Category: Chicago Cubs

Bryant, Rizzo Cubs’ answer to Toews & Kane

By Richard Kagan

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are the emerging power duo on the Chicago Cubs.  What they’ve done in their short careers is pretty amazing.

Across town, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, two of hockey’s wunderkids are playing well and have the Chicago Blackhawks poised to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Both Toews and Kane are only 28 and yet they’ve won three Stanley Cup championships and have carved their names in NHL history.  Can Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant be the “Toews and Kane” of the Cubbies?

Patrick Kane won his MVP for the Chicago Blackhawks last year as the leading scorer of the league. His stick possession of the puck and his shot-making skills  are legendary and he’s still under 30.

Bryant won the MVP award of the National League last season while hitting .292 BA, 39 HR’s, and  102 rbi’s in the regular season. That’s not to mention his key hits in the post-season, especially his home run against the Dodgers in game five of the NLCS.

Bryant, 25, had such a great year, it seemed like he was either on base or hitting a home run to put the Cubs ahead.  It’s hard to expect him to do better. Cubs fans would like to see him reprise the kind of year he had last year.

Jonathan Toews is one of the great captains of the NHL. Known as “Captain Serious”, Toews seems older than his years on the ice. He doesn’t get ruffled easily. He provides on-ice leadership in making the crucial play, digging the puck out of a scrum, centering it to an open man, or tying up the game in the final seconds with a wrist shot.  His name is on the Stanley Cup three times. The Hawks look like they could be playing later this coming spring.

Anthony Rizzo, 27, is the emotional leader of the Cubs. Last season he batted .292, hit 32 HR’s, and drove in 109 runs. One of the clutch hitters in the league, Rizzo got that key base hit when brows were furrowed on the bench.  He and Bryant are the “answer” men for the Cubs. In the post-season, Rizzo was in a slump but he came out of it in a big way, helping the Cubs get to and win the World Series.

I see some similar traits in both Rizzo and Toews. They both lead by example. They don’t talk a lot, but let their play do the talking. It certainly speaks loud.  Toews could be headed for hockey’s HOF.  It is early to say that for Rizzo. He is off to a great start in his career.

Bryant and Rizzo have become household names in and around Chicago. It could be that way for a long time.

 

All Eyes on Arrieta as Pre-season Begins

By Richard Kagan

mlb.com

mlb.com

The Chicago Cubs had quite the off-season. There still is an after-glow in Chicago as the city basks in its first World Series Title for the Cubs in 108 years.

Management has been busy, making trades and filling holes. The starting lineup looks formidable with the return of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez. Oh by the way, Willson Contreras will probably get the starting nod at catcher. Contreras can hit and has great defensive instincts. And, he grew to handle most of the pitching staff last season.

Jake Arrieta signed a one year deal worth $15.64 dollars to return to the Cubs. The question will be can Arrieta regain his form that he showed early last season. He did win two World Series games, in that epic series against Cleveland. Arrieta also won a Silver Slugger award as the best hitting pitcher in the National League with a .262 batting average, with 2 home runs and seven runs batted in. He was not an easy out at the plate. Pitchers had to work to get him out.

Now, if he can throw as well as he hit last year, then this will bode well for Cubs as they seek to repeat as World Series Champs.  Arrieta threw a no-hitter vs. Cincinatti last season and went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA.  In the second half of the season, he seemed to tire and gave up an inordinate number of walks. He also uncorked a few wild pitches.

He is a fiery competitor and I think this season he will pitch like he has something to prove. That he is still the same pitcher who won the Cy Young in 2015 as the Chicago Cubs became contenders. That his stuff is still elite among starters in the league.

If Arrieta has a good year, maybe flirt with a 20 game win season, this can only mean good things are store for the Cubbies. Maybe they can make history, again.

There is no more next year…

There looked to be maybe 10,000 fans there that day.  I remember the day as being gray and dreary.   The year was 1975.

I don’t know how many of them were there for their first time, but I know at least one of them was.  Some snot-nosed almost seven year old kid was at Wrigley Field for his first ever Chicago Cubs baseball game.  Mom packed me and my sister on to the Addison bus and we headed east.  It was a Ladies Day.  So Mom and my sister were free.  3 for 1.  Can’t beat that.  Mom had a book with her.  And she sat and read it from first pitch to last.  Not me and Theresa.  We were enthralled.  I only assume it was also my sister’s first game, but you’d have to ask her to know for sure.

