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Cubs’ Justin Steele cements Cy Young candidacy with career day

10 months agoAndy Martinez

While the Cubs chase down a playoff spot, their ace is in a race of his own.

Justin Steele is firmly entrenched in a battle with San Diego’s Blake Snell for the NL Cy Young crown. Monday afternoon he might’ve taken a leg up on his fellow southpaw.

In a game with massive Wild Card implications, Steele delivered his best outing of his career, setting career marks in strikeouts (12) and innings (8) while allowing just 2 hits and 2 walks, outdueling a fellow Cy Young candidate in Logan Webb as the Cubs beat the Giants 4-0 at Wrigley Field.

It feels awesome,” Steele said. “Just one of them games, you kinda just wanna pitch all day. You just wanna keep going out there.”

The lefty lowered his ERA to 2.56, narrowly trailing Snell (2.50), ranks 7th in WHIP (1.14), second in quality starts (19, behind Webb’s 20) and is tied for first in wins (16).

The win moves the Cubs 4 games ahead of the Giants, who were tied for the final wild card spot entering Monday’s game.

“It’s really cool, it’s quite the honor,” Steele said of the Cy Young talk. “For me, I just wanna keep showing up everyday and winning ball games. I really like where the team’s at. I feel like we’re starting to click on all cylinders. Everybody’s picking each other up when it’s needed.

“Just a lot of fun to play for this right now. We’re doing really well.”

Steele was nearly flawless on Monday.

He permitted just four baserunners in the series opener — a 2-out walk to the third batter of the game, a 2-out single in the 2nd inning and a walk and single in the 8th inning. Sandwiched between that hit in the 2nd and a leadoff walk in the 8th were 16-straight batters retired by the Cubs’ ace, stumping the Giants’ hitters.

“He was really good,” manager David Ross said. “That was a great pitching matchup in general. That’s who he’s been for us. So good. Attacking the strike zone. Yan even said, that’s as good as he was locating today. Whatever he asked for, he felt like it was in that quadrant. Nice job. Very efficient.”

In the 7th inning, sitting on 9 strikeouts, Steele struck out Wilmer Flores to tie a career-high in an outing. After a Mitch Haniger groundout, Steele struck out Patrick Bailey on 3 pitches to set a new personal best and let out his emotions after it.

“I mean it’s just Wrigley. It’s just the fans realizing the moment. I believe it was a 1-0 game at the time, 2 outs in the 7th, big pitch and stuff,” Steele said. “They brought the energy and I kinda like to feed off of it. It was awesome to pitch in that environment and just really cool moment.”

Then, in the 8th inning after a leadoff walk, when it looked like fatigue might be setting in, Steele dug in and pitched like has all season. He induced a double play that brought the 39,452 fans at Wrigley Field to their feet. Two batters later, he struck out Mike Yastrzemski to end his afternoon.

It cemented Steele’s knack for pitching in big moments for this team. 

“He’s gonna give us a chance to win,” Ross said. “The win day guy on the staff — Steeley feels like he’s that guy.”

When that’s the case there’s a natural comparison to another, former lefty ace for the Cubs — Jon Lester. But Ross tamed those links.

“I don’t wanna do that to him,” Ross said. “But like yeah, it feels like the things that I can relate to is Jon wanted the ball in the biggest moments. Steele wants the ball in the biggest moments. Steele feels like he’s putting us on his back and carrying us wherever we need to go and going out and doing what he does best and going and competing really well. Jon was really good at that, too. Really good at that. Good, that doesn’t do Jon credit.

“Steeley’s for sure — he’s a big-game pitcher, yeah. I thought that’s what stood out to me and the comparisons from him and Jon.”

That’s because Steele dreamt of those moments growing up — and now he’s living them. 

“For me, I don’t know about other ball players, you dream of big moments,” Steele said. “I would say when you’re a kid and you’re dreaming of pitching in the big leagues, you really don’t think about getting the first batter out of the game or anything. You think of like bottom of the 9th, closing the game. Just the big moments. Making the pitch and stuff.

“It’s really cool to complete the moments.”

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