Cubs lose ‘game of inches’ to Diamondbacks in pitchers’ duel

Corbin Carroll hits an RBI single in the eighth inning Friday that replays showed right fielder Seiya Suzuki trapped.

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It was chilly with wind blowing in enough that even the mere three batted balls that exceeded 300 feet in air all Friday afternoon were prematurely knocked down to the warning track. Diamondbacks ace and All-Star Zac Gallen was on the mound, and Seiya Suzuki’s fifth-inning infield single was the first hit for either side.

Sometimes a game feels destined to swing on something small.

“Game of inches,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Maybe one walk from [José] Cuas is probably the game.” 

In the case of the Cubs’ 1-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, it was tiny enough that umpires needed an extended replay review to see that Corbin Carroll’s eighth-inning flare to right bounced off the grass before settling into Suzuki’s sliding grasp. Yet it was big enough to flip Mark Leiter Jr.’s escape from an inherited jam into the decisive RBI single — plating a run pushed into scoring position by that Cuas walk — in the Cubs’ second straight defeat.

“I saw a trap, unfortunately,” Nico Hoerner said. “With those replays, when it’s one way on the field, you hope that there’s not enough evidence to overturn it even if it looks like it.”

Over 30,000 in attendance could argue their afternoon was spoiled. Hoerner reached base twice but certainly would have swapped it for his loud first-inning fly out drifting a few more feet into the left-field basket. But no one had their fine day obscured more than starter Jameson Taillon.

Resigned to a debut season in a Cubs uniform that won’t have the statistics he desires, Taillon has accepted that a playoff bid and a tightening race in the NL Central will give him a chance for his season to be more defined by how it ends. Through six scoreless innings, Taillon matched Gallen blow for blow, striking out nine while not allowing a hit until a two-out Corbin single in the sixth.

After six innings and just 77 pitches, Taillon was pulled rather than face the Diamondbacks lineup a third time, as Gallen chugged on to the first nine-inning shutout of his career. That a proven star in Gallen, flattened a Cubs offense that is third in MLB in runs scored since the All-Star is the game’s headline. But in a game decided by so little, the fateful turn to a rested bullpen merits parsing.

“He was done,” Ross said, declining to elaborate. “I thought he pitched a phenomenal game. We had a fully rested bullpen.”

None of Taillon’s full-season numbers look great right now, but hitters do have a .300/.336/.450 line against him when facing him a third time this season.

“I totally get it,” Taillon said. “We’re in September against another team that’s in the hunt. Every pitch matters. I think they felt like they probably got to the end of the road with me.”

Julian Merryweather and Adbert Alzolay, both pitching on multiple days rest, delivered a scoreless seventh and ninth inning. But pulling Taillon after six innings necessitated a piecemeal plan for the eighth, where Cuas came out to face a pocket of right-handers with Leiter ready for the left-handers if anyone reached base.

Despite troubling overall control numbers and this typically being a spot for the currently injured Michael Fulmer, Cuas had demonstrated better command of his slider of recent and had not issued any walks in his last five outings. That run ended when he followed up a leadoff single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a walk to Gabriel Moreno.

Even then, Cuas struck out Jordan Lawlar. Leiter came on and struck out Geraldo Perdomo, and was an inch and the institution of instant replay away from getting Carroll to line out softly and end the threat. It leaves room for regret, mostly for not doing more against Gallen.

“Nobody’s trying to hit 110 mph right through the four-hole,” Ian Happ said after his hard groundout ended the game. “You can’t determine where the ball goes.”

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