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Shota Imanaga’s continued brilliance — and emotion — helps Cubs return to win column

1 month agoAndy Martinez

Shota Imanaga, Mike Imanaga II, Sho-time, the Throwing Philosopher.

Whatever you want to call him, he’s must-see TV.

And it’s not just his brilliance on the mound. It’s the way he does it, exhibiting bravado on the mound and knowing when to show emotions.

Imanaga belted out a fist bump, a leg kick and another fist bump as he recorded his final out — a pivotal strikeout on Brendan Donovan in a 1-run game to preserve a lead and help spark the Cubs to a much-needed 5-1 win over the Cardinals. Imanaga now holds a dazzling 1.89 ERA — third best in baseball — and the Cubs are 11-2 in games he starts.

Imanaga, like he has been almost his entire time as a major leaguer, was elite Saturday afternoon. The lefty tossed 7 innings of 1-run ball, tallying 6 strikeouts and allowing just 4 hits on a career-high 103 pitches. It seems with each outing, Imanaga continues to feel more at ease and it shows on the mound.

“So, honestly, I’m just thinking about what can I do to get comfortable here?” Imanaga said after the game through interpreter Edwin Stanberry. “As well as my teammates in the clubhouse their communication is great. And so I would say if it wasn’t for the support I have around me, it wouldn’t be the case. So I’m very thankful for everyone around me.”

Excluding a leadoff double to Alec Burleson in the 4th that came around to score, Imanaga was in cruise control most of the day. He generated 14 whiffs, including 6 each on his splitter and sweeper. That, coupled with his fastball kept the Cardinals unbalanced throughout the outing.

In the 7th inning, with his pitch count rising, Imanaga hit Nolan Arenado to lead off the inning. After striking out Nolan Gorman, Iván Herrera singled to advance the tying run to scoring position.

Up against some trouble, Imanaga showed the finesse to escape a tight jam. He induced a flyout to left on Dylan Carlson and then built up a 1-2 count on Donovan. Clearly trying to work the outer half of the plate, Donovan fouled off 3 of the next four pitches, with the excitement of the crowd of 40,088 building at Wrigley Field.

Imanaga turned to his sweeper and garnered a swing-and-miss to preserve the lead, showing as much excitement as he had all season.

The emotional swing might’ve rubbed off on the Cubs’ bats. With a pair of runners on and two outs in the bottom half of the frame, Ian Happ hit a 3-run home run to left field to pad the Cubs’ lead. It was a contrast to Friday when the Cubs had 3 flyballs knocked down at the warning track.

The Cubs took the lead in the 4th with 3-straight hit balls that did not get past the pitcher. Regardless, the Cubs are hoping this can be the start of an offensive breakthrough.

“Absolutely, games like this are gonna help,” Yan Gomes said after the game. “I feel like there’s some guys trying to put better ABs together and moving guys over and the more and more we put guys on third with chances to score with no outs or one outs or even two outs, we’re gonna come through.

“At some point, we’re gonna come through and today Happ had a great AB and came through with it.”

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