Diamondbacks Strand Ten in Loss to Cubs

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Cubs 4, Diamondbacks 2

PHOENIX, May 14 — The Chicago Cubs scored three runs in the top of the ninth, propelling them to a 4–1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night. Despite a brilliant effort from Zac Gallen, the Arizona Diamondbacks stranded 10 runners on base, including five in scoring position, en route to the loss.

Gallen mowed through the Cubs lineup in the first three innings, striking out four in the process. The only baserunner in that stretch came in the first on a two-out single by left fielder Ian Happ. In total, Gallen threw 36 pitches in the first three frames, with 26 being strikes.

Diamondbacks Take Lead, Cubs Respond

The Diamondbacks forced Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks to throw 63 pitches over the first three innings. Their patience paid off in the second. Second baseman Ketel Marte led off with a walk. He advanced to second on a slow bouncer to the second baseman by center fielder Alek Thomas. Shortstop Nick Ahmed scored Marte with a single, giving the Diamondbacks a 1–0 lead. Catcher Jose Herrera, up next, hit a deep fly to center. It had a chance to go for extra bases, but Cubs center fielder Jason Heyward, in a dead sprint with his back to the plate, made a lunging catch.

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The Cubs tied the game in the top of the fourth when catcher Yan Gomes hit a two-out solo homer to the left-field bleachers. Gallen pitched to eight more batters after that, striking out four of them. The only batter to reach base did so with a leadoff walk in the sixth. Hendricks, while not as dominant, also kept the Diamondbacks off the board despite them having a runner in scoring position in the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Righty Diamondbacks reliever Noe Ramirez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Lefty Cubs reliever Daniel Norris did the same in the bottom of the seventh, striking out the side in the process. Diamondbacks lefty Joe Mantiply pitched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth, striking out the first two. Cooper Hummel, pinch-hitting for David Peralta, led off the bottom of the eighth against Norris. It did not pay off, as Hummel struck out. In came righty Mychal Givens, who retired Walker on a fly to the shortstop in shallow left. Rojas kept the inning alive with a single, but a grounder to short by Marte rendered it useless.

The Ninth

The game, still tied at one, entered the ninth. In tie games, Diamondbacks closer Mark Melancon had an opponent batting average of .438 (7-for-16) with two walks. With a lead, Melancon’s opponents batted .231 (6-for-26) with a walk and four strikeouts. Despite these stark differences, and despite the meltdown in the last tie game, Melancon took the hill for the ninth.

The splits played out.

Designated hitter Willson Contreras led off with a walk. A single by right fielder Seiya Suzuki advanced Contreras to second. Happ loaded the bases with a walk, bringing pitching coach Brent Strom to the mound for a visit. Gomes put the Cubs ahead with a single, scoring Contreras. This brought the opponent batting average against Melancon in tie games to .500 (9-for-18).

Out came manager Torey Lovullo with the hook. In came righty J.B. Wendelken with a bases loaded, no out mess on his hands. Wendelken fanned the first hitter he faced, third baseman Patrick Wisdom. An RBI walk by pinch-hitter Rafael Ortega and RBI groundout to second by Alfonso Rivas gave the Cubs a 4–1 lead. Wendelken got out of the inning by retiring Villar on a fly to center.

Needing to climb out of a three-run deficit, the Diamondbacks had to face Cubs closer Rowan Wick. A leadoff walk by Thomas got the ball rolling, and a pinch-single by Seth Beer put Thomas in scoring position. Jordan Luplow, pinch-hitting for Herrera, dug in as the tying run. He struck out before DH Daulton Varsho drove in Thomas with a single. Up came right fielder Pavin Smith as the winning run. He struck out, bringing up Hummel as the last hope. He also struck out, giving the Diamondbacks a frustrating loss.

Postgame Reflections

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo praised what his team did well, but he was visibly frustrated about the times they did not execute. “We got an unbelievable effort from Zach Gallen tonight. Unfortunately, we couldn’t string together any runs or put together some at-bats where we could break this game open offensively. …there were some batters that were a little bit stubborn, which drove (Gallen’s) pitch count up. We were thinking about getting him through that seventh inning, but at 96 pitches, it was time. So we pulled the plug and handed it over the bullpen. The first couple guys who came in did a very good job. Unfortunately, Mark couldn’t get through that ninth and get us back in the dugout to potentially win the game.

