CINCINNATI — Dansby Swanson sat on the infield dirt with his glove over his head and his hands behind his back propping him up. Fireworks went off, celebrating the Reds win as the umpires reviewed the safe call at first base.
They confirmed it. The Cubs’ double play attempt fell just short, and they fell to the Reds 2-1.
“An incredible play by Dansby there at the end,” second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “I wish we had been able to turn that.”
One thing was clear: the Cubs’ bullpen is worn out. It needed more run support, especially the day after a doubleheader, to give the relievers at the back end a chance to recover.
Reliever Mark Leiter Jr., who came in for the ninth inning, was pitching for the fourth time in five days.
“He’s running on fumes,” manager David Ross said. “[The bullpen] is a little bit short right there with the doubleheader, and going after yesterday [in Game 2] and coming up short. Trying to keep those guys as fresh as possible.”
But Javier Assad had thrown 98 pitches in eighth scoreless innings — both career highs.
“He did his job,” Ross said. “That was a phenomenal performance.”
And all three of the Cubs’ back-end relievers — Leiter, right-hander Julian Merryweather and closer Adbert Alzolay — had pitched the day before. The left-handed heavy top of the Reds lineup was coming up.
Ross called on Leiter, who only had a one-run lead to work with.
The Cubs entered Saturday with the second-most runs scored since June 9 (412), behind only the Braves. But on Saturday, even against a Reds pitching staff that’s dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, they scored one run. Jeimer Candelario hit a solo homer in the seventh inning to break a scoreless tie.
Assad allowed seven hits in eight scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and one walk. He had never pitched into the eighth inning before in his major-league career. Assad also became the first Cubs pitcher since Steve Trachsel in 1994 to pick off two runners in a game. Standout defensive plays helped keep his pitch count down.
“You get eight shutout innings from your starter and definitely like your chances to win the game,” Hoerner said. “And obviously we weren’t able to close out the last two [games], but in here it kind of feels like that’s as much if not more on the offense than anything.”
Leiter gave up a leadoff double to Jake Fraley, walked TJ Friedl, and hit Spencer Steer with a pitch to load the bases. He surrendered a game-tying single to Elly De La Cruz. Then, he induced a flyout from Nick Martini for the first out of the inning.
Ross made the call to the bullpen to bring in José Cuas.
Cuas got Hunter Renfroe to hit a grounder to the left side of the infield. It looked like it was going to get through, but Swanson dove to his left to field it cleanly. Half-standing, half-kneeling, Swanson swung the ball to Hoerner, who then fired to first.
“[Nico] did an unbelievable job of getting rid of it and giving us a chance,” Swanson said. “And just didn’t work out for us.”
It was close enough to force a replay, but not quite enough to force extra innings.