One called strike may have led to a much-different result for Jeff Locke and the Marlins Tuesday night.
Unfortunately, they’ll never know.
After a couple of close pitches to Jon Jay with two strikes and two outs in the fifth were called balls by home plate umpire Paul Emmel, things unraveled quickly.
And what could have been a scoreless frame for Locke to protect a one-run Marlins’ lead turned into a disastrous four-run outburst by the Cubs that would lead to a 10-2 loss – the team’s seventh consecutive setback at Wrigley Field.
“I thought Jeff was really good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I think it was just the fourth out you ask him to get. Once he punches out Jay there for the third out, we just weren’t able to get the fourth one.”
Locke walked Kris Bryant on the next at-bat and then surrendered a three-run home run to right field to Anthony Rizzo that put the Cubs ahead for good.
I thought Jeff (Locke) was really good. I think it was just the fourth out you ask him to get. Once he punches out Jay there for the third out, we just weren’t able to get the fourth one.
Don Mattingly, Marlins manager
Locke made no excuses about the calls after the game.
“If he sees it that way, then they’re balls,” Locke said. “That’s the way it is. That’s why we have umpires. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to come back and make a better pitch on the next one. We don’t make any excuses. That’s something I’ll never get into.”
An error by J.T. Riddle at shortstop kept the inning going and Jason Heyward’s double made it a 4-1 deficit and chased Locke from his second start of the season after 89 pitches.
“At that point, pitch count was pretty good,” Mattingly said. “So really he throws five scoreless for us you can’t really ask much more than that.”
Rizzo later added a run-scoring double in the seventh off Brian Ellington, who gave up four more runs during that six-run output by the Cubs that inning that blew the game open.
Ellington had allowed only one earned run in 10 1/3 innings prior (0.87 ERA).
“That’s probably my fault not putting him in the right spot,” Mattingly said. “That game was one of those games that it probably wasn’t the right spot for him. You’re trying to get outs and don’t want to keep using the same guys there when you’re behind.”
Locke walked two batters and allowed only two hits prior to the fifth, but escaped trouble in each of the first three innings, protecting a fragile 1-0 lead.
But just as his solid first start last week after returning from a prolonged stint on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis ended without a victory, his second suffered the same fate.
“There’s tons of pitches that are close,” Locke said. “They’re all close. They’re all to the catcher. You have to bear down, make better pitches. That’s the name of the game. Even when we did … All that was with two outs. It’s unacceptable on my part.”
The Marlins put their first run on the board quickly in the first on a ground out by J.T. Realmuto with the bases loaded. The Marlins were unable to do more damage to Jake Arrieta, who struck out Riddle to end the inning.
“It’s that first inning with a lot of pitchers,” Mattingly said. “You have a chance to get at them and get to him. We were able to nick him for one and we had good at-bats from the standpoint of running his pitch count up, but then he settled in found the strike zone more and kind of kept us at bay.”
Realmuto led off the seventh with a triple that ended Arrieta’s night after he went six innings, allowing two runs on two hits, three walks and struck out five. Riddle reached on a fielding error on the next at-bat that allowed Realmuto to score, cutting the Cubs’ lead to 4-2.
Reliever Pedro Strop entered the game and made a great defensive play stopping a grounder by Tyler Moore and then starting a double play. Derek Dietrich doubled to keep the inning going, but Strop then struck out pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki.