ST. LOUIS -- The goal over the next 10 days for the Cubs is to do what they can to tune out any distractions. Manager David Ross wants the focus on each game and not the rumors, reports and reactions that are flying as the Trade Deadline looms.
Consider Tuesday's improbable 7-6 comeback win over the rival Cardinals a snapshot. Following an early exit by Kris Bryant -- leading to a social-media storm of speculation -- Chicago rallied for six runs in the ninth for a stunning victory.
And it was Ian Happ -- Bryant's replacement in left after the star exited with what the team described as right hamstring fatigue -- who delivered the decisive blow.
“For us, having a rally like that and really having fun,” Happ said, “I mean, for me personally, I can say that was a really enjoyable moment and something that I will use as, 'Hey, I want to have that feeling more often.' And that's exactly what I think we're trying to do on a daily basis.”
In his third plate appearance in Bryant’s place, Happ pulled a pitch from All-Star closer Alex Reyes into the right-field corner at Busch Stadium, plating a pair of runs to help Chicago win for just the fifth time in 20 games. It marked the first time since April 29, 1979, that the Cubs erased a five-run deficit in the ninth inning.
Not much has changed, however, in the Cubs’ landscape. Even with the win, Chicago is tied for third in the National League Central and 8 1/2 games back of the division-leading Brewers. The North Siders are in sell mode -- outfielder Joc Pederson was already dealt to Atlanta last week -- and Bryant is a prime candidate to be shipped to a contender.
So when Ross made the decision to pull Bryant as a precaution, the manager knew trade speculation would begin swirling.
“Of course. It made me laugh,” Ross said after the win.
“That's the first thing I thought of when he did come out and I finally had a chance to reset. I said, 'I bet the world, all you guys, the [national reporters], all those guys, I love that they had to waste some time and make some phone calls.'”
Ross described Bryant’s issue more as “heavy legs,” adding that the superstar utility man was feeling improved after some treatment. The manager noted that Bryant had a busy midseason break -- him being in the All-Star game and all -- and there was a chance that Ross would offer him a day out of the starting lineup on Wednesday night.
“No sense pushing somebody that didn't have much of an All-Star break,” Ross said.
And it was a chance for Happ, who entered the night with a .180 average and .615 OPS, to continue to work on finding his swing.
The ninth inning started in unusual fashion, with Patrick Wisdom reaching first base on a strikeout via a wild pitch from reliever Luis García.
“It's funny how it starts with a dropped third strike,” said Cubs starter Trevor Williams, who worked five innings. “I think if you were to ask around the league if that's a dumb rule or not, I mean, today it was a great rule for us.”
An infield single-error combo (on a grounder to short by Nico Hoerner) and subsequent walk (Jake Marisnick) then loaded the bases with no outs.
Sergio Alcántara and Anthony Rizzo went on to draw bases-loaded free passes against Reyes, who then surrendered a two-run single to center off the bat of Javier Báez.
That set things up for Happ, who has been trying to pry himself out of an offensive funk of late.
The hard-throwing closer sent a 97 mph fastball over the heart of the plate and Happ completed the six-run momentum swing.
“Pretty spectacular that Happer comes up with that hit in that moment,” Ross said. “All he's been grinding through and working through -- super happy for him.”
Before the game, Ross was fielding questions about Happ being out of the lineup to allow center fielder Rafael Ortega to get more at-bats. Go figure, the unexpected development with Bryant would pave the way for Happ’s heroics.
“I haven't had a lot of moments like that [this year],” Happ said. "So, to have one of those and to really kind of find that and feel that, I mean, that was really cool.”