I was hooked.  I was in awe at these larger than life men running around playing baseball.  I remember Manny Trillo, who was in his rookie season.  I remember Braves’ pitcher Buzz Capra.  I don’t think Capra pitched, but I remember seeing him.  That was the first game.

Oh yeah, I am about 90% the Braves won that day.  That was pretty much a given…

And that is how this sordid love affair began.  Everything was about the Chicago Cubs for me.  I could rattle off statistics.  I analyzed the acquisition of Bobby Murcer.  I lamented the departure of Bill Madlock.  I was in awe of the ivy on the outfield wall.

I would spend many a birthday at Wrigley.  It seemed the Cubs were almost always hosting the Padres on my birthday.  One of the quirks of the unbalanced schedule back in the day.  The West Coast teams always came to Chicago in August for a long time.  Mom would let me bring 3-4 friends and buy us tickets.

As I got older, I was able to just hop on that #152 Addison bus and go on my own.  And I did.  Often.

In 1982  (aged 13), I started a tradition.  On April 9, I saw Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins triumphantly return as he pitched the Cubs to 5-0 victory over the New York Mets.  For 32 of the next 34 Aprils, I did the same exact thing.  The only 2 home openers I missed were 2000 (a girl, of course) and 2015 (Easter Sunday night!).

Over the years I saw so much which made me fall deeper in love with the Chicago Cubs.

I saw Dave Kingman smash some really long home runs.  I saw Glenallen Hill be not so impressed with that.  And I saw Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes turn his nose up that…

I saw some good baseball, and whole lot of bad baseball.

I remember rushing home from school to catch as much of the game as I could on Channel 9.

I remember being pissed that Ivan DeJesus was traded for the all glove, no bat Larry Bowa and some kid named Sandberg.

While on a tour of Europe with my High School classmates, I routinely checked the “International Herald Tribune” for updates on how the Cubs were doing.  When I checked the June 14, 1984 Cubs news, I saw that they traded one of my favorite players (Mel Hall) and our top prospect to Cleveland, of all places, for former Rookie of the Year Rick Sutcliffe and two others.  And to think that I was more excited at the time about Ron Hassey…

My heart sank heavily that Sunday in October of that year when the San Diego Padres crushed our hopes.

I watched in horror as the promise of 1985 faded as one pitcher after another dropped to the sidelines.

I eagerly waited out the rebuild which led to another playoff appearance just 5 years later, only to have Will Clark pretty much single-handedly defeat us.

I was giddy when I was hired in 1991 to work Crowd Control at my Xanadu.  Employee #1131, thank you very much.  I was one of those blue shirted dudes who sat on the outfield wall in the bleachers.  The one and only job I ever had where I would have paid them for the privilege…

I agonized through pitching staffs headed by guys like Anthony Young, Jaime Navarro, Jose Guzman and the like constantly failed us.

I watched Chico Walker become a fan favorite.

I saw failed prospect after failed prospect.  Drew Hall.  Lance Dickson.  Earl Cunningham.  Felix Pié. *sigh* Gary Scott.

I’ve endured 42 years of going to Wrigley.

I’ve lived through Herman Franks, Jim Essian, Preston Gomez, et al

I’ve paid good money to watch Bob Scanlan, Chico Walker, Miguel Dilone, Tom Veryzer and the rest.

I have been to almost every home opener since 1982

My father had to pull me away kicking and screaming in the 4th inning on 8/8/88 because I was CERTAIN the light drizzle would soon end

I woke up in the middle of the night to watch them suck in Tokyo.

I giggled like a schoolgirl to be sitting 2 rows behind Governor Thompson at the one and only win in the 1989 playoffs.

I saw some bum rookie catcher named Biggio blast 2 HR in an empty stadium

I remember rushing home from school to watch games on channel 9

I proudly worked Crowd Control during the forgettable 1991 season. Employee#1131.

…and would have done it for free.

I endured the politicking of the Commissioner’s office which took our home field away in 1984.

I was glowingly optimistic when Danny Jackson, Candy Maldonado, and Dave Smith all came aboard and then loudly helped boo them out of town.

