CHICAGO – Two of the Chicago Cubs’ much maligned groups teamed up in a big way Wednesday to not only salvage a game that appeared lost, but to finish off the first three-game sweep of the season.
The offense was the gang that got the most attention Wednesday thanks to the late rally and the walkoff home run from Darwin Barney to defeat the San Diego Padres 8-6. Without the performance from the bullpen, though, the comeback never happens.
Four Cubs relief pitchers combined to deliver 4 2/3 scoreless innings after Ryan Dempster had a rare rocky outing, allowing the comeback to happen in the first place.
Casey Coleman, who didn’t even make the club out of spring training, started it off with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, getting two of his five outs by strikeout. Next came Carlos Marmol, who managed to put his earlier demotion from the closer’s role and a recent hamstring issue behind him to pitch a scoreless seventh despite allowing two more walks.
Next was Randy Wells, whose bid for the final spot in the Cubs’ rotation fell short just as spring training came to a close. He had a perfect eighth inning.
Last came James Russell’s ninth inning that he came out of unscathed despite giving up two hits.
“Confidence isn’t a problem right now,” Russell said, acknowledging the bullpen’s earlier struggles. “We’re feeling really good and everybody is just doing their job and making quality pitches and staying out of trouble. Then we make sure if we do give up runs it isn’t a crooked number.”
It’s been one of new manager Dale Sveum’s biggest challenges to get the most out of a bullpen that has been reconfigured on the fly, but for the past few days there are signs of hope.
“We've been tremendous this whole homestand really,” Sveum said of his relievers. “I think we gave up one run maybe. Marmol did a nice job after walking a couple guys, came back threw strikes. Russell made a huge pitch again. I can't say enough about Russell and what he's done. It’s just been great.
“The bullpen has just been doing a great job. It was just one of those days where Dempster didn't go out there with the same ammunition he normally goes out there with.”
Dempster might still be without a victory, but the rest of the team fought to at least make sure he didn’t end up with another defeat. A half inning after he was removed, the Cubs scored a pair of runs on two bases-loaded walks.
In the eighth inning it was a Reed Johnson pinch-hit single off Andrew Cashner, two steals from pinch runner Tony Campana and an RBI infield single from Starlin Castro to tie it. Barney then lifted his game-winning homer in the ninth inning into the wind, still managing to reach the first row of bleacher seats.
“That was the first walkoff home run I’ve had at any level,” Barney said. “I didn’t even see it go out. I was just running, running hard. It was crazy. It’s already gone and passed, it just happened so fast. It was exciting. It’s good for our club.”
There was plenty more that was good for the Cubs like Steve Clevenger’s two hits and two RBIs in his first game back from the disabled list, Castro’s two hits to extend his hit streak to eight games and Johnson’s seventh pinch hit to give him a .467 (7-for-15) batting average in that role.
Offense from unexpected sources will go a long way toward making the Cubs a more productive club and one that’s a little easier to watch.
“Yeah when you get to the bottom part of your order, putting up numbers and slugging percentage and all that, you're going to score runs,” Sveum said. “That's the bottom line sometimes. We were struggling there when the bottom of the lineup. Our top guys were actually doing their job but there wasn't anything getting done at the bottom.”