"It feels like a playoff atmosphere again. This is how it should be every day."
That's what Wrigley Field staffers were commenting leading up to Wednesday's Cubs-Diamondbacks game on the ballpark's 100th birthday.
Four hours later, the Cubs proved why a playoff atmosphere was such a rare commodity at the corner of Clark and Addison.
Jeff Samardzija had the 32,323 Cubs fans buzzing with a strong start in front of Chicago sports legends like Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, as well as Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. For the first time this season, the Cubs offense backed their ace, setting Samardzija up with a 5-2 lead and in line for his first victory in his last 10 starts.
But a complete meltdown in the ninth inning changed the narrative, as the bullpen gave up five runs and Starlin Castro committed a costly error in a 7-5 loss.
"That was a tough one, for sure," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "But we gotta get over it because we got another game tomorrow."
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Pedro Strop was called on to close out the game, but didn't have his command, as he admitted after the loss. He walked Chris Owings to start the inning and Castro's error allowed former Cubs fan favorite Tony Campana to reach safely on a grounder right near second base.
"I was just trying to be too quick on that play," Castro said, who admittedd he was trying to turn a double play. "I just have to make sure of one [out] there."
Another walk followed to load the bases before Strop finally recorded the first out. But the next batter, Martin Prado, hit a bouncing ball up the middle that caromed off the second-base bag and into right field, allowing two runs to score on a wild play.
"I've never seen a ball hit the corner of the bag on a ground ball," Renteria said. "That's a first for me."
Was it a Cubbie Occurrence on a day celebrating 100 years of Wrigley Field history?
"It just looked like a weird play," Renteria said. "I don't think about what is or isn't in the past. That plays no part in my thinking."
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The ninth inning snowballed from there. James Russell replaced Strop and gave up a game-tying single. Justin Grimm replaced Russell and gave up a go-ahead, two-run triple down the right field line.
"That was a weird inning," Renteria said. "That one finished not like we would have wanted, obviously."
Strop was charged with the loss, but only one of the four runs he gave up was earned. Russell was saddled with the blown save.
"You just gotta keep your head up and come fight tomorrow," Strop said.
With the Wrigley 100 festivities pregame, it was shaping up to be a special day in one of baseball's last remaining cathedrals. When asked after the game if he got caught in the moment, Strop said that didn't come into play.
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"You're sitting in the bullpen and everything's happening, 100 years and all that," Strop said. "But as soon as you get in the game, that's done. You're not thinking of that. You're just thinking about getting your team off the field and into the clubhouse."
More than a half an hour after Strop entered the game, the Cubs finally got back into the clubhouse, but they weren't celebrating a hard-earned victory.
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Instead, they were trying to get a bad taste out of their mouth after a game that showed just how far the Cubs have to go before Wrigley Field feels like a party every day.