I saw much more heartache and failure than any type of success.  My favorite team was a laughingstock.  Ownership, first under the Wrigley family and later by the Tribune corporation, were interested more in milking the profits garnered from the mystique of Wrigley Field than in putting forth a successful product.

I saw, with the exception of the Dallas Green years, management which was no more than a pawn of the owners.  Only Green dared to actually try to compete.  The farm system began to bloom under him and the team actually had a bright future as guys named Dunston, Walton, and Maddux were groomed and developed.

As much as I always hoped my team would win, I never really felt that was a realistic expectation until that bittersweet 2003 season.  That team came out of nowhere to win the division and advance to the NLCS, where they famously blew a 3 games to 1 lead and bowed to the eventual World Series Champion Marlins.  The 2004 team actually won one more game than the ’03 edition, but the magic wore off.

The 2007 team, under the leadership of Lou Piniella, won the division and got swept by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.  The 2008 team had the best record in the NL and got swept by the Dodgers.  But that was not a team built to last.  It was a team that averaged more than 20 years of age.  The club was soon broken up when the most significant move happened.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 season, on October 27, MLB announced and approved the transfer of 95% ownership of the Chicago Cubs franchise to the Ricketts family, headed by Tom, former executive at TD Ameritrade.  No longer was the team in the hands of a faceless corporate conglomerate.  A real fan was at the controls.  And he soon put his stamp on this team.

On October 12, 2011, Ricketts pried Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox to run the baseball operations.  Epstein quickly brought in his own people, including former Padres GM Jed Hoyer.  The results were dramatic and immediate.  Scouting was better than ever before and top draft choice after top draft choice was a hit.  Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and some dude named Bryant.

Young player after young player was brought in, and they all grew together.  Two miserable seasons filled with growing pains (2012-13) were followed by the first glimmers of hope (2014).  Not only did this team seem finally on the brink of contention, it also showed signs of long-term health with a wealth of young talent.

This is a team unlike any previous “good” Cubs teams.

1984 and 1989  teams assembled on the fly to win now.

1998 was the product of some divine intervention and an absolute stud rookie pitcher.

2003 was, well, special.

2007-8 were also not built to last.

2016 is the first time in my lifetime of being a Cubs fan when the expectation was there to win from the get go.  They played all season with a huge target on their backs and responded to the “pressure” by storming out to a 25-6 start en route to a MLB best 103-58 mark.

Saturday night, some say that the Cubs will be playing in their biggest game since that ill-fated 2003 season.  I disagree.  This is their biggest game since Wednesday October 10, 1945.  I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them what happened THAT day…

When the dust settles, not even Clayton Kershaw will stand in the way of dispelling the goats of seasons past.  The Chicago National League ball club will once again stand atop the baseball world and advance to the World Series.

Five More Home Runs as Mets Complete Sweep of Cubs; Flores goes 6 for 6

By Paul DiSclafani

Wilmer Flores ties franchise record with six hits against Cubs AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Wilmer Flores ties franchise record with six hits against Cubs
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Mets (44-37) accomplished a four game sweep of the Cubs for only the second time in franchise history as they pounded Jon Lester and three other Chicago pitchers (including catcher Miguel Montero) for five home runs and 22 hits in a 14-3 win. The only other time the Mets completed a four game sweep of the Cubs in the regular season was 1985.  Oh yeah, they swept the Cubs in the NLCS last year, too.

Third baseman by default, Wilmer Flores, who has been mired in an 0-14 funk while Jose Reyes looms in the not too distant future, tied a franchise record going 6-6 with two home runs and four runs batted in. Flores raised his average 31 points from .224 to .255.  Edgardo Alfonzo is the only other Mets player to have six hits in a game (1999).

Once again, the Mets offense battered the best the Cubs (51-30) have to offer. One night after beating the reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and his 2.10 ERA, the Mets were facing Jon Lester with an even better ERA (2.03) and his 9-3 record.  Lester didn’t even make it out of the second inning for the first time in 301 career starts.

The Mets batted around in the second inning, scoring seven times, knocking Lester out of the game after just 1 1/3 innings pitched. Flores greeted Lester with a home run to give the Mets a 2-1 lead and after he struck out James Loney, Lester never got another out.  The Mets strung together seven hits and a walk before manager Joe Maddon mercifully came out to get Lester.  Before most fans even got back from the line at the Shake Shack, the Mets led 8-1.

Lester (L, 9-4) finished with eight runs (all earned) on nine hits and a walk while surrendering three home runs. Curtis Granderson hit number 14 in the first to tie the game at 1-1 and Rene Rivera hit a two run bomb during the seven run second.  Lester hadn’t given up eight earned runs in his last six starts combined.

The recipient of all this run support was Noah Syndergaard (W, 9-3) who showed no real signs of the elbow discomfort that plagued him the last two starts, but also didn’t have to work too hard with a seven run lead after two innings. Syndergaard went seven innings scattering seven hits and striking out eight without walking a batter.  He hasn’t walked a batter at Citi Field in 35 innings, dating back to May 1.

In their four game sweep against the team with the best record in the National League, the Mets came back on Thursday (trailing 3-0 in the seventh) to win 4-3; hit five home runs on Friday to win 10-2; held on to win 4-3 against Arrieta on Saturday and then chased Lester with 14 runs on Sunday. In the four games, they scored 32 runs and banged out 48 hits, including 12 home runs.

And it all started with a monster home run by Yoenis Cespedes on Thursday. Trailing 3-0 in the seventh and managing only two hits against John Lackey, Cespedes launched the longest home run ever to be hit at Citi Field in a game, three rows deep into the third deck in left field.  ESPN measured it at 466 feet and the velocity off the bat was 110 mph. At the time Terry Collins said, “I think it woke us. I really do. He hadn’t hit one in a while and that was a big one. I really think that got the guys energized.”  Guess Collins was right because the Mets scored 31 runs in their next 26 innings.

Mets hit 25 home runs in 27 games in June, and have now hit 11 in the first three days of July.

Mets start a three game series against the Marlins in a late afternoon holiday game with Matt Harvey (4-10, 4.55) against Tom Koehler (6-7, 4.45). Harvey’s 10 losses are tied for worst in the league.

POSITIVES: Mets were 8-18 W/RISP Every starter had two hits except Flores (6) and Reynolds (1).  Even Syndergaard had a hit … Kelly Johnson PH a HR in the seventh, his third as a Met … Cubs catcher Miguel Montero pitched for the first time in his career, getting the last four outs.  It the first time the Mets have faced a position player on the mound since 2011 … CJ Cron, who went 6 for 6 last night for the Angels and Flores are the first players in MLB history to do it on consecutive nights.

NEGATIVES: Not today, friends.  Not this weekend …

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Colon Outduels Arrieta as Mets Beat Cubs Again, 4-3

By Paul DiSclafani:

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

What is going on out there in Flushing?

The Mets (43-37) got to Chicago ace Jake Arrieta early and held on for their third straight win against the NL Central leaders, 4-3. Unbelievably, the Mets go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.

When the Mets limped home from Washington DC after being swept by the Nationals on Wednesday, they were facing an 11 game home stand starting with four games against the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. In third place and now six games behind the Nationals, fans on Social Media were jumping off the bandwagon and already looking forward to the opening of NFL training camps.

Instead of throwing in the towel against the formidable Cubs, who not only had beaten the Mets nine straight since 2014 but had a chip on their shoulder and something to prove after being swept by the Mets in the NLCS, they regrouped and circled the wagons.

“You can believe you can compete, but then when you go out and do it, it means a lot,” manager Terry Collins said about the importance of playing well in this series against the Cubs. Thursday they managed a comeback 4-3 win, Friday they hit five home runs in a 10-2 drubbing and tonight they beat Chicago’s Ace, who was 12-2.

“The confidence that it sends throughout the clubhouse, there is no other way to do it except to go out there and beat one of the real good teams and we’ve done that and we want to finish it off tomorrow.”

Just as they did in Game 2 of the NLCS, the Mets got a first inning, 2-run home run from their second baseman just inside the right field foul pole, only this time it was Neil Walker giving the Mets an early 2-0 lead with his 15th home run of the year.  Arrieta then gave up a double to Yoenis Cespedes, then settled down to get the next 10 in a row.

Starter Bartolo Colon cruised through the first three innings without allowing a hit, but Kris Bryant led off the fourth with a single right before Anthony Rizzo launched a 423 foot shot to center field to tie the game at 2-2.