“But I was proud of the way we fought. We did a lot right in that last inning, putting some runners out there. That feeling came over all of us that we were gonna go out and execute. We just didn’t get it done.

“There were some things inside of the game that I feel like we could have done better, though. Moving runners over, having good, heady at bats the right time, could have made a total difference in this game. It’s those little things, those little margins we talk about, that we’ve got to do right. We take the mindset that there’s minimal room for error. So we’ve got to execute in all areas at a very high level to win baseball games. We like that, we embrace that, we just didn’t do that enough tonight.”

Zac Gallen

Zac Gallen said he “felt pretty sharp” and felt like he had “everything working for the most part.” He added, “Six innings, one run, it’s tough to be disappointed, but I do feel disappointed. I made a mistake to Gomes and walked Vargas, but I felt like I was in control pretty much the whole night. So it was kind of disappointing not to get into at least the eighth. I feel like I left some pitches out there.” He felt sharp and felt like he could have gone “at least another inning or two.”

Mark Melancon

This game was the third time in four nights that the Diamondbacks used Melancon. Lovullo said that the coaching staff “discussed it. We felt very strongly that he was going to go out and be able to execute. He said he was ready to go. We all talked about it several times before the game, and that decision was made that he was going to be able to go out there and do it.”

When presented with the opponent batting average splits versus Melancon in tie games and with the lead, Lovullo responded, “We picked up on that. The bottom line is he’s got to execute at a higher level, whether it’s a tie game or not. He’s got to command the cutter. It was an eight- or nine-pitch at-bat from Contreras, who did a great job of getting on, but he’s got to execute a little better with command of his cutter. That’s what we’re gonna talk to him about.”

Lovullo said he did not yet know whether Melancon’s role might change. He added that he was frustrated and wanted to “sleep on it” before making any other decisions. “I don’t think right or deal well with things when I’m in this state of mind,” he admitted. “I’m just trying to slow it down a little bit, and I’ll do that tonight and have a discussion tomorrow.”

“Extremely Frustrating”

Melancon said that his outing was “extremely frustrating,” adding that he “wasn’t on the plate” and that the Cubs “had good strike zone awareness.” It’s been especially frustrating for him that opponents, while not hammering his pitches, are getting just enough on the ball for them to drop in. “I think I’m an inch away, here and there. And I feel like nothing’s really gone my way. But there’s a reason for that, and I need to be that much better.” It is no more frustrating to have opponents get just enough for balls to fall rather than hammering pitches. Melancon also added that he feels fine physically.

Being a veteran, Melancon has been through all kinds of stretches — good and bad — in his career. “Unfortunately, I have been in these situations before,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve given a year’s worth of runs up in a week. I don’t know if I’ve done that, but I think I did in 2012. And that wasn’t a good time. But I also learned the most in my entire career after I did that, too. So I’m trying to pick up the positives right now.”

Why He Comes to the Yard

With a slight smile, he continued, “I have been trying to do that the last few days. So I’m gonna continue to search and stay positive because I don’t feel like I’m that far away. I feel like my head’s in a good spot, and physically I’m good. So I have all the confidence in the world that I’m gonna bounce back and this is gonna be a great year. It’s kind of crazy right now.”

When asked if he might benefit from being in a lower situation for a bit, Melancon adamantly said no. “I don’t see value in a lower-leverage situation. What I live for is that (high-leverage) situation. That’s where I want to be, and that’s what I come to the yard for every day.”

Looking Ahead

Givens (3–0) got the win while Melancon (0–5) took the loss, both in relief. Wick, despite allowing a run, notched his third save. The Cubs (12–20) and Diamondbacks (18–16) conclude their three-game series Sunday. Cubs lefty Justin Steele (1–4, 5.32 ERA) will face Diamondbacks righty Humberto Castellanos (2–1, 4.32 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 pm Arizona time.

Main Photo:

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Players mentioned:

Zac GallenIan Happ, Kyle Hendricks, Ketel Marte, Alek Thomas, Nick Ahmed, Jose Herrera, Jason Heyward, Yan Gomes, Noe Ramirez, Daniel Norris, Joe Mantiply, Cooper Hummel, David Peralta, Mychal Givens, Mark Melancon, Willson Contreras, Seiya Suzuki, Brent Strom, Torey Lovullo, J.B. Wendelken, Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega, Alfonso Rivas, Rowan Wick, Seth Beer, Jordan Luplow, Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, Justin Steele, Humberto Castellanos