Imanaga makes history as Morel walks it off against Pirates
Matt Marton - USA Today Sports

Imanaga makes history as Morel walks it off against Pirates


by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO - Nothing is coming easy for the Chicago Cubs (26-21) and their offense right now, as they have been in a month-long funk. That shouldn't surprise anyone when you look at how this team is constructed, but to see their struggles continue against the Pittsburgh Pirates (21-26) is a bit strange.

Already with two disappointing losses under their belt to kick off another Homestand at Wrigley Field, the Cubs turned to their stopper, Shota Imanaga, as he looked to get the Cubs back on track. It's no secret that since making his MLB debut, Imanga has been one of the best pitchers in the game, and the Cubs would be in a terrible position had he not been in the rotation.

Imanga was at it again on Saturday as he dazzled for seven more shutout innings to lower his ERA to 0.84. That marks the lowest ERA in MLB history for a players first nine starts as Imanaga has been better than advertised.

ÔÇťWhen you start getting in this territory,ÔÇŁ Cubs manager Craig Counsell said about Imanaga's ERA, ÔÇťyou have to be a little surprised, for sure. We're fortunate to watch it.ÔÇŁ

Bailey Falter was equally as good as he pitched into the eighth inning while also not allowing a run as this was a 0-0 game late. Leave it to Christopher Morel to change that, as his walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Cubs to a 1-0 victory, as they have still yet to lose three games in a row this season.

If you are a struggling pitcher right now, the Cubs are the team you want to face, as their lineup is in a complete funk right now. Falter pitched against the Cubs last weekend and allowed just two runs in seven innings during that start and upped the ante even more this time around. This has been a trend for the past month, and something needs to change, as you can't expect the pitching, in particular Imanaga, to be this dominant that much longer.

To show how dominant Imanga was, his lone walk of the game came from the first batter he faced before retiring the next 11 batters he faced. That was his longest streak since his MLB debut against the Colorado Rockies, as the Pirates simply couldn't square him up.

ÔÇťIf I'm being honest,ÔÇŁ Imanaga said after the win, ÔÇťI'm not really too interested in my own stats like that, or any historic value. But just knowing that there are so many good pitchers that came before me ÔÇŽ is a good learning experience.ÔÇŁ

The same can be said about Falter, who allowed a second-inning walk to Morel before Patrick Wisdom led off the fourth with a single.

Wisdom got a little too greedy on that play and tried to stretch that single into a double, only to get thrown out at second. That was the Cubs' only hit until the seventh, as offense was at a premium for both sides in this one. After six innings came and went with little to no offense from either side, the Pirates' offense started to show signs of life in the seventh, as they were set up to break the scoreless tie.

It came with two outs, as Joey Bart and Jared Triolo picked up a pair of singles, and the go-ahead run was in scoring position. Imanga recovered to escape the seventh before Mark Leiter Jr was imported to pitch the eight and went on to strike out the side. After mustering just two hits through seven innings, the Cubs had the best scoring chance of either team in the bottom half of the eight as Falter was finally running out of gas.

It all started with a one-out walk to Ian Happ as a Nick Madrigal single put runners on the corners and one out. Then came the play of the game from the Pirates as the Miles Mastrobuoni grounder turned into a fielder's choice as Happ was gunned down at home for the second out. Michael Busch followed that up with another walk to load the bases, but Colin Holderman escaped trouble as he struck out Wisdom to end the threat.

With the game in the hands of both bullpens, the Cubs turned to Hector Neris in the ninth, as it was up to him to keep things scoreless. Despite his struggles all season, Neris has looked much better lately, including what could be his best outing on Saturday, as his perfect ninth inning sent the game to the bottom of the ninth tied 0-0.

When you talk about struggling players, David Bednar comes to mind as the all-star closer has been in a funk all season. Like Neris, he has started to come around the past few weeks, but after the one-out Cody Bellinger double, the Cubs offense was set up to walk things off. Leave it to Morel to deliver the game-winning hit as his RBI single to center brought in Bellinger to give the Cubs the 1-0 walk-off win.

Pittsburgh would challenge the play at the plate, but it would be upheld as the Cubs picked up another drama-filled win.

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