In the Mets half of the fourth with one out, Asdrubal Cabrera broke through the shift with a base hit and after Wilmer Flores popped out, Arrieta walked Alejandro Del Aza, moving Cabrera to second with two outs. That brought up Travis d’Arnaud who took a strike, then blooped the next pitch into nowhere man’s land over second base and just out of the reach of second baseman Javier Baez.  De Aza scored all the way from first behind Cabrera to give the Mets a 4-2 lead.

Colon (W, 7-4) was magnificent the rest of the way, allowing just two more hits and departing in the sixth with the 4-2 lead. “Sometimes he escapes words,” said Collins after the game about Colon.  “He just never ceases to amaze you.”  Of course, the Cubs were not going to go quietly.

Eric Goeddel got the first two outs in the seventh, but Ben Zobrist made it 4-3 on the first pitch he saw with a home run to right. That brought in Jerry Blevins who got ahead of Jason Heyward 0-2, then walked him, prompting Collins to go to Addison Reed a little early to face Kris Bryant.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Addison,” Collins said about bringing Reed in before the eighth inning. “You just gotta trust him.  You trust guys that can throw strikes, because hitting is hard.  If you can locate and you can make your pitch and a guy gets a hit, you tip your hat.  And that’s what Addison has done ever since he’s been here.  He just makes pitches.  There is a certain stage in the game where you think, ‘Hey, this is where we are going to win the game or lose the game’, and I thought we needed to get Bryant out and I thought Addy was the guy to do it.”

Reed got ahead of Bryant 1-2, but a wild pitch moved Heyward into scoring position. Reed then bore down and got Bryant swinging to end the inning.  Back in his more familiar position in the eighth, Reed allowed a leadoff single to Rizzo, then struck out the next three – Wilson Contreras, Miguel Montero and Addison Russell, all flailing at strike three.

That set up Jeurys Familia to try and nail down the save. Unlike Friday night when the Cubs loaded the bases, Familia needed just nine pitches to secure his 28th save of the season and his 44th consecutive regular season save.

Arrieta (L, 12-3) had won his first 12 decisions this year and has now lost three of his last six starts. He allowed four earned runs and eight hits in just 5 1/3 innings and struggled with a 35-pitch first inning. Arrieta, the reigning CY Young Award winner in the NL, had not lost a game on the road since May of last year (19-0 in 24 starts).

Noah Syndergaard (8-3) goes for the sweep on Sunday against Jon Lester (9-3). Matt Harvey beat Lester in the NLCS Opener last year and Syndergaard beat Arrieta in Game 2.

POSITIVES: Loney made a nice 3-3-6 DP in the third … Walker with 15 home runs, is just one shy of his total for all of 2015 … Colon has not given up more than 2 earned runs in a game since May 18 … Juan Lagares got into the game, but hit into a double play in the sixth … Curtis Granderson could return to the lineup on Sunday … Brandon Nimmo led off again with a walk and another hit … d’Arnaud was 2-3 with 2 RBI.

NEGATIVES: Mets had eight hits against Arrieta, but failed to get a base runner after he left them game with one out in the sixth … Loney and Flores were both 0-4

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Five Home Runs Power Mets Past Cubs Again, Arrieta is Next

By Paul DiSclafani:

Brandon Nimmo Celebrates First Major League Home Run in 10-2 rout of Cubs AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Brandon Nimmo Celebrates First Major League Home Run in 10-2 rout of Cubs
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Within the span of two games against the team with the best record in baseball, the Mets have brought their fans back a few more feet from the ledge as they hit five home runs against pitcher Jason Hammel on Friday in a 10-2 drubbing between multiple rain delays to go along with Thursday’s thrilling come from behind 4-3 win, which snapped a four game losing streak. Although the Mets had lost nine consecutive regular season games to the Cubs since 2014, they have now beaten them six straight, including a sweep of last year’s NLCS.

With nothing specific to point to other than the infectious smile of rookie Brandon Nimmo, the gloom and doom of being swept in Washington earlier in the week has given way to hope and optimism. That is, until Jake Arrieta takes the mound for the Cubs tonight.

Arrieta, arguably the league’s best pitcher at 12-2 will try to use that league leading 2.10 ERA to his advantage against a Mets team that is suddenly feeling its Wheaties.

The Mets finally provided some run support for Jacob deGrom on Friday as they tied a team record hitting five home runs against the same pitcher, allowing deGrom (4-4) to become a winner for the first time since April 30th, snapping a 10 game winless streak.  Asdrubal Cabrera (twice), Yoenis Cespedes (#20), James Loney and Nimmo hit home runs in the rout.  For Nimmo, it was his first in the major leagues (measured at 442 feet) and prompted the appreciative Citi Field crowd to demand a curtain call.  Nimmo, smiling all the way around the bases, gave the ball, which landed in the bullpen area, to his parents, who were in attendance.   Loney and Cabrera went back-to-back in the second inning.

In addition to his home run (and curtain call), Nimmo made a sliding one-handed catch of a fly ball in right field, prompting manager Terry Collins to say, “It’s always nice to have those young guys come up, because they bring energy.”

Now we’ll see how that energy translates to offense against Arrieta. Since tossing six shutout innings against the Pirates on 6/17 and lowering his ERA to 1.74, Arrieta has come back down to Earth a little.  He was the losing pitcher against St. Louis on 6/22 and lasted only five innings in his last start against, of all teams, the last place Reds.  Arrieta was charged with five earned runs and issued five walks, but the Cubs still managed to get him the “W” in an eventual 11-8 win.

The Mets roughed up Arrieta in Game 2 of the NLCS for three runs in the first inning highlighted by two-run home run by Daniel Murphy en route to a 4-1 win. But Arrieta is 2-1 lifetime against the Mets with a 1.82 ERA in the regular season.

Bartolo Colon (6-4, 2.86) goes tonight and tries to keep this good feeling going for the Mets as they continue to tread water heading into the All Star break next week. After what the Mets have been through the last two weeks, they are certainly enjoying their new-found enthusiasm.

“I’m real aware that it’s the gloomiest days when you lose here,” Terry Collins said. “If you lose two or three in a row here, it’s very hard to deal with. But it’s a long year.”

POSITIVES: Mets hit five home runs in a home game for the fifth time in franchise history, but for the first time at cavernous Citi Field.  Last time was at Shea Stadium in 2000 against the Marlins … Juan Lagares has been activated for tonight’s game after going 6-18 with a triple and a couple of RBI with AA Binghamton as he continues to try to play through a partially torn ligament in his left thumb … Reliever Seth Lugo made his big league debut and pitched two scoreless innings of relief (2 hits and a HBP), but then was sent back to AAA Las Vegas to make room for Lagares.  He is the first Met to ever wear #67 – now THAT’s a future trivia answer …

NEGATIVES: Curtis Granderson will miss the rest of this series and the Mets expect to make a decision on whether to put him on the DL today or tomorrow … David Wright looked gaunt in speaking to the media yesterday and has resigned himself to the fact that he will not play again this season.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at A View From the Bench, an official affiliate of MLB.com. A View from the Bench is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Cubs Finding Out About Nimmo as Mets Snap Four Game Skid

By Paul DiSclafani:

Brandon Nimmo celebrates his first Major League RBI in Mets 4-3 win over the Cubs AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Brandon Nimmo celebrates his first Major League RBI in Mets 4-3 win over the Cubs
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The Mets (41-37) snapped a nine game regular season losing streak against the Cubs (51-27) with a come from behind 4-3 win, scoring three times in the seventh inning and holding their breath as the Cubs threatened in the ninth inning. Jeuurys Familia worked out of a jam as the Cubs put runners on second and third with no outs.

Trailing 3-0 in the sixth and being held to just two hits by Cubs starter John Lackey, the Mets seemed well on their way to their fifth straight loss when lightning struck in the form of Yoenis Cespedes.

After getting Neil Walker to foul out to first to start the sixth inning, Lackey fell behind Cespedes 2-0 before the Cuban launched a moon shot into the third deck in left field (section 436 to be exact) to put the Mets on the board and cut the lead to 3-1. Nobody has ever hit a home run into the third deck in Citi Field since the park opened in 2009, but Cespedes was among a handful of players that did it during the 2013 Home Run Derby.

The homerun energized not only the crowd but the Mets as the bench erupted.

