“That came out of left field and went back to left field and came out of left field again.”
That was Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies immediately after the Cubs locked up a 7-2 15 inning win over the Reds as he attempted, futilely, to recap perhaps the weirdest three innings of the past…you know what, I’m not even going to bother trying to quantify what happened on Tuesday night in Cincinnati because there is no adequate way of doing so.
Seeing three relief pitchers play left field in Little League is hardly a big deal because…well, because it’s Little League, Little League is supposed to be fun and win or lose, everyone gets orange slices.
Seeing three relief pitchers play left field in the Major Leagues in an entire season? Rare enough. A single game? One of those “Wait, what’s going on?” moments.
Seeing three relief pitchers play left field in three innings?
That is…unheard of.
Joe Maddon living out Joe Maddon fanfic IRL tonight
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) June 29, 2016
“This is the kind of night I think (Cubs manager) Joe (Maddon) has probably dreamed about,” Deshaies’ broadcast partner Len Kasper said with childlike wonder as Travis Wood, who came in to play left field with one out in the 13th inning and who came in to record the second out of the 14th inning before going back out to left field, threw strike three to the first batter of the bottom of the 15th inning.
The groundwork was laid with one out in the 13th inning with the score tied 2-2. Maddon makes a double switch, bringing in reliever Joel Peralta to pitch and bat 5th and Travis Wood to replace Chris Coghlan in left field and bat 8th. Wood is, after all, a great hitter by pitcher standards, having hit nine home runs and driven in 31 runs in his seven year career.
The fun was just beginning though. Peralta got Joey Votto to line into a double play, setting the stage for one of the most bizarre 14th innings in Major League history.
Wood started the inning in left field, with Spencer Patton coming on in relief of Peralta. After Peralta got Brandon Phillips to fly out to center field, he and Wood switched places, with Patton playing left and Wood pitching against Jay Bruce. Wood wound up inducing a ground out and then…well, Patton and Wood switched places again.
“This is crazy…and awesome.”
Here’s the craziest part: The move worked. Patton got Adam Duvall to hit a meek chopper to second to end the inning.
Maddon’s mad scientist experiment was rewarded handsomely when the Cubs offense remembered they are one of the best offenses in the league and the Reds’ bullpen is a sad trombone playing to an empty mezzanine, an also-ran playing the supporting role in one of the most bizarre games of the season.
Kris Bryant drove in Ben Zobrist with one out in the top of the 15th to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. That part, while important to the overall outcome, is probably the least interesting part of this particular story.
Following an Anthony Rizzo intentional walk, which moved Jason Heyward (who had singled to move Zobrist to third before Bryant drove him in), Maddon would send up Jason Hammel, normally a starting pitcher, as a pinch hitter for Patton, the relief pitcher turned left fielder turned relief pitcher.
Hammel would hit into a fielder’s choice, with Reds first baseman Joey Votto forcing Heyward at the plate. Javier Baez’s subsequent grand slam off J.J. Hoover put the Cubs up 7-2.
But with a five-run lead, Maddon decided relief pitcher Pedro Strop was less of a defensive liability in left field than Jason Hammel because…well, because we’ve come too far to turn back now. So, relief pitcher Pedro Strop replaced Hammel who pinch hit for relief pitcher turned left fielder turned relief pitcher Patton as the left fielder, leaving…Travis Wood, the guy who came on as a left fielder with one out in the 13th inning to finish off the Reds on the mound in his second relief pitching appearance of the night.
Here’s the craziest thing: It worked. Again, this fever dream of Maddon’s worked. Wood, after two stints in left field and two stints on the mound, struck out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the 15th inning, allowed a hit to the third before getting the fourth, Ivan DeJesus, to fly out harmlessly to right field to end the game.
Wood won’t get any statistical credit for his yeoman’s effort on Tuesday night but make no mistake, he was the unquestioned hero of a memorable night in Cincinnati. Patton, who recorded the final out of the 14th inning, got credit for the win, and the combination of the circumstances around the final out and the final score itself weren’t close enough for Wood to earn a save. That being said, no matter what crowd he’s in for the rest of his life, Wood will have one of the most interesting stories to tell as the guy who was the left fielder turned relief pitcher turned left fielder again turned relief pitcher again who played a pivotal role in the most fun Major League Baseball game of 2016.
All told, 16 pitchers saw action in Tuesday night’s Cubs-Reds game — 10 for the Cubs, six for the Reds — but only 14 of those pitchers actually threw a pitch, with Hammel (as a pinch hitter) and Strop (a defensive substitute in left in the 15th) being the exceptions. And this menagerie of pitchers and rotation players is testament to the genius of Joe Maddon. He’s a weird dude, and he’s not afraid to be a weird dude in the dugout, which is how we wound up with situations like last night. A night with not one but three pitchers playing the outfield in a game. It’s what makes him beloved among his players, fans, and the media alike. This same trait keeps his opposing managers wary and guessing, because you’re never quite sure what is going on in the mind of the guy who looks like he could’ve been a roadie for the Grateful Dead had he not taken a shine to baseball. We’re probably not gonna see reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta at shortstop. But literally anything else? You can’t rule it out. He’s the mastermind behind “none-pitching” Bryce Harper and sending the would-be MVP into a batting funk of epic proportions. He treats baseball like it is a game that is meant to be fun. And with him, it is. Weird baseball is the best baseball, and never has there been more evidence to support that argument than Maddon’s moves on a random Tuesday night in June.
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