Justin Wilson was caught in the wake of heightened emotions Friday as he tried to help stabilize a rattled Cubs team after the ejections of John Lackey and Wilson Contreras with two outs and a run in in the fifth inning.
This wasn’t the most ideal situation for manager Joe Maddon and a depleted Cubs bullpen, but Wilson’s strikeout of Matt Carpenter, the only hitter he faced, helped transform a precarious situation into a boost toward the finish line in the National League Central.
The biggest question now may be how many innings the bullpen can provide before fatiguing, but Wilson and Carl Edwards Jr. formed a firm bridge that enabled the offense to rally for seven runs in the sixth inning in an emotional 8-2 victory.
The triumph extended the Cubs’ lead over the Cardinals to four games in the Central.
Moreover, Hector Rondon (elbow inflammation) and Koji Uehara (knee infection) are unavailable for awhile and the Cubs had to avoid using left-handers Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing on Friday because of recent use.
“We know what it takes to handle business,” Edwards said. “I don’t know when (Rondon and Uehara) will be back, but we’ll be (able) to handle it until they do. There’s no stress.”
The Cubs bullpen has thrown 10 1/3 innings of one-run ball the last two games, and the effective efficiency of their work Friday might have bought themselves more time.
Plate umpire Jordan Baker ejected Lackey and Contreras one pitch after Lackey voiced his displeasure on a 2-2 offering that appeared to be a third strike to oppsing pitcher Carlos Martinez but was called a ball. Martinez then hit a tie-breaking single and Lackey erupted further.
With Lackey tossed, Maddon summoned Wilson, who had allowed five runs in his last three outings. With runners at first and third, Wilson struck out Carpenter to end the threat. The crowd of 38,464 became more energized when the Cubs broke out with five singles to score seven runs in the sixth.
“Justin’s stuff is strikeout stuff,” Maddon said. “If he can get us through this, then we can move it along.”
Grimm, who allowed three runs in the eighth inning of a 17-5 victory Wednesday, got the first two outs of the eighth and Maddon to summon Davis.
Davis pitched more than one inning for the first time since May 29, 2014, snapping a streak of 215 appearances of no more than one.
“He needed to pitch an inning, anyway,” Maddon said of Davis, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday.
The comeback victory was especially pleasing for Kris Bryant, whose home run in the fourth was his first extra-base hit in 24 career at-bats against Martinez. And Bryant started the seven-run rally with a single off Martinez and capped it with a RBI hit off Matt Bowman.
“I feel like such a better player overall from last time I faced (Martinez) on opening day,” said Bryant, who has scored nine runs in his last four games. “I feel completely different from then. I just feel more comfortable in the box. Seeing (Martinez’s) stuff is 99 mph with a foot of sink. Maybe it’s a little bit of luck.”