Mets starter Steven Matz, who was pitching with an extra day’s rest, put them in a 2-0 hole after just five pitches when Kris Bryant followed Ben Zobrist’s leadoff single with a home run. He later gave up a solo home run to Javier Baez in the sixth.  Matz pitched just 5 1/3 and issued three walks and seven hits to go along with six strikeouts.

Eric Goddel (W, 1-0), who relieved Matz in the sixth and got the final two outs, threw just 10 pitches to finish the seventh inning when the Mets offense went back to work.

With Lackey still on the mound, Travis d’Arnaud singled to left with one out after Wilmer Flores opened the inning with a line drive out to center. That was it for Lackey, who was replaced by Joel Peralta.  Peralta got ahead of pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza 1-2, but eventually lost him, putting runners on first and second.

Rookie Brandon Nimmo, making only his fifth start for the Mets, also fell behind Peralta 1-2, but he kept battling, fouling off three straight before singling up the middle and collecting his first major league RBI as d’Arnaud scored to make it 3-2. With De Aza racing to third, center fielder Albert Almora threw to third late and Nimmo alertly took second on the throw.

“I’m just trying to stay calm, act like nobody is on base,” Nimmo said about his RBI single. “… I was absolutely ecstatic. It is hard to put into words because this is just something I dreamed about ever since I was a kid. To be able to come through and help the team win, you always need it, but tonight was really, really big. To just be able to help the team somehow and be able to come up here, it feels good to contribute.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon then summoned Pedro Strop to pitch to Walker and decided to play the infield in to try to cut down the tying run at the plate. Strop got ahead of Walker 1-2 and he grounded it slowly to second base.  Even with the infield in, Baez had no play at home, so he fired to third to get Nimmo as he tried to advance.  But Bryant, who was also playing in at third, didn’t get back to the bag in time and the throw went off his glove and into foul territory, allowing Nimmo to score along with De Aza and the Mets took a 4-3 lead.

Now it was up to the bullpen to hold the lead and get the Mets a win they desperately needed. But the Cubbies were not going to go quietly into the night.

Wilson Contreras greeted Addison Reed with a single to lead off the eighth and moved to second on a wild pitch. Reed struck out Baez and Chris Coghlan, but then walked Addison Russell and Terry Collins brought in Jerry Blevins to face pinch hitter Jason Heyward.  Why not bring in Familia for a four out save in that situation?  Blevins got behind Heyward 2-1, but got him to ground one back to the mound and the Mets were out of the inning, still clinging to a 4-3 lead.

That set the stage for Familia as he tried to nail down his 27th save of the season and 43rd in a row.  After getting ahead of pinch hitter Miguel Montero 0-2, he walked him on four straight pitches, then gave up a booming double to Zobrist over Nimmo’s head in right field and the Cubs were in business with second and third and no outs and Bryant coming up.

“I’ve been in that situation before”, Familia said, “I try to calm down a little bit, don’t get too high, control my emotions and make my pitch.”

Familia pounded Bryant with splitters out of the strike zone and struck him out for the first out. After intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo, Familia pounded Countreras the same was as Bryant, getting him swinging for the second out.  He then got Baez to pop up an 0-2 pitch to end the game.

If there was ever a “must” win game for the Mets this season, this was it. Coming off a moribund 2-5 road trip in which they had more injuries than runs scored, facing the best team in baseball for a four game set was not what they had in mind.  Even though the Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS, the Cubs were much improved and the Mets were not.

“It sure came at the right time, to come back against that team the first game of this 11-game homestand,” Collins said. “I think it’s huge for us. It lifted the spirits of everybody in there that they could come back and win a game, which we haven’t done in a while.”

As the Mets say good-bye to a miserable June, Jacob deGrom (3-4, 2.67) faces off against Jason Hammel (7-4, 2.58) on Friday night. DeGrom is 0-4 in his last 10 starts and hasn’t won a game since April 30th.  Hammel has never beaten the Mets in five starts (0-3).

POSITIVES: Familia leads all of baseball with 27 saves … Mets had lost nine straight to the Cubs dating back to 2014 … Cespedes has 19 home runs … Mets had just six hits, but d’Arnaud had two of them …

NEGATIVES: Granderson was out of the lineup after an MRI revealed a mild strain of his left calf.  He may miss a couple of games, but Juan Lagares is ready to come off the DL.