MILWAUKEE — Cubs left fielder Ian Happ knew as soon as he caught the ball that Brewers baserunner Owen Miller, representing the tying run, was going to run home.
“You have to catch it first,” he said, “but you have to have some momentum behind it to make the throw.”
Happ stuttered as the ball landed in his glove, then fired an accurate shot home, bouncing it long into catcher Miguel Amaya’s glove. Amaya dropped a knee and ran to the baseline, tagging Miller with both hands for the Cubs’ game-ending 7-6 victory in 11 innings Tuesday.
“We needed a win,” Happ said.
He wasn’t handsome, but he was brave. And maybe that was just what the Cubs needed to correct their trajectory before the All-Star break.
”They don’t put up a banner based on the underlying numbers,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said before the game of the Cubs (39-45), who have the best run differential (plus-23) in the National League Central but they are seven games behind the division-leading Reds. “We have to translate that into wins and losses, and we haven’t done it well enough.”
Hoyer has less than a month to decide which direction the Cubs will take on the trade deadline.
”Where we fought is . . . messy games,” Hoyer said. ”We haven’t won this type of match. And I think, ultimately, that’s something [where] we have to find a way.”
The Cubs found a way to win such a game on Tuesday, improving to 11-21 in games decided by two runs or fewer.
“Our leaders just stayed the course,” said veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who held the Brewers to two runs in six innings. ”We weren’t actually going too high or too low. It was like everything was going against us – [them] hitting all the holes, finding bad contact holes, we’re lining up with the guys – and all the while everyone stayed with it.”
Not to mention, the Cubs were in a lurch, losing seven of their previous eight games. And after blowing a six-run lead in the series opener on Monday, a sense of Already seen tinted the game for a while on Tuesday.
The Cubs’ frustration with game calls boiled over in the 11, when first base coach Mike Napoli and manager David Ross were ejected.
“There was a lot of bullshit today that was really frustrating,” said Ross, who also pointed to the Brewers capping in the middle of a late game inning.
After the Cubs squandered an early four-run lead, two defensive plays in extra innings – backing up an impressive debut by rookie Daniel Palencia – secured the win.
With one out in the bottom of the tenth and the extra-inning autorunner to second base, Miller hit a line drive to low left. He bounced back to Happ as pinch runner Andruw Monasterio got up to third and spun to go home.
“You’re coming in hot, so you’re trying to get your feet under you, at least make sure you get the ball before you get rid of it,” Happ said.
He put everything he had into the “full janitor toss,” as he called it. From the ground, he couldn’t even see the show as it unfolded.
Happ’s throw beat Monasterio, taking an easy to manage jump. Then Amaya noticed Miller jumping up and down between first and second and shot second. Miller fired up the jets and tried to elude second baseman Nico Hoerner’s tag, but he slipped over the bag and his hand came off. Hoerner dove behind him and applied the tag, completing the improbable double play.
In the eleventh, Hoerner hit an inside single to drive into the go-ahead. And, back on defense, Happ made another game-changing home run.
“There’s so much character in that room,” Ross said of the Cubs’ fight through to the end. ”I wish people back home could hear it.”