CHICAGO – No matter how delightful the venue and without getting too saccharine about it the Wrigley Field experience is truly a worthwhile one. The bottom line, however, is always about the baseball.
In that regard, the second ever visit by the Toronto Blue Jays to Chicago’s north side started rather frustratingly Friday, as Jake Arrieta stuffed them at the plate while the Cubs poked and prodded J.A. Happ just enough to survive a late rally and triumph 7-4 over their American League guests.
The result certainly wasn’t the large and vocal contingent of Blue Jays fans among a crowd of 41,814 had hoped to see, and isn’t what their team needed after a 7-3 homestand pulled them in a little closer to wild-card contention from the fringes where they’ve lingered.
While a single loss won’t derail all of their recent progress, the key is in holding it there, as manager John Gibbons noted beforehand that, “For our sake, from here on out, we can’t afford any more bad stretches.”
The Blue Jays will need more innings from their starters than they got from Happ to avoid such a skid, as the left-hander made it through five innings and left trailing 5-1. The offence managed to make things interesting in the eighth when Pedro Strop surrendered a Kevin Pillar RBI double and a two-run single to Mr. RISP Ryan Goins that made it a one-run game. But Javier Baez responded with a two-run shot in the bottom half and Wade Davis locked things down in the ninth.
“We hung around, made a run and then they opened it up,” Gibbons lamented.
To some degree Happ might have enjoyed a different fate with some tighter defence in the second, when his inability to cover first on Jason Heyward’s grounder to first allowed the tying run to score and helped open up a three-run rally. A Baez flare just beyond second baseman Darwin Barney’s reach brought home the go-ahead run and Albert Almora’s blooper made it a 3-1 Cubs lead, although a nice bit of defensive work led to Baez getting thrown out at home to end the frame.
“When that was hit my mind read 4-3, that little hesitation cost me, that was it for getting over there,” Happ said of the Heyward grounder. “I could go back over and look at the execution and I thought the execution was there. The second inning was tough to swallow with the way those balls found a way in there. I’m disappointed I could only go five but execution-wise, I actually thought it was a good game.”
Arrieta took the advantage and ran with it, allowing only two Blue Jays runners beyond first base until he left with two on and one out in the seventh. Carl Edwards Jr., extinguished that rally and the hitting moves made led to Josh Donaldson finishing the game at shortstop with Jose Bautista at third.
“We first talked about it a couple of days ago,” Gibbons said of the alignment. “That way we could save [Rob] Refsnyder, if it say went to Goins late and they brought in a lefty. You never know. They can both do it. … That’s our Joe Maddon.”
Happ’s short outing led to the bullpen logging another three innings, and with heavy recent usage making Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone available and a high fever sending closer Roberto Osuna back to the hotel, the toll on the club’s relievers continues to rise.
Nick Tepesch, Saturday’s starter, was sent to the bullpen just in case, while Ryan Tepera was tabbed to close if needed. When Tim Mayza couldn’t escape the bottom of the eighth after allowing Baez’s homer – on a tough-to-square 95 mph fastball down and in off the plate – Tepera had to come in and end the frame.
“He’s throwing the ball great,” Gibbons said of Mayza, the impressive rookie lefty making his third appearance. “This is his chance and I told him, ‘Hey, don’t worry about that, it happens.’ You don’t want them young guys in their first go-around dwelling on it when something happens like that because he’s been throwing the ball great. We like everything we see.”
Tepesch and Chris Rowley will remain in the rotation for another turn after which the Blue Jays will consider reintroducing Joe Biagini, who threw four shutout innings for triple-A Buffalo on Thursday. He could start Friday’s series opener against Minnesota in Toronto.
Another potential option for the rotation, lefty Brett Anderson, is scheduled to make his debut with the Bisons on Saturday. He’ll need at least one start before getting consideration for a promotion and it’s possible the Blue Jays will bring up a fresh arm to provide some insurance behind Tepesch.
Amid the fuss and the flux, Miguel Montero made his return to Wrigley after being dumped by the Cubs for pointing to Arrieta’s inability to hold baserunners as a factor in his struggles controlling the running game. Booed before his first at-bat, Montero ended up with two hits, a run scored and threw out Ben Zobrist trying to steal third.
“To be honest I was a bit nervous early in the game, I never felt like that even in my debut in the big-leagues. It was a different emotion. But at the end of the day all I was looking was to win a ballgame and we couldn’t do it,” said Montero, whose 10th-inning single knocked in the eighth run in Chicago’s Game 7 win over Cleveland in the World Series. “It’s definitely tough, but I know I’m not the guy they said I am. I know who I am and it’s something I don’t really care because I know who I am.”
Blue Jays fans did their best to try and drown out the boos directed at Montero and vociferously threw their support behind the team all game long. In some sections the jersey-ratio between Blue Jays and Cubs fans looked to be at least 50/50.
“I was surprised going out to warm up, I got a real nice ovation from out in right field, and again walking back in. I was surprised at how many Toronto fans were there, that was awesome, especially at this place,” said Happ. “For them to kind of invade Wrigley like that was pretty awesome, we could definitely tell we had a large contingent on our side, for sure.”
A nice moment for them, to be sure, but Wrigley offers plenty of nice moments. The Blue Jays need wins more than anything else right now, and on Friday they didn’t get one.