Steele injured in close loss to Rays
David Banks - USA Today Sports

Steele injured in close loss to Rays

by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO - Anytime you have an opportunity to sweep the best team in baseball, you need to capitalize on your chances, and the Chicago Cubs (24-31) had plenty of chances. Not only did the Cubs leave runners on base in the early innings, but they also loaded the bases in the ninth with one out, only to see their inability to bring runners home bite them in the butt.

That can't happen against a team as good as the Tampa Bay Rays (40-18), who, despite scoring just one run over the first two games, showed why they are where they are in the standings. Trailing 2-0 in the seventh, Tampa Bay used a two-run homer off of Mark Leiter Jr to tie things up before adding a second homer off of him later in the game. Those blasts proved to be the difference as the Rays avoided the sweep with a 4-3 win and sent the Cubs out West following a 4-5 homestand.

However, the day's big story falls on Justin Steele, who left the game with an undisclosed forearm injury. Granted, initial reports claim they removed him as a precaution due to forearm tightness, but any time you hear the word forearm associated with a pitcher, you never like it.

“When he went back out there in the 3rd, I got word that he had a little bit of throbbing in the elbow, but didn’t feel it throwing, just as he was cooling down,” Ross said after the game. “Radar went way up, obviously. Talked to the trainers, they felt comfortable, then watched him kinda pumping the hand and stretching the forearm a little bit and went out and checked on him. Said he didn’t feel it all, no tingling, no shot down the arm, anything like that, so I let him finish.”

Before his injury, Steele was dealing as he retired the first nine hitters he faced. Had it not been for Patrick Wisdom bailing him out in the third, things could have been different, but he was rolling along early.

The same can be said about Hayden Wesneski, who made his first appearance since being recalled and his first appearance out of the pen since last August. Like Steele, Wesneski was rolling along, allowing just one run on one hit in 3 2/3. Had it not been for those two blasts off of Leiter Jr, the Cubs probably sweep this series but settled for the outright series win.

While seeing Steele do Steele things shouldn't come as a surprise, the Rays had the surprising Zach Eflin on the mound as he looked to improve on his 7-1 record. Despite being shaky early on, Eflin pitched into the seventh inning and allowed two runs. Those are the outings the Rays have gotten out of him this season, and he is starting to make their three-year 40 million-dollar contract look justified.

Most of the damage against Eflin came in the first inning when the Cubs got off to another fast start. That was primarily due to Nico Hoerner continuing to get on base as he led things off with a walk before stealing second base. Two batters later saw Ian Happ drive one up the middle for a base hit as Hoerner raced around third to put the Cubs in front 1-0. Happ would swipe his fifth base later in the inning before coming home on another Mike Tauchman RBI hit to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

That was most of the action for quite some time as neither side could do much of anything for the next five innings as the Cubs remained in front 2-0. That all changed in the seventh as the Rays finally had something going their way. Following a two-out walk to Manuel Margot, David Ross felt he saw enough of Wesneski and called on Letier Jr to finish things off.

By far the most consistent reliever for the Cubs this season, Leiter Jr didn't have it on Wednesday as he allowed a Brandon Lowe homer, and suddenly, this game was tied 2-2. With a brand new ballgame, the Cubs chose to play some small ball in the bottom of the seventh and looked to regain the lead.

Seiya Suzuki started things off on the right foot by ripping one down the third baseline for a leadoff double. That was the last batter Eflin would fash as Kevin Cash called on Colin Poche to finish things off in the seventh. After Tauchman dropped down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Suzuki up to third, Trey Mancini came through in the pinch as his pinch-hit RBI double to left put the Cubs back in front 3-2.

Like in the seventh, Leiter Jr didn't get off to the start he wanted, walking the first hitter he faced to put the Ray's offense in business again. That walk was followed by Ray's second homer in as many innings, with Jose Siri getting every bit of a Leiter pitch over the plate and driving it over the Center field fence to put the Rays in front 4-3 late. Leiter would then be lifted for Adbert Alzolay, who allowed a pair of singles to begin his inning. Fortunately, Alzolay was able to hold the Rays right there as he induced an inning-ending double play, but the Cubs still trailed 4-3 entering the ninth.

After letting a scoring chance get away in their half of the ninth, Julian Merryweather and Michael Fulmer buckled down in the ninth to keep things a one-run game and set things up for the offense to potentially walk off the Rays. If a one-out walk to talk Tauchman didn't help, how about the hit-by pitch to Edwin Rios, as the Cubs had two on with one out?

Wisdom followed that up with a fielders choice error to load the bases as Cash returned to his pen and called on Kevin Kelly to finish things up. All the Cubs needed to complete the sweep was a hit that would drive in two, but instead, it was Kelly buckling down as he stranded the bases-loaded opportunity and locked down the save for the Rays in their 4-3 comeback win.

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