

– Going along with the theme of the first three days, both closers blew saves, with Jason Grilli doing so in the ninth and Jose Veras returning the favor after an Anthony Rizzo solo homer gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead in the 12th.

– Villanueva, the Cubs’ fifth starter, fell to 0-2 before even getting a chance to make a start. He gave up the 10th-inning run in the Pirates’ 1-0 win Monday and then allowed a run in his second inning of work tonight.

– In the 13th, Clint Barmes managed to ground into a exceedingly rare 7-2-3 double play. The Cubs went to a five-man infield with the bases loaded and none out, bringing Junior Lake in from left field to play near third base. Barmes hit a grounder right to Lake and he made a clean throw home, starting the double play.

For Lake, it was his first opportunity as an “infielder” in the majors, but something he’s very used to. While he’s been exclusively an outfielder since getting called up last year, he played 418 games at short and 93 at third in the minors. In fact, he made just six appearances ever in the outfield before being called up.

– The Cubs lost despite outhitting the Pirates 15-8. They also had the game’s only two extra-base hits.

– The game featured three replays, all after the seventh inning, one of which resulted in an overturn.

According to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, it was just the fourth 16-inning game to take place within the first two games of the season over the last 100 years. The last was in 2012, when the Blue Jays beat the Indians 7-4 in 16 innings on April 5. Prior to that, the Rays beat the Red Sox 9-8 in 16 innings on April 1, 2003 and the Royals beat the Twins 4-3 in 17 innings on April 9, 1969.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

Getty Images

I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.