With a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning, the Phillies appeared to have the game in a position they would prefer to have for their final six outs. Hector Neris entered in the eighth inning looking to get the game to Jeanmar Gomez with the lead. He did that, but not quite how you chalk it up.
The Phillies were nursing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning when Odubel Herrera singled home Carlos Ruiz for a 3-1 lead. That gave Hector Neris a little wiggle room, but that extra space quickly vanished in the top of the eighth inning. A throwing error by second baseman Cesar Hernandez on a throw to first allowed the Cubs to get the lead runner (Miguel Montero) on base to lead off the inning. Hernandez’s throw flew by Neris, who was slow to get to first base to cover after Ryan Howard attempted to field the ball. Fortunately, so it seemed, Ruiz was in position to back the ball up and prevent any extra damage to lead off the inning.
Unable to gain control with the next batter, Neris gave up a single into left field to Addison Russell. The first two batters had reached the bases, bringing a potential go-ahead run to the plate with nobody out. Neris, typically a strikeout pitcher as the TV broadcast made sure to remind the viewers, struggled to get his location under control. Javier Baez stepped in to bat in place of relief pitcher Justin Grimm, and Villanova grad Matt Szczur took over to run from second base for Montero. The best team in baseball was ready to strike and they saw everything they wanted to from Neris. Neris was no match for the Cubs in this moment, and a catastrophe was mere moments away if the Cubs could just get a big hit rather than single after single.
The Cubs got a single, as Baez dropped one into left field, but Szczur was unable to take a chance and go home on the play and was instead forced to retreat to third bases to load the bases with nobody out. Neris was done.
Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin had no other choice. He had to get some outs, and the only other pitcher he felt comfortable relying on in the situation was his closer, Jeanmar Gomez. It was Gomez or bust in the eighth inning, which was not particularly unusual, but getting six outs? That is a tall order, with the bases jammed as he steps on the mound.
This was a game destined to be another Cubs victory on their march to possible baseball history. It was looking to be just another fun win for the Cubbies, a come-from-behind road victory against an overmatched team still in the development stages of hopefully one day recapturing the glory of 2008 and ascending to the perch the Cubs currently sit atop in the baseball standings. Down 3-1, it already felt as though the Cubs had won and the Phillies had lost.
Gomez would have none of it.
As part of a double switch that saw Andres Blanco take over at second base for Hernandez (whose error got the inning started on an ominous note), Gomez served up a sacrifice fly by Dexter Fowler, allowing Szczur to finally come home and bring the road team within one run. The good news here is the Phillies tend to thrive in one-run games, and Gomez has been a big reason why. The play of the day, however, would come in the next at-bat as Jason Heyward grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, preserving the one-run lead heading to the bottom of the inning.
After the Phillies went down quietly in the bottom of the eighth, Gomez stepped back on the mound for the final inning, which started with a strikeout. The Cubs would not go down without a fight though. Anthony Rizzo singled to right on the next at-bat. Ben Zobrist grounded into a fielder’s choice that could have arguably ended the game had the Phillies challenged Rizzo’s slide into second base. Regardless, the game continued without hesitation. With two strikes down and one to go to seal the deal, Gomez was beaten by Tommy La Stella, who singled to right field. Had Tyler Goeddel not been in position to field the ball cleanly, Zobrist could have easily scored as the ball went to the gap, tying the game. Defense came through once again in the clutch, and the Cubs had runners on the corners. The final at-bat would lack the drama in the field as Gomez managed to get David Ross to ground out to Freddy Galvis to end the ballgame.
In the scorebook, Gomez will go down with one more save added to his season total, but an argument could be made he deserved two saves on Tuesday night.