Avila made a Little League-level throwing error in the top of the 10th inning, which led to the Blue Jays' scoring two runs and taking the lead. But with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning, Avila won the game with a two-run single. He was mobbed on the field and in the Cubs' dance room after the game.
“Sometimes over the course of the year, when you’re trying to get to the playoffs, you have to win crazy games like that, games that you shouldn’t necessarily win,” Avila said about the dramatic 6-5 victory. “I was glad I was able to make up for my amazing throw the half-inning before.”
Let’s start there: With Josh Donaldson on first base and the score tied at 3, Avila started to throw a ball back to his pitcher, Koji Uehara, like he has thousands of times before. But Avila pulled his arm back at the last second. The ball came out anyway, headed toward shortstop. Donaldson advanced easily.
“In the middle of my motion to throw the ball, [Uehara] signaled to get a [new] ball and I stopped my arm and the ball kind of slipped out of my hand,” Avila said after the game.
The Cubs then intentionally walked the hitter at the plate, Jose Bautista. Both runners eventually scored, putting the Cubs down 5-3. No team had come back from being down multiple runs in extra innings this season ... until the Cubs on Sunday. Teams were 0-50 in that scenario, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We were unable to make contact in certain situations until Alex got it done,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The fact that we beat them close, I like that moving forward."
The Cubs swept the series, winning all three games by a total of five runs. It was their first sweep since taking the first six games of the second half. Since then, it’s been a little back and forth as they continue to search for their stride. Perhaps a 5-2 homestand -- and a crazy finish -- will propel them some more.
“The really good team, once you’ve won the series with one left, this is really when you want to make some hay at that point,” Maddon said of taking the finale. “You just don’t concede anything.”
If the Cubs had lost this game, there would have been plenty to pick apart as they continue to sometimes frustrate despite leading the National League Central. For example, newly acquired reliever Justin Wilson has walked nine batters in eight appearances, including one with the bases loaded in the 10th inning on Sunday.
The Cubs had missed a chance to win it earlier, as they put two men on base in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t advance them. Even in something they’re good at -- they lead the league in sacrifice bunting percentage -- outfielder Jon Jay couldn’t execute. And then there are the inopportune strikeouts.
Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez each struck out in the 10th but reached on a dropped third strike. How often does that happen in the same inning? The Cubs turned a bad moment into a good ending as both dropped third strikes came across to score, including Baez as the winning run. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a win.
“For those that ever want to criticize [Baez], that’s the ball in the dirt, the catcher blanked out on it; if Javy doesn’t run hard, it’s a different result,” Maddon said.
So the Cubs forced the issue, as well, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And right now, the Cubs could use all the luck they can get. With three prominent players injured but a light schedule, a few breaks could set them up for a less stressful September.
Sweeps, and some luck, will do that for you.
“You don’t see that very often, especially in that spot,” Schwarber said of the dropped third strikes. “That’s a prime example of a thing going our way.”
Mobbed for a third time at his locker after the game (this time by reporters), Avila was stumped by a question. What does this kind of a win mean?
“That we’re a good team, I guess?” he answered.
The Cubs want to take that question mark away for good this season. They just might.