ST. LOUIS – The fans sticking it out late Monday night started cheering when Daniel Descalso warmed up in the ninth inning.
This is what it’s come to for the St. Louis Cardinals? A position player on the mound to get the last out in garbage time, surrounded by all those empty red seats at Busch Stadium?
A sellout crowd couldn’t have seen this coming: The Cubs blasting rap music in the clubhouse after a 17-5 blowout win over the Cardinals.
The last time the Cubs scored that many runs against the hated rivals was 1974 at Sportsman’s Park (when they got 19). They did it with streaky all-or-nothing guys Junior Lake (six RBI) and Mike Olt (four homers in his last six games) hoping to find some consistency. They did it with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro (six RBI combined) enjoying bounce-back seasons in the middle of the order. They did it with leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio (five runs) again causing havoc.
“That’s what makes baseball so much fun,” Olt said afterward. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
The Cubs will hit better with men in scoring position when they get better hitters. They can’t fire the hitting coaches again. They’re not going to call up Javier Baez and Kris Bryant anytime soon. They need players to grow up fast, or else they’re going to keep wasting good starting pitching, making it even harder to watch a 13-24 team.
Travis Wood (3-4, 4.91 ERA) wasn’t particularly sharp, but he could smile and joke about the hit batters (and retaliation) in the fifth and sixth innings: “I guess that’s the limit. Hit two guys and then you got to get hit yourself.”
Wood deserved some breaks after all those tough-luck losses and no-decisions – he went 9-12 with a 3.11 ERA during last year’s All-Star campaign. The Cubs have scored 15 runs total in Jeff Samardzija’s eight starts, leaving him still searching for his first win, even with a 1.45 ERA.
“I instantly came in here and gave Samardzija a hug and said: ‘Sorry,’” Wood said. “The offense played great. They brought their A-game.”
Olt is trying to find his game, even while batting .187 and still leading all National League rookies in homers (eight) and RBI (19).
“I’m not worried about the hits,” Olt said. “They’re going to come. I was happy with my approach on every at-bat today and stuck with it. I had a plan going into the game and just didn’t second-guess myself.”
Olt actually flied out to left against Descalso in the ninth inning – and got crossed up with Rizzo on a defensive play at the plate earlier in the game – but the Cubs hope they have a two-way third baseman playing his way into their future.
“It’s just a matter of relaxing,” Olt said. “I definitely tried to do way too much and baseball’s too hard, in general, as it is. And then when you try to put more pressure on yourself, it never turns out well. I’m able to kind of block it out.”
No one knows what Lake might do from one game to the next, but he has so much raw talent. He hammered a three-run homer into the left-field seats, doubled twice and committed an error in left field when he charged a ball too hard.
“He’s electric, for sure,” Wood said. “When he’s on, he’s on. He’s got tremendous pop off the bat and it’s nice to see it come out.”
The Cardinals are 19-20 and still waiting for everything to click, while the Cubs knocked out Tyler Lyons (nine runs in four innings), a rotation fill-in up from Triple-A Memphis. For one night, these two teams flipped the rivalry upside down.
“It’s just one game,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “You have to really try to do those things as consistently as you possibly can over the course of a season. But today they obviously did a really nice job of trying to capitalize on situational hitting and advancing runners, doing…all those little things that you need to do to give yourself a chance to win.”