MILWAUKEE – The music played, and the mood was surprisingly light in the Cubs’ clubhouse after they lost, 1-0, Wednesday to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
Even though the Cubs have been shut out two games in a row by the Brewers, making their residence in the penthouse of the National League Central short-lived, there were some reasons to smile after Wednesday’s frustrating performance.
First, left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery turned in another stellar start as he bids to keep a spot in the rotation. He pitched six innings and gave up two hits and one run, a third-inning homer to Lorenzo Cain. In four starts this season, Montgomery has a 1.14 ERA.
Second, manager Joe Maddon pulled one of his signature moves in the bottom of the eighth inning, using relievers Steve Cishek and Brian Duensing both as pitchers and left fielders, rotating them back and forth. The inning ended with a flyout to left field, which easily was handled by catcher Willson Contreras.
“Obviously, we want to win the ballgame and the series, but at the end of the day, it’s just one game,” Cishek said. “This rarely happens. I’ll probably joke around about it for a little while and have fun with it.”
But seriously, the Cubs lost two of three in this series after going 11 innings to beat the Brewers in Monday’s opener. They are 38-27 and trail first-place Milwaukee (41-27) by 1½ games.
The talk by the media after Monday was that the Cubs were inside the Brewers’ heads after taking eight of the first nine games between the two clubs. Now with the Cubs going to St. Louis for games Friday through Sunday, the NL Central race looks to be on.
“Of course,” Maddon said. “Again, that’s a dialogue. There’s none of that really happening [about being in a team’s head]. We played well the first game and got only two runs up to the ninth inning, and it was 11 innings to score the extra runs and then shutout, shutout. We almost should be grateful that we won one out of three.”
The big bright spot again was Montgomery, who is 2-2 with a 3.31 ERA overall. A reliever to start the season, he has been the Cubs’ most consistent starter of late next to ace Jon Lester.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence,” he said. “If I go out there, execute the game plan, stay within myself, good things happen. I’ve kind of always known that. I have a good feel for my pitches right now. It’s about going out there and trying to get the job done.”
The fun on this sunny day started in the bottom of the eighth, when Maddon brought righty Cishek in to face Orlando Arcia, who reached on a single to shortstop. When Brewers manager Craig Counsell went with pinch-hitter Eric Thames, Maddon brought in lefty Duensing and moved Cishek to left field.
Thames struck out, and the two pitchers switched positions. Cishek got Cain on a groundout. The inning ended when Duensing got Christian Yelich to fly to Contreras in left, as he replaced Cishek in the lineup.
“If it does go extra innings, you have to save some pitchers,” Maddon said. “Those two guys, I talked to them about doing this before. And it just popped … You can’t always do it, but it worked out with that today.”
Maddon also was asked about not using Kris Bryant as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Bryant, who is in an 0-for-15 slump, remained on the bench in the ninth as Javy Baez flied out, catcher Chris Gimenez struck out and Contreras fanned, all against Corey Knebel.
“That’s easy to say,” Maddon said about possibly using Bryant. “He’s been struggling a lot. Theoretically, it sounds wonderful. I thought Gimenez had some good swings today. Baez hit the ball hard. Willson had some good hacks, also. It’s an easy dialogue to try to conjure up, but I really was trying to give [Bryant] the day off.”