ATLANTA -- Seiya Suzuki ran into the right-center-field gap and waved off Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger. He positioned himself under the towering fly ball off the bat of Sean Murphy in the eighth, primed for an inning-ending, rally-killing catch on Tuesday night.
“I was about to put the third out on my card,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
And then Suzuki missed the ball.
Amid the Cubs’ chase for one of the final two postseason spots in the National League, Suzuki made a crucial mistake that allowed two late runs to score in a gut-punch of a 7-6 loss to the Braves. It was the kind of play that Cubs fans will hope winds up more of a temporary scare than part of what-could-have-been lore.
- Games remaining (5): at ATL (2), at MIL (3)
- Standings update: The Cubs (82-75) were eliminated from contention for the National League Central title, which was clinched by the Brewers (88-69). In the NL Wild Card race, Chicago owns the third and final spot, one game behind Arizona (83-74). The Marlins (81-75) are a half-game behind the Cubs. The Phillies (88-69) clinched the top Wild Card seed, holding a five-game lead over Arizona. Philadelphia, Arizona and Miami all own tiebreakers over Chicago.
Suzuki raised his glove and simply whiffed. The ball flew by and hit the grass, opening the door for Atlanta to complete a seven-run comeback against the North Siders. It was unfortunate for Chicago on plenty of levels -- one being the important role Suzuki has played in the Cubs even being in their current position.
“Seiya's been carrying us for over a month and a half offensively,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He's put us on our back.”
“We wouldn't be here without him,” Cubs lefty Justin Steele said.
“Seiya’s been one of the best hitters in the league this whole month,” Cubs pitcher Drew Smyly added. “He’s been carrying the team. We all support him and have his back.”
“I’m happy for those comments,” Suzuki said via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita. “But obviously these games are really, really important for us. And the fact that we dropped it is not the best result that we want right now at this point in the season.”
Entering Tuesday, Suzuki had a 1.162 OPS in September, trailing only Cincinnati’s TJ Friedl (1.229), San Diego’s Xander Bogaerts (1.206) and Atlanta’s Matt Olson (1.184) among all qualified Major League hitters. The right fielder then helped the Cubs roll to a 6-0 lead, contributing a two-run triple in the third inning.
With his performance in the batter’s box on Tuesday night, Suzuki now has a .376/.433/.731 slash line with 17 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs in 24 games this month. Dating back to Aug. 9, which was when he returned to the lineup after a few games off to clear his head, Suzuki has hit .358/.411/.698 for Chicago.
That explains why Ross -- in the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss -- said that he was “not going to highlight one mistake.”
This mistake, however, created a sense of déjà vu for plenty of Cubs fans.
Back on Sept. 23, 1998, Chicago left fielder Brant Brown had a fly ball clank off his glove, allowing two runs to score in an 8-7 walk-off win for the Brewers. As long-time Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes exited Truist Park on Tuesday night, he called the similarity of the play and its timing “eerie.”
In ‘98, there were three games left on the schedule at the time, but the Cubs forced a Game 163 against the Giants and made it to the NL Division Series against the Braves as a Wild Card team. Twenty-five years later, this loss helped clinch the division for the Brewers and the No. 1 Wild Card seed for the Phillies.
“We’ve got five left,” Smyly said. “We’ve got to dig deep.”
Ross was confident his team would be able to bounce back from the defeat.
“This team's been really resilient with all the things that have been thrown at them all year,” Ross said. “It'll be another test, for sure. But this team's had their back against the wall all year and they've answered the bell. We've got another tough task ahead of us.
“That's a really good team we're playing. Obviously offensively, you see how quick it can turn.”
Steele cruised through five innings, but Kevin Pillar’s sixth-inning leadoff homer -- making the Braves the third team in AL/NL history to belt 300 in a season -- sparked a three-run outburst and got Atlanta’s comeback going. Ronald Acuña Jr., an NL MVP candidate, then launched a two-run homer in the seventh off Javier Assad.
Smyly took over in the eighth and focused on trying to get Atlanta’s lineup to chase out of the zone. The lefty did rack up two strikeouts, but he also issued a pair of walks and fired two wild pitches. Smyly looked like he escaped when he induced the flyout to right from Murphy.
Suzuki admitted that he momentarily lost the ball in the stadium’s lights.
“Yes, that did contribute to that play happening,” he said. “But ever since I was playing in Japan, you do have to take that into consideration whenever you go out there in right field. If I do say that, that’s an excuse. So I’m not going to say that.”
“You hate to see that happen,” Pillar said. “It’s a lonely feeling being on the other end of that.”
Steele said it was important for Suzuki to know this loss was not squarely on his shoulders.
“Everybody's already picking him up,” Steele said. “That's the kind of team we are. We're not worried about that. There's multiple things that happen in a game that could go a different way and the result of the game could end up being different. So everybody's on his side.”