And it started out with so much promise.
With Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester pitching for the Cubs in Games 2 and 3 of this series, tonight’s matchup seemed like it was the Brewers best chance of winning one in the first head-to-head between the I-94 rivals this season. And they did hang in there until the very end.
On a cold and windy night at Wrigley Field (resulting in 7 of the 9 Brewers starters wearing head warmers and a puffball-capped Joe Maddon drinking a hot cocoa), it was Jimmy Nelson vs. Kyle Hendricks on the pitcher’s mound. Each pitcher threw a strike for their first pitch, so I knew it was going to be a battle from the start.
It was 3 up and 3 down for both teams in the 1st inning. The Brewers put a run on the board first in the 2nd inning after Chris Carter walked, Kirk Nieuwenhuis doubled, and Aaron Hill hit a sacrifice fly to bring Carter in to make the score 1-0 Brewers. A groundout by Ramon Flores advanced Nieuwenhuis to third base, but three straight strikes to Yadiel Rivera ended the Crew’s chance to cause any more damage in the 2nd. Nelson walked Ben Zobrist to ruin the perfect game he had going, but that’s all the Cubs could muster in the 2nd.
3 up and 3 down again in the 3rd inning. Jimmy Nelson was cruising at this point. Maybe not a perfect game, but a no-hitter perhaps? If you’re going to dream, dream big.
Carter hit a single in the 4th inning with one out, but Nieuwenhuis grounded into a double play to end the Brewers’ half of the inning. The big dream of a no-hitter was squashed when Jimmy gave up a double to Kris Bryant, but that was the only life the Cubs showed in the 4th. Maybe not a no-hitter, but a shutout perhaps? Why do I keep doing this to myself?
The 5th inning began with another 3 up and 3 down, but only for the Brewers this time. This is also when I learned from Matt Lepay and Rock that Scooter Gennett was out of the lineup for right oblique tightness (hopefully, it’s nothing too serious). As for the Cubbies, they gave Nelson some trouble in the 5th, but it could have been worse. Jorge Soler walked, Addison Russell singled, David Ross sac bunted over the runners, pinch hitter Tommy La Stella walked to load the bases, and Dexter Fowler hit a sac fly to bring in Soler to tie the game up at 1-1. Luckily, a crisis was averted and Jason Heyward grounded out to end the inning. At this point, Nelson was still looking pretty good and was able to get out of a major jam with minimal damage.
Guess what the Brewers did in the 6th inning? That’s right – another 3 up and 3 down. The Cubs did better than that. Bryant reached first base on an error by Hill, who charged on the ball and couldn’t make the play. Then, after a flyout by Anthony Rizzo, Zobrist took another walk and now Nelson was at 109 pitches with runners on first and second with one out. Carlos Torres came in for relief and got out Soler on a flyout. Then that pesky Addison Russell decided it would be neat to hit a bases-clearing triple and lo and behold, the Cubs were now up 3-1. And if you recall, those two runs were courtesy of an error and a walk. Nelson ended the night with 5 and 1/3 innings pitched, 2 hits, 3 runs, 1 earned run, 4 walks, and 6 strikeouts. The game began beautifully for him and ended up as a serviceable outing. But compared to the rest of the Brewers starting pitching so far this season, this was an ace performance. Keep up the good work, Jimmy! Oh, and Ross ended the inning with a strikeout.
I’m sensing a pattern here… 3 up and 3 down again for the Brewers in the 7th. With Blaine Boyer pitching, Javier Baez pinch-hit a single for the Cubs. He then attempted to steal second base and was initially called out after Jonathan Lucroy threw a rope to Jonathan Villar for the tag. However, the play was under review and it was overturned. Lepay and Rock didn’t sound too convinced by the change of heart from the umps. Then the Cubs kept doing Cubby stuff and with two outs (after a Fowler strikeout and Heyward flyout), Bryant walked on four straight balls and Rizzo hit a single that brought in two runs to make the game 4-1 Cubs. But Rizzo didn’t stop at first base! Oh no, after the ball landed in shallow center field, there was no covering second base, so Rizzo trotted in and didn’t scuff up his pants one bit! Fortunately, a diving grab by Rivera to throw out Zobrist at first ended the inning. With all the 3 up and 3 downs of the Brewers, it was beginning to seem like all the Crew could do was conjure up one run. But baseball is awesome and things are never what they seem.
With Pedro Strop pitching in relief (after two innings of Adam Warren pitching for the Cubs), things got interesting in the 8th inning. Hill walked and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Flores grounded out and advanced Hill to third. Pinch hitter Colin Walsh, who shares a first name with my infant son and hits as well as him, too, continued his reputation as BB Master and drew another walk in his illustrious Brewers career. With men on first and third and just one out, Craig Counsell called upon Ryan Braun, who was having a scheduled day off, to come in to pinch hit. With one gorgeous swing of the bat, Braun hit a double into the right field corner, clearing the bases and bringing the Brewers within one run. The score was now 4-3 Cubs and after a pitching change to Travis Wood, the Cubs shut down Domingo Santana and Villar to end the Brewers’ half of the 8th.
Michael Blazek pitched for the Brewers in the Cubs half of the 8th and like the past three innings, the leadoff man got on base for Chicago. This time it was Matt Szczur, whose last name is pronounced "Caesar". Sure, why not? I’m Polish, I get it. Things got interesting again when the bases loaded up for Blazek (Russell’s fielder’s choice, Ross’s single, and Fowler’s walk), but like Nelson before him, Blazek got out of the jam with no further damage.
Milwaukee had a chance to blow a save for Hector Rondon by tying the game or taking the lead and after a Lucroy strikeout (the at-bat started with a 3-0 count… oy) and a Carter groundout, it was all up to Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis kept the Brewers alive by hitting a single to right, which promptly put Nieuwenhuis at first base. Nieuwenhuis was the tying run with Hill coming up to bat. Unfortunately, Hill flied out to deep left field and wasn’t able to bring Nieuwenhuis in to score, thus keeping the final score at 4-3 Cubs. But if it’s any consolation, I was able to write "Nieuwenhuis" 9 times in this post. You know what? Let’s make it an even 10. Nieuwenhuis.
Tough loss tonight, knowing that the next two games will probably be more challenging for the Brewers. But who knows? Maybe Arrieta will be rocked for eight runs tomorrow. David Price and Zack Greinke are stinking up the joint so far this season, so anything’s possible.
And that was my very first Brewers game recap for Brew Crew Ball. I had a lot of fun writing it and hope you enjoyed reading it!