By Hal McCoy
Ely De La Cruz bashed the first pitch of Thursday night’s game 424 feet into Wrigley Field’s left field seats and it looked as if the Cincinnati Reds were ready to make a statement.
It was wasted effort as the Chicago Cubs posted a 5-3 win, knocking the Reds out of first place.
The Milwaukee Brewers annihilated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 14-1, to take a half-game lead over the Reds in the National League Central.
And the Cubs, winner of the last three of the four-game series and 11 of their last 13, are two games behind the Reds.
After the Reds won the first game, 6-5, the Cubs won the final three by 20-9, 16-6 and 5-3. The 46 runs scored by the Cubs tied their franchise record for four games, set in 1961.
The game turned in the third inning, probably the ugliest half-inning of the season for the Reds. Like Nancy Sinatra, the Cubs walked all over the Reds.
The Cubs tied it, 1-1, in the bottom of the first on back-to-back doubles by Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ off Reds starter Luke Weaver.
Then came a most bizarre inning imaginable. The Cubs batted around, but they didn’t really bat around, they walked around.
Nine batters came to the plate, but only one hit safely. Weaver walked four, including two with the bases loaded to force in two runs.
And the inning started out just fine for Weaver. He retired the first two and he struck out the third hitter, which should have ended the inning.
But the ball was in the dirt on Hoerner’s strike-three swing and eluded catcher Luke Maile, enabling Hoerner to sprint to first base.
Weaver then walked Ian Happ. Cody Bellinger singled for a run, the only hit of the inning, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
Weaver then walked Dansby Swanson to fill the bases and walked Christopher Morel on a full count (3-1) and walked Jeimer Candelario on a full count (4-1),
Plate umpire Derek Thomas called a tight strike zone all night, for both sides, and anything just off the plate was a ball.
Reds manager David Bell didn’t agree. When Thomas called ball four on Candelario, Bell sprinted from the dugout and was immediately ejected, but made certain Thomas could smell his breath in a face-to-face encounter.
The Reds left the bases loaded in the second when TJ Friedl grounded to short.
They got their leadoff hitter on base in the thlrd when Matt McLain singled and stole second, but the next three Reds made outs and McLain never vacated second base.
They scored in the fourth on Christian Encarnacion’s single and a single by Will Benson that sent CES to third. He scored, but it was on a double play hit into by Maile.
Spencer Steer led the sixth with a double, knocking out Cubs starter Jameson Taillon, but relief pitcher Mark Leiter Jr., struck out Joey Votto on three pitches, hit Encarnacion-Strand with a pitch, putting two runnerson, then struck out Benson on three pitches and ended the inning on a ground ball from Maile.
It stayed stayed 4-2 until Spencer Steer homered, his 17th, in the eighth inning, drawing the Reds to within one, 4-3.
But the Cubs, dormant since the walk-a-thon in the third, added a run in the bottom of the eighth against Fernando Cruz on leadoff hitter Swanson’s double, Candelario’s single and a sacrifice fly by Yan Gomes.
The Reds had only two hits over the last five innings against the Chicago bullpen and they struck out 14 times. They struck out nine times over the final four innings and Julian Merryweather struck out the side in the seventh.
The Reds were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven.