Mike Tauchman made an incredible catch to give the Cubs their 7th straight win
ST. LOUIS — Adbert Alzolay liked the pitch.
With two strikes and two outs in the 9th and Alec Burleson at the plate representing the winning run, Alzolay wanted to go up and away with a fastball. The Cubs’ closer fired his hardest of the night, a 97.8-mph four-seamer and hit the spot where his battery mate, Miguel Amaya, had set up.
What happened next surprised him.
Burleson made great contact on the pitch, barreling the ball up at 98.8 mph to straightaway center.
“How did he hit that ball?” Alzolay thought to himself.
Then, he started to worry.
His center fielder — Mike Tauchman, who had just entered the game defensively after pinch-hitting in the top of the frame — kept racing back towards the wall.
“I mean I guess my initial read was not that it was gonna maybe necessarily be that close to the wall,” Tauchman recalled. “But I think that kind of as outfielders, we’re taught get to the wall and then you have time to make the adjustments you need to.”
Tauchman is familiar with warning tracks — he knows he needs roughly 2-and-a-half or 3 steps before he leaps if a ball is going over the fence. But this ball was tricky off the bat. He took about 5 steps on the outfield dirt as he tried to track the ball then realized he was at the wall, and he was going to have to make the jump if he wanted to save the Cubs’ winning streak.
What happened next was arguably the most exciting finish and led to possibly one of the most enthralling wins of the Cubs’ season.
Tauchman reached over the 400-foot mark in center and pulled the ball back just inches before it grazed the grass in center field for a would-be Cardinals win. He tumbled around the floor after making the catch and then vaulted up in pure joy as the Cubs had won their seventh straight contest, 3-2.
“Amazing,” Alzolay said, unable to suppress a smile. “Great, great, great catch right there. Game-saving right there. It was just electric.”
The Cardinals challenged the play to no avail — they may as well have instead of having the challenge in their back pocket — but the Cubs were celebrating the win, a game that moved them 3.5 games back in the Wild Card race and 4.5 away in the NL Central.
Alzolay let out his typical celebration that has become commonplace whenever he shuts the door on a Cubs win. He high-fived every one of his teammates in the Cubs’ victory line but saved the biggest embrace for Tauchman. Alzolay made sure to high-five him but gave him a bigger hug in the line, something Tauchman was grateful for.
“I liked the hug more than the high five cause the high five hurts for 15-20 minutes,” Tauchman said. “I gotta ice my hands after some of the high fives. The hug was great.”
For his part, Alzolay told him after the game, he owed him. What exactly?
“Just ask for whatever you want,” Alzolay said with a laugh.
The Tauchman catch wasn’t possible if not for another defensive gem earlier in the frame.
The Cardinals opened the final inning with a pair of singles to make things interesting.
Alzolay showed no distress.
“[Alzolay said] like let’s get a double play, let’s go,” second baseman Nico Hoerner said.
Ask and you shall receive, the saying goes.
Although, Alzolay had another assist from his terrific double-play combo, Hoerner and shortstop Dansby Swanson.
On the 7th pitch of the at-bat against pinch-hitter Brendan Donovan, Alzolay’s slider met his bat for a grounder. But it was rocketed at 104.4-mph to Hoerner’s left side, forcing a quick reaction and a strike to Swanson. Swanson rifled another perfect throw to Cody Bellinger at first to put a small dagger in the Cardinals’ hopes.
“Obviously a well-hit ball and good runner, too, so we had to turn it pretty clean,” Hoerner said. “It was hit hard. Glad it worked out.”
That set the stage for Tauchman’s heroics.
“That homer [robbery] doesn’t happen if Nico and Dansby don’t turn a phenomenal double play there,” Tauchman said. “So, that was really hard. Like I said, they make it look really easy. Just huge defensive inning for the team.”
The win summed up the run the Cubs are on.
This winning streak has pushed them a game over .500 and instead of chatter of who might be leaving the Cubs clubhouse on August 1 at the trade deadline, there’s the growing belief of a team hitting its stride and ready to play meaningful games in August and September for the first time in 3 years.
“I feel that the momentum that we’re going through right now and [to] finish the game like that in a really close game, the whole way through, really has the boys in a really good position right now,” Alzolay said. “I feel like for the last 3 weeks we’re playing really, really good baseball and I feel like we finally are finding that identity as a team.
“I feel like the chemistry is there and everyone is coming together and the pieces [are] starting to fall into place now.”