ST. LOUIS -- There was a brief moment in Busch Stadium on Friday when the roar of the crowd softened, as fans waited to locate the baseball. When Cubs center fielder Mike Tauchman popped up from the warning track flexing and howling, all questions were answered.
Tauchman made the kind of game-ending catch that will forever be part of Cubs-Cardinals lore. In the immediate picture, it was a game-saving grab to rob Alec Burleson of a walk-off blast, an exclamation point on a 3-2 comeback win that stretched Chicago’s winning streak to seven games.
“Tauchman. My goodness,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We don't win that game early in the season.”
The Cubs have won nine of 10, giving them a 52-51 record that has the club back above the .500 mark for the first time since May 6. Chicago sits 4 1/2 games back of the NL Central-leading Brewers and 3 1/2 back in the Wild Card race, reviving the chances of adding or standing pat at Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
For much of this recent tear, it has been a high-octane offense leading the charge. In the latest win, the Cubs reverted to an early-season recipe of stellar pitching and strong defense -- the latter on full display in a dramatic ninth inning.
Clinging to a one-run lead, Adbert Alzolay allowed back-to-back singles to open the final frame. He then induced a double play off the bat of Brendan Donovan. It was a sharply hit ball that second baseman Nico Hoerner snared to his left before turning and firing to shortstop Dansby Swanson.
“That play was really hard,” Tauchman said. “And they make it look really easy.”
And that set the stage for Tauchman’s moment.
Alzolay sent an elevated 98 mph fastball over the outer half, and Burleson connected with the pitch. Off the bat, the Cubs’ late-inning reliever only had one thought running through his mind.
“How did he hit that ball?” Alzolay said. “It was where the pitch was supposed to go -- up and away. Good velo. Probably the hardest fastball I threw today. The guy just got on top and hit it over the wall.”
Tauchman brought it back.
He glided across the grass, counting his steps once he hit the track before timing his leap perfectly.
“It’s kind of like you have that internal clock or feeling of, ‘I've kind of got to go up now,’” Tauchman said. “And it kind of just coincided with the ball coming down. I didn't know, I guess, that I was right at the wall until I kind of turned to catch the ball.”
Alzolay punched the air and screamed. Catcher Miguel Amaya jumped out of his crouch. Hoerner just held his hands in the air in disbelief.
“It's going to be one of those funny ones where you go back through video and kind of go from face to face and see people's reactions,” Hoerner said. “That's probably the most dramatic single play I've been a part of in the big leagues.”
Inside the clubhouse, lefty Drew Smyly heard coaches watching a live feed yelling before seeing the play unfold on a delayed broadcast in the clubhouse.
“I just thought it was just a routine fly ball to center field,” said Smyly, who logged 4 1/3 solid innings in relief of opener Hayden Wesneski. “And then he just kept drifting and drifting, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and then he robbed it. What an unbelievable catch. Tauchman’s been incredible since he’s been called up.”
By the time Tauchman got to the infield, he received a hug from a fired-up Alzolay.
“I like the hug more than a high-five,” Tauchman quipped. “The high-five hurts for 15-20 minutes. I've got to ice my hand after some of the high-fives. The hug was great.”
The play was reminiscent of a game-ending grab made in St. Louis by Leonys Martin for the playoff-bound Cubs in 2017. On Sept. 28, Martin reached over the center-field wall to rob a homer from Paul DeJong in the 11th inning, sealing a 2-1 victory and eliminating the Cardinals from the postseason picture.
Friday wasn't Tauchman’s first home run robbery, either.
When Albert Pujols’ Hall of Fame plaque is hung in the gallery, it will tell of his 703 career home runs. It would have said 704 had it not been for Tauchman's inning-ending theft in the ninth in an extra-inning win over the Dodgers on May 28, 2021, when Tauchman was with the Giants.
“He's got good instincts,” Ross said. “The instincts sometimes can outplay just raw talent for me. Good baseball instincts are really important. And he's got a high baseball IQ. I'm glad we made that switch there late. Not that [Cody Bellinger] can't do that.”
In fact, Bellinger has a couple robberies of his own this season. On May 15 in Houston, he took extra bases away from Kyle Tucker, but the center fielder landed awkwardly, injuring a knee and winding up on the injured list. That led to Tauchman’s callup from Triple-A Iowa.
Since that point, Tauchman has helped as a part-time leadoff man, center fielder and bench piece. And he has been a key part of the Cubs’ in-season turnaround.
“I think he embodies a lot of our strength,” Hoerner said. “He's going to embrace whatever role he has, and he's got a really big one for us.”