CHICAGO -- Jason Heyward knew the baseball had a shot at finding the bleachers, but then it began to tail more toward the left-field line. One quirk of Wrigley Field's dimensions is that the wall in left is deeper down the lines in comparison to the gaps. The more a ball in flight turns, the more the chances of it leaving the Friendly Confines diminish.
"When I saw the ball going left a little bit, I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding,'" Heyward said. "You know it's deeper as it gets closer to the corner. Thank God for the basket."
Yes, the ball dropped into the ballpark's famous basket that juts out from the top of the wall, giving the Cubs a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Marlins in 11 innings on Wednesday night. As soon as the baseball met the metal above the bricks and ivy, the crowd's gasp turned into an eruption of cheers, high fives and hugs in the stands. On the field, Chicago's players stormed to the plate for an on-field party for a second straight night.
One evening earlier, it was Kris Bryant who played the role of hero with his walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth against the Marlins. Heyward connected against Miami lefty Jose Quijada, marking the first time that the Cubs have enjoyed walk-off home runs in consecutive games since Sept. 12-13, 1998, when Orlando Merced and Mark Grace achieved the feat against the Brewers.
"That's pretty awesome," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "A lot of fun in the clubhouse, for sure. It adds some more emotion to it. We're just trying to ride it right now as long as we can."
The win was the ninth in 10 games for the National League Central-leading Cubs (21-13), who have guaranteed that this will mark their ninth straight series won or tied. The celebration at home plate was the exclamation point, but the road map to the win column involved a few more layers.
Hendricks efficient again
It would have been unfair to expect Hendricks to take the mound against Miami and replicate what he did in his previous outing. The right-hander was precise to historic proportions, spinning a shutout with a minuscule pitch count in a win over the Cardinals.
Hendricks came pretty close, spinning eight efficient innings and allowing just one unearned run in a 96-pitch effort. It was not nearly as good as Friday's 81-pitch, 18-ball performance against St. Louis, but the outing followed a similar blueprint. Hendricks, who threw 22 balls against the Marlins, filled up the strike zone with sinkers and used his changeup as the primary swing-and-miss pitch.
"[It was] similar in a lot of ways -- at least the mindset," said Hendricks, who has given up no earned runs in three of his past four starts. "I was being aggressive."
Hendricks ended with seven strikeouts, five hits scattered and no walks allowed in the effort. The Marlins’ lone run against the righty came in the first inning, when Curtis Granderson reached on a throwing error by the pitcher. Starlin Castro capitalized with a run-scoring single against his old team later in the frame.
"Kyle was great once again," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He made some pitches that he'd like to have back overall, but really pitched well. He found a rhythm again. He does that. He wasn't in the rhythm, but then he found it and he stayed with it for a long period of time."
Who gets the ninth?
With the Cubs holding a 2-1 advantage and Hendricks due to lead off in the eighth inning, Maddon opted to summon Albert Almora Jr. off the bench as a pinch-hitter. There were a couple of factors that played into that decision, beyond the fact that Hendricks was closing in on 100 pitches.
"We were looking for some insurance right there," Maddon said. "And if he goes out there to pitch [the ninth] and the leadoff hitter gets on, you're going to want to take him out anyway. So, you have to balance all those thoughts."
Chicago did not get that insurance run, and now Maddon was tasked with determining how to handle the ninth.
Prior to Wednesday's game, the Cubs placed closer Pedro Strop on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain. Maddon said "everybody" would be available for save situations, and the manager lived up to that description right away. Left-hander Kyle Ryan and Steve Cishek combined to face five batters against the Marlins.
First, Neil Walker shot a grounder up the first-base line and into right for a leadoff single, prompting Maddon to hand the ball to Cishek. Two batters later, Castro singled on a sharply hit, pulled grounder. Maddon could live with those seeing-eye hits, but the wild pitch by Cishek that followed -- allowing the runners to move up to second and third base -- with Miguel Rojas batting proved costly.
Rojas capitalized with a groundout to second, giving pinch-runner Isaac Galloway ample time to hustle home to pull the game into a 2-2 deadlock.
"Take away a wild pitch and we win that game sooner," Maddon said. "That's just the frustrating part."
Defense halts rally in 10th
The Marlins looked to have something going in the 10th inning, when Rosell Herrera led off with a single up the middle against Cubs righty Tyler Chatwood. At that juncture, Miami manager Don Mattingly sent Jon Berti to the plate as a pinch-hitter with the goal of moving the runner into scoring position.
Berti squared around and popped up a bunt attempt to the right side of the infield.
"My job is to get the bunt down, and I didn't do it," Berti said. "That's first and foremost."
First baseman Anthony Rizzo ran in and faked a catch before letting the ball drop to the grass. Rizzo then picked up the ball, ran over and stepped on first for one out. Herrera, who initially retreated to first on the play, then bolted for second. Rizzo fired to shortstop Javier Báez, who chased the runner down for a crucial double play.
"Not many people do that. Not many people have that presence of mind," Maddon said of Rizzo's play. "Once it went up, I saw him and I knew he was going to try something like that. But then, once you pick it up, to know to run to first base first and get that out, that's the real deal right there."
Granderson then hit a sharp liner to the left side, where third baseman David Bote made a running, lunging grab to end the inning. That helped set the stage for Heyward's walk-off heroics.
"The guy cares as much as anybody cares," said Maddon, referring to Heyward. "So, it's really nice to see him rewarded. You saw K.B. rewarded last night. It's just one of those things, again, that can carry over."