By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon managed Tuesday night’s game like a Mad Magician — and got away with a baseball version of sleight of hand.
The game with the Cincinnati Reds droned on and on and on into the 15th inning until the Cubs scored five runs in the top of the 15th for a 7-2 victory at Great American Ball Park.
Maddon was the man with the top hat, silk scarf and magic wand.
He ran out of position players. So what did he do? He used three different pitchers to play left field over the last three innings.
Only the Cubs, only Joe Maddon.
Madden used left hander Travis Wood both in left field and on the mound and he used right hander Spencer Patton both in left field and on the mound.
Then after the Cubs scored five runs in the top of the 15th Madden brought in set-up pitcher Pedro Strop — not to pitch, but to finish the game in left field, the third Cubs pitcher to play left field in the game.
AMAZINGLY WHILE THOSE three pitchers stood in left field for three innings not a single ball was hit their way, which defied the adage often spouted by former big league manager Gene Mauch, who always said, “You can’t hide anybody on defense, the ball always finds them.”
J.J. Hoover, the Reds’ sixth pitcher, was the loser. He gave up a tie-breaking single by Kris Bryant to push the Cubs ahead, 3-2, then he gave up a grand slam home run to Javier Baez. It was the sixth grand slam Hoover has given up during his career with the Reds, setting a dubious club record formerly held by a pitcher named Frank Smith, who gave up five from 1950 to 1956.
“Where do you want to begin, I have no idea,” Maddon said after his legerdemain ended. “Late in the game we alerted our pitchers what we might have to do. I didn’t want to pitch Travis Wood tonight, but I had to do it. We were naked. It was all hands of deck, we were down to nothing.”
IT BEGAN IN THE 13TH when Maddon brought in Patton to pitch and placed Wood in left field. In the 14th, Patton, a right hander, faced Brandon Phillips and coaxed a 3-and-2 fly ball to center. Wood, a left hander, came in front left field to face left hander Jay Bruce and Patton went to left field.
Wood retired Bruce on a ground ball then went back to left field while Patton came back to the mound from left field to face right hander Adam Duvall and ended the inning on a ground ball.
After the Cubs scored five in the top of the 15th, Wood pitched the bottom of the 15th and Strop manned left.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Maddon admitted. “I mean, Travis was unbelievable. To do what he did tonight, especially when I was not going to use him at all. He was on the no-fly list. Travis, my god, what an athlete.”
WOOD, WHO CAME UP through the Reds system and pitched for the Reds before he was traded to the Cubs for pitcher Sean Marshall, was all smiles after the game.
“They’ve talked about me playing left, talked about it a couple of other times,” he said. “It was definitely interesting. It was a lot of fun and I would have liked to have recorded an out.”
The Reds had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 13th with runners on first and second and one out.
“I was hoping the ball would be hit to me because I was ready to come up hosing,” said Wood. Madden didn’t agree. “We were hoping nothing was hit out that way.”
Instead, Joey Votto lined to second base and Ben Zobrist snagged it and doubled Ivan DeJesus Jr., off second base to end the inning.
MADDON, THOUGH, SAID he wouldn’t have held his breath had the ball been hit Wood’s way in left. “With Travis, you just treat him like a position player. I’m that comfortable with him out there. He processes everything well. I had no concerns about that. But if we didn’t have Travis available I probably wouldn’t have done that. Travis and his versatility made everything possible.
“And on the mound he might have had his best stuff all year,” Maddon added. “Seriously, he was throwing 93 and he was strike-throwing. It was The Travis Wood Show”
Madden said when he began his maneuvering some of his position players began giggling and he said, “The infielders kind of liked it. It lightened the mood a bit and they all kind of dug that.”
NONE OF THIS WOULD have happened had relief pitcher Hector Rondon retired Eugenio Suarez with two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth with the Cubs leading, 2-1. But Suarez ripped Rondon’s first pitch into left field to tie the game, 2-2.
And it was stunning that the Reds were able to tie it. Cubs starter Jon Lester held the Reds to one hit over the first seven innings and no runs.
A slow, lazy ground ball up the middle by Brandon Phillips with two outs in the first inning was the Reds only hit until the eighth inning.
Billy Hamilton broke the spell with a one-out solo in the eighth and when pinch-hitter Jose Peraza singled with two outs Lester’s night was finished.
Rondon, owner of 13 saves in 15 opportunities arrived on the scene and quickly threw a wild pitch to put the tying run in position. Then first baseman Anthony Rizzo made a long run and leaned into the stands to snag Zack Cozart’s foul pop to end the inning.
MEANWHILE, ONE OF REDS starter John Lamb’s problems this year year bit him. He has trouble retiring the first batter go of an inning and it led to both Cubs runs off Lamb during his six innings.
When the game began the first batter of an inning was hitting .404 against Lamb (19 for 47) and the first Cubs batter of the game struck hard. Ben Zobrist led off the game with a home run into the left field seats.
Trouble didn’t surface again for Lamb until the fifth when Matt Szczur opened the inning with a double to left field. With one out, Lamb had opposing pitcher Lester 1-and-2. But Lester, owner of two previous hits this season, punched a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 2-0.
But the real fun didn’t begin until Maddon began his fun and games by playing three pitchers in left field in the same game — most certainly a major league record.