CHICAGO -- The Cubs were working with an understaffed bench Saturday afternoon, given the need for an extra pitcher to help the team’s worn-down bullpen. One of the available options was David Bote, and he did not disappoint the Wrigley Field crowd when manager Joe Maddon called his name.
In the eighth inning, Bote came off the bench and delivered a go-ahead double for the Cubs, helping pull off an 8-6 win over the Reds, overcoming a shaky, but effective start from Yu Darvish. The victory -- one that featured six combined homers with the wind blowing out -- pulled the series even with Cincinnati, which has been a thorn in Chicago’s side in the early going this season.
"That's entertainment, guys," Maddon said.
The decisive rally began with a one-out walk in the eighth from Albert Almora Jr. and continued with a bunt single by Addison Russell against Reds reliever Jared Hughes. That set the stage for Bote, who broke a 6-6 deadlock by ripping a pitch to the wall in left-center field. Kyle Schwarber added a sacrifice fly to provide a cushion for Tyler Chatwood to pick up the save.
Here are the three key components from a wild win at Wrigley Field.
1. Darvish into the eighth
This is one of those days where the pitching line in the black-and-white box score does not tell the entire story.
When Cubs fans go to see how Darvish performed against the Reds, they will see six runs allowed on a dozen hits, including three home runs. Or, as Darvish quipped: "Like 18 hits and 12 runs." The only number that was important to Chicago -- besides the one in the win column -- was the seven-plus innings that the righty provided.
"Gutsy. He was great," Bote said. "The line score's not going to show how great he was today. That was a great performance by Yu."
Prior to Saturday's game, the Cubs promoted right-hander Dillon Maples and lefty Tim Collins from Triple-A Iowa to help the beleaguered bullpen. While there were nine names listed in the relief corps for the game against the Reds, only a few were actually available for Maddon to call upon due to recent usage. Before the game, Maddon made it clear that he would need to stick with Darvish for as long as possible.
So, even with the Cubs clinging to a 6-4 lead in the sixth, Darvish was allowed to bat. He struck out, but he then turned in a seven-pitch seventh that ended with Yasiel Puig swinging through a 97-mph fastball.
"I'm not sure where that ball was going," Darvish said with a smirk.
It was not the prettiest of performances by any means. Puig put a Darvish pitch on Waveland Ave. in the fifth inning. Tucker Barnhart tormented the pitcher with three hits, including a two-run homer to left in the second. And then, when Darvish took the mound in the eighth, he issued a leadoff, game-tying shot to Derek Dietrich.
But, he got the Cubs to the eighth and that was Maddon's biggest takeaway.
"He did great," Maddon said. "He's pretty good at processing exactly what did occur. What occurred is he pitched well and he battled for his team and he got into the eighth inning. He's going to walk away with that. I totally believe that.”
2. Oppo show continues
The baseball in flight only had a .210 expected batting average, but it carried enough to drop into the basket above the bricks and ivy for a leadoff home run. Like Almora's solo homer in the second inning and Russell's two-run shot in the fourth, it was yet another opposite-field home run for a Cubs team that has made that a specialty this season.
"If I ask anything of the offense, it'd be that we continue that approach mentally," Maddon said. "It's such a good approach. Most pitchers really want to get people out down and away, or away. Comebackers are en vogue. Slider down and away. They will show you in just for show, and then they want to get you out away. It's pretty much tried and true."
Entering Saturday, the Cubs led the Majors by a wide margin in average (.381), slugging percentage (.664) and weighted on-base average (.436) on balls hit to the opposite field, according to Statcast. Chicago headed into the game with an MLB-leading 17 home runs the other way. That total has now ticked up to 20. In Saturday's win, Chicago also had four additional hits to the opposite field.
The Cubs stressed situational hitting and an opposite-field mindset during the spring and the results have persisted through the season's first two months.
"I mean, I think that's a good approach for every team, honestly," said Almora, who now has more home runs (six) than he did all of last season. "These pitchers are really good. The more you see the ball travel, I think the better chance you have to hit it. So, that's a good approach."
3. Chatwood gets the ninth
There was a simple reason for Maddon handing the ball to Chatwood in the ninth inning Saturday.
"He was available," said the manager.
Chatwood logged 62 pitches over four innings Wednesday, but assured Maddon that he could offer one inning of relief against the Reds, if necessary. After Chicago rallied for two runs in the eighth, the manager decided against handing Maples the save situation. Even with Chatwood still potentially fighting fatigue, Maddon wanted him to take the ball.
"He's been throwing really well," Maddon said. "If Chatty's throwing strikes, he can do anything for us or any team. He's that valuable. His stuff's that good."
Chatwood increased the collective heart rate inside Wrigley Field when he allowed consecutive singles to Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez to open the final frame.
Was Maddon concerned?
"Yes," he said with a laugh. "You've just got to put your seatbelt on."
Chatwood then used a four-seamer to induce a sharp grounder to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who fired it to Javier Baez at second for one out. Chatwood sprinted to cover first and was there in time to handle Baez's quick relay back to the bag, completing a critical double play as the crowd roared.
"Get your butt over there and make sure you get these two outs. It's the ninth," Chatwood said. "It was fun to be out there in that."
Puig then flew out to right to seal the win and the first save for Chatwood in a Cubs uniform. As Chicago continues to battle bullpen issues, Chatwood said he would not mind more opportunities like that one.
"Yeah, it was a cool feeling," said the pitcher. "If I get to do it more, cool. Like I said, as long as I'm helping us win, that's all I want to do."