Game 14 // Fourth Inning, St. Louis // Jason Heyward Strikes Back

TOP OF THE FOURTH: CUBS 2 0 – 1 CARDINALS

 

It’s a grudge match tonight: Cardinals miffed, Cubs nervously hopeful.

It’s bragging rights, a rematch, an eons-long rivalry, a rehash of last year NLDS, a parallel midwest face-off as the Blackhawks lose to the Blues, it’s the first face-to-face meeting after an offseason of hard-to-swallow STL-to-CHI moves, and a second chance after ex-Cardinal John Lackey pitched a shutout the previous night and the publishing of a very-likely-bogus article (unfairly) cast much of the Cardinal fan-base as a shameless and unruly mob.

So what, really, was on the line here? Not like the loser in this one will be steeped for months in emotion either sky high or lower than low. Nothing to worry about. No big deal. No pressure.

Is this the first match-up of a season-long battle of the baseball’s two best, or the first passing-by of two teams on a big National League staircase, with the Cardinals on the way down and Cubs on the way up?

Rizzo comes up first against Jaime Garcia, as Cards’ manager Mike Matheny looks out from the dugout with his patented arms-crossed look in the dugout, stroking his clean-shaven chin.

Rizzo pops up to Carpenter in the infield grass. One out.

Jorge Soler up now, as he gets called for an outside strike. Big cut, a typically intimidating whiff from Soler. Standing up on the mound awaiting the signs from Yadier Molina, Garcia flares his nostrils, winds up and delivers again. Cold-averse Jorge Soler is wearing full-length long sleeves and it’s about 70 degrees in St. Louis.

Ball four. Garcia starting to lose control.

Ben Zobrist now, who’s been struggling in the early going for the Cubs, smacks a base hit up the middle, the ball lined straight back at the in-game center-field camera, then dropping in for a hit to center. Runners on first and second now. A chance to snatch an early lead, with the series win up for grabs.

Montero comes up, the catcher. Long at bat, and Miguel reaches down at an outside changeup, lifting it with a poke into the air just over the shortstop’s head. Single. Bases loaded. One out. Now Addison Russell’s turn—a guy who at this point last year was 21 years old, had just been called up from AAA, and and now he almost looks the type of a veteran, back in a rematch with the pitcher he fought off in last year’s NLDS with a sneaky sac bunt. Similar situation, 1-0 game.

This time Garcia wins. Top-class pitch for the strikeout, as Russell chases on a ball sinking sharply out of the zone.

Now… the pitcher. Jason Hammel. Oh well, the chance probably over now, Cubs’ll have to try for a score in the later innings. Still early in the game. The pitcher’s never going to get a hit. I’m getting ready for a snack break here, looking like Garcia’s out of the jam. Second pitch to Hammel: another strike. 0-2 count. Maybe they’ll get to Garcia later.

Then…. Hammel!!

He slaps a cheeky ground ball between third and short, a little chopper hopping up onto the outfield grass, Soler scores, Zobrist scores. It’s 2-1 Cubs—with the ballgame flipped completely on its head.

Fowler walks, Jason Heyward comes up, for him THE moment on the early season, and maybe the key moment of this suddenly great rivalry—with Heyward as the hated, estranged family member to the St. Louis legion, the bases loaded against his former team and the chance to put a huge dent in this series.

He strikes out looking. The fans go wild.

Cardinals coming up next. (Spoiler: Heyward gets the last laugh)

 

BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH: CUBS 2 – 1 CARDINALS

 

Holliday his a base hit to left to start off the inning. Uh-oh. Matt Adams next, a super-hero whose powers include the most intimidating bat-speed and batter’s-box presence in the league.

Two big, big cuts for fouls into the stands, and Adams is down 1-2.

Next pitch gets crushed it to right field, fair ball, bouncing perfectly off the corner wall to Heyward, who rifles it to second beating Adams to the bag, but Russell msihandles it. Safe. Holliday to third. No outs. Hammel in serious trouble.

If I told you now, the the Cubs hang on to win this game 2-1, this very same score, would you believe me?

Randall Grichuk comes up, and then back down, a quick out—Zobrist with the catch on a high fly-ball to second. A little more tense now. Do they walk the next guy?

Yadier Molina up now, sending pangs of dread through every Cub fan alive, the odds-on favorite to crush Chicago’s dreams, the guy with the cruelest, most perfect game-winning timing I’ve seen from a team famous for just that. This guy means business. He’s the face of the franchise, the scariest image for north-side Chicagoans since Albert Pujols.

He swings at a high outside pitch. Connects on it. Flies high through the air to right field, opposite-field, looking like an easy out—but Holliday is on third revving his engine, ready to tag up and score for the tie. Jason Heyward’s having none of it.

Booooo!!! say the mouths of 40,000-plus die-hard red-bird fanatics from the nearby outfield wall to the highest of the upper decks. All eyes turn to Holliday, back to Heyward, back to Holliday. Molina trots slowly to first, knowing he’s out, but looks eagerly over to third, to the RBI he’ll surely get credit for. Heyward steps back, sizing it all up, then charges forward with the catch and step and lunge and throw home, beaming it on a perfect line to Montero, rocketing home the message of all messages to his former team with the fans still locked in vehement boo-heavy hate all around him in right field.

He’s out!! Holliday is thrown out, by less than half a step as he slides home with the tying run his to have taken.

Whoaaaaaaaaaaa. That’s big. That’s Cubs vs. Cardinals for you. That’s the final big play in a game that ended up just as it was after four innings. 2-1 Cubs. Back-to-back wins. Four-game division lead.

Jason Heyward: Missouri’s #1 enemy of state.

But they’ll do it again the next day. Game three. And sixteen more times after that. How does that movie line go again? My name is Inigo Montoya St. Louis Cardinals. You killed my father stole my Jason Heyward. Prepare to die.

 

Previously:

3rd Inning: WSH vs. ATL

10th Inning: SEA vs. TEX

7th Inning: BAL vs. BOS

8th Inning: CHC vs. CIN

8th Inning: SFG vs. LAD

6th Inning: KCR vs. NYM

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