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SportsMonday: We All Blacked Out, Jon

Hey Jon Lester, you just laid down a perfect, two-strike squeeze bunt to drive in the winning run in the 12th inning! Let's celebrate! Here's a faceful and mouthful of, what was that, talcum powder?

Here's the dusting up close:

Whoever greeted Lester with that blast of powder after the Cubs finished off a wild, wild 12th-inning 7-6 victory over the Mariners late last night, well, that guy has some serious retribution coming.

Lester put down a great bunt. But part of one's natural reaction to the play had to be "Of course he bunted, he can't hit, how did the Mariners let that happen?"

The ball was perfectly placed, making it especially difficult for a fielder to get to it and get it home before Jason Heyward came racing, diving through for the game-winner. Mariners pitcher Cody Martin actually made a slick play, using his glove to flick the ball to catcher Mike Zunino, who then spun to attempt a tag with his bare hand. But Heyward was in with space to spare.

All that said, the base-running play of the game had to be Willson Contreras improbably beating out what looked like a sure double-play to drive in the second run in the bottom of the ninth and advance the tying run to third.

As Aaron Boone pointed out on the ESPN broadcast, "The Seattle Mariners did not mess up." But Contreras flashed some extraordinary speed for a catcher to avoid being the game-ending out.

All of this redeemed a game that had started so poorly. The Cubs started Brian Matusz, who they had signed after his release from the Orioles earlier this season. Matusz, who reportedly has an opt-out clause in his contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent had he not been promoted to the big leagues by August 1st, had been decent in a couple starts in Triple A. Given his performance last night, he may not start again - for anyone.

In general in this sort of situation, fans applaud the manager for finding a way to get his pitchers more rest. But before it became clear that the start had to happen for the team to hang onto a left-handed pitching asset, this decision seemed more than a bit strange.

More rest is often great but the Cubs' starting pitchers had been on a roll, with Lester having pitched masterfully in the series opener on Friday and Jake Arrieta turning in seven shutout innings on Saturday. Prior to that, Jason Hammel and John Lackey came up big in wins over the White Sox and Kyle Hendricks has only been the Cubs' best pitcher all year long.

So why wouldn't you simply keep them going on a standard, five-man rotation schedule?

And then of course Matusz gave up two-run homers in the first, second and third innings to dig a deep hole.

Then the magical manager went to work. Joe Maddon orchestrated nine innings of shutout pitching from his bullpen. He put Travis Wood in left for an inning to preserve him for a second stint on the mound and all the ultra-athletic Wood did was make a gutsy catch a second before crashing into the brick wall in left. As usual, the ivy provided no padding whatsoever but Wood shrugged it off.

Finally, Maddon pinch-hit Lester in the 12th and called for the bunt with two strikes (Lester: "I blacked out for a minute.") Not a bad night for the manager and an amazing night for baseball theater on the North Side. Something tells me we will be seeing plenty more of this for the next few months.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 22, 2021