Nico Hoerner grabbed hold of a 94-mph fastball in the first inning of Friday’s Chicago Cubs-Arizona Diamondbacks game and launched it toward the left-field bleachers at Wrigley Field.
A crowd of 31,846 got on its feet in anticipation of a ”Whoomp! There it is!” moment.
But Diamondbacks left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. settled in front of the ivy-covered wall and watched a 12-mph wind blowing in from the north put the ball back in play, then made a routine catch on the warning track.
Whoomp, there it wasn’t.
Summer’s unofficial end traditionally turns Wrigley into a pitcher’s park in September, and Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen made the place his home in a complete game, 1-0 win against the Cubs.
“I definitely thought it had a chance off the bat,” Hoerner said. “But obviously with the wind blowing in, and (it being) a higher-hit ball that was hit well but not crushed. … So yeah, it’s part of playing here.”
Gallen (15-7) held the Cubs to three singles and didn’t allow a runner into scoring position, pulling the Diamondbacks within two games of the Cubs for the second National League wild-card spot and showing why he is a Cy Young Award candidate.
The Cubs lost their second straight game, falling 2 1/2 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers before their night game in the Bronx against the New York Yankees.
A Cubs lineup that totaled 39 runs in a four-game winning streak looked lifeless for the second straight day against Diamondbacks pitching. In Thursday’s 6-2 loss they had only five hits, including three in the ninth inning when the game was out of reach.
They’ll face another stiff challenge Saturday in Merrill Kelly, who squares off against Cubs ace Justin Steele.
The only bright spot Friday was the pitching of starter Jameson Taillon, who had a 6.84 ERA over his previous five starts but carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
“He knows, and we’ve talked about it, at this point of the year the numbers aren’t going to be where you wanted them to be to start the year,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t end the season on a high note.”
Taillon allowed one hit over six shutout innings but was removed to start the seventh in a scoreless game after 77 pitches. He retired 17 straight hitters until Corbin Carroll broke up the no-hit bid with one out in the sixth.
Taillon understood the decision by manager David Ross, who was not interested in explaining his move.
“I totally get it,” Taillon said. “We’re in September against another team in the hunt. Every pitch matters. I think they felt like they probably got to the end of the road with me and we were about to turn the lineup over and stuff. It’s one of those things I understood.”
Asked about the decision, Ross simply said: “He was done.”
Why was he done?
“Because I chose to take him out of the game,” he said. “It’s kind of my choice, right?”
True. But after 77 pitches?
“I don’t need to explain,” he said. “I thought he was done. I thought he pitched a phenomenal game. We’ve got a fully rested bullpen.”
After Taillon left, Julian Merryweather struck out the side in the seventh before Jose Cuas gave up a leadoff single and a walk to start the eighth. Mark Leiter Jr. almost bailed Cuas out, but Carroll sliced a two-out liner to right that barely hit a few blades of grass in front of the mitt of a sliding Seiya Suzuki, scoring the only run of the game.
It was ruled a catch, but replays showed otherwise, and the call was overturned after a challenge from Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. A game of inches became a game of millimeters.
“Ball just out of the reach of Seiya,” Ross said. “In an environment like that, putting guys on base comes back to bite you at times. A play just out of reach went their way today.”
With tight games expected down the stretch, Ross’ bullpen could make or break the season. Closer Adbert Alzolay returned after getting a week of rest for unannounced “stuff” and pitched a scoreless ninth. Before the game the Cubs activated veteran Brad Boxberger from the 60-day injured list and optioned Keegan Thompson to Triple-A Iowa.
Boxberger had been out with a right forearm strain since May 15 and had been rehabbing at Iowa since Aug. 14. Hottovy said the Cubs needed a “veteran presence, a guy who can pitch every day and has been through some playoff pushes.”
The bullpen is loaded with young pitchers who haven’t experienced a pennant race, so Boxberger’s experience could be beneficial if he’s back to his old self. The Cubs also received positive news from Arizona, where Marcus Stroman told them he’s adamant he will return from his fractured right rib cartilage.
Hottovy said Stroman “texted me 15 times” Thursday after throwing a live batting-practice session to tell him how good he felt.
Has Hottovy spoken with Stroman?
“A lot of texts,” he said. “That is talking to players now.”
At least he’s not just sending emojis.
The Cubs are still in prime position for a postseason berth but can’t afford the offense to disappear or for the young relievers to falter down the stretch.
The winds of change have arrived at Wrigley, and we’ll see what this team is made of.