Mark Leiter Jr., Cubs bullpen play crucial role in second straight win over Red Sox
David Ross and the Cubs looked to be in a dire situation just 3 minutes after the first pitch of the matchup with the Red Sox.
Seven pitches and two hitters into the game, starter Alec Mills was in discomfort and Ross and the medical staff were out to check on him. He left the game, visibly upset and Ross had to turn to his bullpen to pick up 26 outs.
Enter Mark Leiter Jr.
Leiter Jr. turned in one of the best performances of his career, pitching 5.1 innings of 1-run ball in relief as the Cubs beat the Red Sox 3-1 for their fourth straight win and third straight series win. Leiter Jr. struck out 5 and allowed just 3 hits.
“That was really impressive,” Ross said. “Very nice performance from him. They’ve got a really tough lineup over there. For him to give us that length was really impressive.”
And it was pretty smooth sailing through the potent Red Sox lineup. He allowed just 1 hit until Jackie Bradley Jr. led the 6th off with a double and Jarren Duran singled. He induced a double play to Rafael Devers to end his day, turning it over to Mychal Givens and the rest of the Cubs pen.
“It’s definitely kind of a tough spot cause it happened so fast,” Leiter Jr. said.
Mills struck out Duran on 5 pitches to start the game, forced a foul ball to Devers before Devers doubled right-center field. That’s when Mills felt discomfort and left the game.
“The pitch to Durran, the strikeout is when I initially felt just a little bit of something and then obviously didn’t get any better,” Mills said. “Thought maybe I could get through it. The pitch to Devers didn’t feel great. I think it was really when I went to go back up there when I knew that it was probably was best to get out of the game and let somebody else take over.”
Leiter worked out of the 1-out, runner on second base jam by striking out the potent J.D. Martinez and forcing a lineout from Xander Bogaerts. He allowed a leadoff single to Alex Verdugo in the 2nd inning, then didn’t allow another baserunner until the 5th inning, when he walked Franchy Cordero.
“That was awesome,” Mills said. “What he did was special. Not only to pick me up, but to pick up the bullpen and obviously we won. That’s three plusses in one.”
His outing was crucial for a thin Cubs rotation. They’re still down Drew Smyly, Marcus Stroman — although their return looks close — and Wade Miley. Leiter Jr.’s ability to pitch deep into the game saved the Cubs’ bullpen and allowed Ross to rest some arms amid a 13-games-in-13-days stretch.
“In my opinion, guys pick each other up really well here, top to bottom,” Leiter Jr. said. “Realistically, Kyle [Hendricks] getting right and starting to dominate like that kinda sets the tone for everybody, in my opinion. Kind of feeds off of each other and like you just kinda wanna piggyback what the other guys are doing.”
Leiter Jr. exited to a healthy ovation from the 40,298 fans in attendance at Wrigley Field and turned it over to the backend of the Cubs pen — Givens and David Robertson.
“That was pretty cool, I gotta be honest with you,” Leiter Jr. said. “I’m proud of being able to kinda hold us where we were and not have to run through other guys and really use a lot of arms tonight.”
Givens played a key role for the Cubs, too, pitching 2 perfect innings before turning it over to the closer Robertson.
It was the longest Givens’ had pitched since July 13, 2019 when he pitched 2 shutout innings for the Orioles against the Rays. Robertson picked up the 11th save of his season, a 4-out save and his second multi-inning save of the year.
“I knew what I expected to do and looked at Rossy and [he] let me keep on going and try to help us with the situation that happened early in the game,” Givens said. “Just go out there, try to throw strikes and a team that I faced a lot early in my career, so I had a good plan and I stuck to it and it worked out.”