Diamondbacks Top Cubs as Kelly Narrowly Misses Complete Game

Diamondbacks Cubs

Diamondbacks 6, Cubs 4

PHOENIX, July 18 — Merrill Kelly pitched into the ninth inning, scattering six hits over eight innings-plus, and Eduardo Escobar scored three runs while driving in two with an eighth-inning home run as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Chicago Cubs, 6–4, Sunday afternoon.

Strong defensive play highlighted the first three and a half innings. With one out in the second and a runner on first, Cubs center fielder Jake Marisnick hit a liner to shallow left-center. Right fielder Kole Calhoun robbed Marisnick of a likely extra-base hit with a diving catch at full extension. One inning later, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo blasted a deep fly ball near the fence in the right-field corner. Calhoun, on his horse, corralled it just before crashing into the fence. Finally, in the top of the fourth, Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom hit a slow chopper a shade to the left side of the mound. Shortstop Nick Ahmed — a two-time Gold Glover — charged in, barehanded the ball, and fired to first, nabbing Wisdom by less than a step.

Diamondbacks Take Lead, Cubs Fight Back

The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth. Diamondbacks center fielder Pavin Smith broke the deadlock when he drove Escobar — the All-Star third baseman — with a zero-out, bases-loaded single. The inning stalled when Nick Ahmed followed with a foul popup to third before Daulton Varsho grounded into a double play. Despite leaving more runs on the table, the Diamondbacks still held a 1–0 lead.

The lead grew to 2–0 in the bottom of the fifth, but the Diamondbacks missed another golden opportunity to score more. After Kelly led off with a sharp grounder to short, Josh Rojas doubled to the gap in right-center. Calhoun drove him in with a single. Two batters later, Christian Walker singled, advancing Calhoun to second. Left-hander Kyle Ryan entered the game to pitch to fellow lefty David Peralta and walked him. That brought up Pavin Smith — his second straight bases-loaded at-bat — but he grounded to second to leave the bases juiced as the inning ended.

The Cubs tied the game in the top of the sixth on a pair of doubles and a single. Catcher Robinson Chirinos led off with the first double and scored two batters later when left fielder Kris Bryant doubled. The game-tying RBI single came off the bat of shortstop Javy Baez.

Weird Sequence Delays Diamondbacks Lead over Cubs

A strange sequence kept the Diamondbacks from taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth. The bases were loaded with one out after a single by Ahmed, a walk by catcher Daulton Varsho, a sacrifice bunt by Kelly, and a walk by Rojas. Up came Calhoun, who hit a hot grounder to first. Anthony Rizzo threw home for the force play. Calhoun, trying to avoid being hit in the face by the throw, fell onto his back. A diving Ahmed was out at home by a narrow margin. Calhoun, who, after taking physical inventory, had gone to fetch his helmet, was still several feet from first. Chirinos alertly threw to reliever Adam Morgan at first to complete a 3-2-1 double play and end the inning.

Calhoun explained the play after the game. “I’ve head-butted one ball in my career; I could have head-butted another one. I was caught off guard. It was a weird play. I honestly thought Rizzo was going to the bag, and then he came up throwing. It was right at me. I didn’t know (whether) to go left or right, so I ducked (and) took a stumble there. Coming off two surgeries, I assessed (whether I was alright). I stood up and looked at Chirinos (and saw) his hands up. For some reason, I went to grab my helmet. Then (I thought to) get to first base, so I start running to first base and saw the guy go to catch it right above my head. Just a messed up play. Obviously, I should have got up and gone right to first.”

Diamondbacks Take the Lead for Good

In the bottom of the seventh, the Diamondbacks took the lead by scoring two runs without the benefit of a base hit. Escobar walked before Cubs reliever Dan Winkler — the losing pitcher (1-2) — hit Walker. After a foul fly by Peralta and wild pitch, Winkler walked Smith intentionally. Ahmed drove in Escobar with a soft grounder in front of the plate. That brought in Rex Brothers to face Varsho. A wild pitch scored Walker and advanced Smith to third. With the pitcher on deck, Brothers walked Varsho intentionally. Kelly followed with an inning-ending grounder to second. The Diamondbacks made it a 6–2 game in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a two-run homer by Escobar.

No Complete Game, but No Blown Save, Either

Kelly took the hill in the ninth, aiming for the first nine-inning complete game by a Diamondbacks pitcher since Clay Buchholz beat the San Diego Padres, 5–1, on August 16, 2018. Bryant and Baez prevented that with a double and single, respectively. This made the score 6–3 and brought the hook from manager Torey Lovullo. In came Joakim Soria, fresh off a blown save Saturday afternoon. Although he allowed Baez — the inherited runner — to score on a two-out double, he locked up pinch-hitter Willson Contreras to end the game on a called strikeout. This gave Kelly (6–7) a hard-fought win and gave Soria his fourth save of the season.

Lovullo said about Soria, whom he put out there one day after a blown save, “That’s one of my core philosophies. I don’t like to let guys — whether it’s a pitcher or an offensive player — sit on some tough days. (They need) to digest it, think about it, and get back out there as fast as they possibly can. It doesn’t always work out, but Joak [sic] was an easy bet to (bring) into this ballgame to finish it off. I handed him the baseball, and he was very relaxed. He said, ‘Let’s go’ and started talking about his game plan. He’s been doing it a long time at a very, very high level. I knew he was going to be able to command his pitches, game plan, and execute. You can see that he went out there and got the job done.”

Postgame Reflections

Lovullo said after the game, “Today was a special day for Merrill. He pitched into the ninth inning and had his pitch count under control. (The pitch count) was 19 balls, 63 strikes. Quick, early-count outs. It’s a belief in the game plan, conviction with his pitches, and trusting the guys around him. It starts and stops with starting pitching, each and every night…. He set a terrific tone for us — he’s locked in right now.”

About Calhoun, he said, “He’s a great diver — looks like Superman out there. He has very precise, efficient moves to the baseball — takes direct angles, the shortest route to the baseball. (The two catches) are two great team moments. If he doesn’t catch the first one, I think it’s going to be a couple of men on with no outs. He’s a gamechanger in a lot of different ways and made two terrific plays that saved us today.”

Looking Ahead

The Cubs (46–47) and Diamondbacks (27–68) part ways Sunday night. The Cubs head to St. Louis for a four-game series with the rival Cardinals (46–47). The first game is Monday night at 7:15 pm Central Time. Alec Mills (4–2, 4.84 ERA) and Jake Woodford (1–1, 4.62 ERA) will start for the Cubs and Cardinals, respectively. The Diamondbacks stay home for a three-game set with a fellow basement-dweller, the Pittsburgh Pirates (36–57). Caleb Smith (2–6, 4.54 ERA) and Chase De Jong (1–3, 5.59 ERA) will start for the Diamondbacks and Pirates, respectively. First pitch will be at 6:40 pm Arizona Time.

Main Photo

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Players Mentioned:

Merrill Kelly, Eduardo Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Kole Calhoun, Anthony Rizzo, Patrick Wisdom, Nick Ahmed, Pavin Smith, Daulton Varsho, Josh Rojas, Christian Walker, Kyle Ryan, David Peralta, Robinson Chirinos, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Adam Morgan, Dan Winkler, Rex Brothers, Clay Buchholz, Torey Lovullo, Joakim Soria, Willson Contreras, Alec Mills, Jake Woodford, Caleb Smith, Chase De Jong

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