Cubs use five homers to eke out win over Orioles

by - Senior Writer -
Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, who went 2-4 at the plate, accrued one of his most important RBI of the year on Friday night.
Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, who went 2-4 at the plate, accrued one of his most important RBI of the year on Friday night.

BALTIMORE – Needless to say, entering the All-Star break at two games under .500 was certainly not on par with the great expectations facing the Chicago Cubs heading into the 2017 season. Among several other factors, the Cubs' proclivity to live and die by the home-run ball was one of the primary reasons for the disappointing first half. And, on Friday night, in their first game back from the All-Star layoff, the Cubs did an excellent job of making it known from the get-go that making a transition to a small ball-centric approach at the plate was definitely not in their plans. Scoring nine runs on five homers, Chicago started off its second half on a positive note, topping the Baltimore Orioles 9-8 at Camden Yards.

Perhaps it was due to the fact that no Cubs hitters participated in the All-Star game, but the North Siders appeared to be firing on all cylinders at the plate in the early goings of the interleague contest, as eight of the nine Chicago runs were scored in the first three innings. Playing at Oriole Park for the first time in 14 years, the Cubbies made it difficult to tell that they were not accustomed to the venue, blasting two long balls to take a commanding 4-0 lead in the opening inning, clearly not affected by the hour-long rain delay that preceded Friday night's affair.

Serving as the latest addition to the Cubs' carousel of leadoff hitters, veteran Ben Zobrist incited Chicago with a double to left in the matchup's first at-bat. Zobrist went 2-4 with two RBI and one walk on the evening. Later in the top half of the first, after a single by first baseman Anthony Rizzo that put runners on the corners, Chicago catcher Willson Contreras smacked his 12th dinger of the year with a three-run blast over the wall in center field. Contreras now sports 44 RBI on the year.

Padding the Cubs' early lead was Kyle Schwarber, who manned the designated hitter spot in the batting order for the Cubs tonight. Marking his 14th round-tripper of 2017, Schwarber blasted a solo shot to left-center in the at-bat immediately following the Contreras four-bagger. The home run was Schwarber's only hit of the night, however, as he went 1-4 and perpetuated the reputation as an all-or-nothing hitter that he has garnered for himself this season.

Meanwhile, Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman was woeful in his three-inning stint on the mound, allowing seven of the Cubs' 10 hits on the night and eight of their nine runs. Gausman's struggles came to a head in the second, as he gave up a one-out double to shortstop Addison Russell that culminated in a succeeding two-run home run by Zobrist, his eighth of the season.

Gausman was able to compose himself thereafter, though, even managing to collect two quick strikeouts to begin the third inning. But, following a walk of Cubs center fielder Ian Happ, Chicago right fielder Jason Heyward brought an end to that short-lived good fortune for Gausman, putting a bow on the righty's miserable start with a two-run shot to right. Finding its way out onto Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore, Heyward's moonshot put the Cubs up 8-0 and appeared to perfectly position the North Siders for a much-needed blowout victory to begin the regular season's second half. However, fitting with a primary theme of Chicago's season, disappointing pitching prevented the Cubs from coasting to victory, as the Orioles gradually erased their vast deficit.

Starting for the Cubs on the night was Mike Montgomery, a former reliever who was granted a starting opportunity earlier this season. Boasting a pitiful 1-6 record entering Friday's game, Montgomery was in serious need of a quality performance to hang onto his starting role. In the early stages of the game, Montgomery provided just that, but in the third inning, Montgomery began to come unglued.

Former Cubs and current Orioles catcher Wellington Castillo struck first for Baltimore, booming a solo blast to straightaway center to begin the bottom of the third. The O's continued to chip away in the following inning, as designated hitter Mark Trumbo earned a leadoff walk and was next scored on a double to deep center by first baseman Chris Davis, taking advantage of a poor throw home to decrease the Orioles' deficit to six runs.

While the writing was on the wall for a Montgomery collapse, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon opted to leave the much-maligned lefty in the game for the fifth inning, which proved to be a mistake. Scoring four runs on five hits, the Orioles placed themselves right back into the thick of things in the bottom half of the fifth, chasing Montgomery from the game and shellacking Chicago reliever Justin Grimm in the process. Montgomery was taken for a single and a ground rule double that put men on second and third with one out before being yanked from the game, finishing with four runs and five hits to his name in 4.1 innings on the bump.

Grimm then entered and fared no better, practically immediately giving up an RBI hit to Trumbo, who put together a highly successful 2-3, two-walk performance at the plate, which saw him accrue three RBI. Later in the fifth, Baltimore left fielder Trey Mancini singled to right-center and drove home O's second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Right fielder Joey Rickard capped off the lucrative inning for the Orioles with a clutch two-run single to make the score 8-6.

The offense cooled off for both teams in the ensuing innings, as the Cubs wasted multiple scoring opportunities, such as a one-out double by Heyward in the sixth, and the Orioles lost momentum with the bat. Trumbo, the definitive spark plug on offense for Baltimore throughout the night, reignited the Orioles' hitting flame in the eighth, though, taking Cubs reliever Koji Uehara deep for a game-tying two-run home run, which came after a Schoop single.

Russell, who had previously come through in the clutch with ninth-inning heroics this season, refused to allow the Cubs' inept pitching staff to waste the stellar performance put forth by the Chicago hitters, as he crushed what proved to be a game-winning home run into the bleachers beyond center field in the top of the ninth. Coming off of Baltimore reliever Brad Brach, the go-ahead solo shot marked Russell's eighth long ball of the year and one of his most important hits of the season.

Closer Wade Davis, the lone All-Star for the Cubs, went three up, three down in the bottom of the ninth for his 17th save to secure the thrilling 9-8 victory for the Cubs (44-45) over the Orioles (42-47) and close the curtain on the most video game-esque contest that the Cubs have been a part of this season. With both teams accruing 10 hits, the series-opening matchup in Charm City was a slugfest, to say the least. Brach was handed the loss to fall to 2-2, while Uehara, though undeserved, received the win to become 3-4. Chicago will now look to build upon the momentum of their heart-pounding win to open up second-half play, as living and dying by the home-run ball might not be such a bad thing after all.

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