CINCINNATI — The often stoic Javier Assad screamed as he walked off the mound Saturday night at Great American Ball Park.
He painted a 94.3-mph sinker on the inside edge to Cincinnati Reds left-handed pinch hitter Will Benson for the final out of the eighth inning. It completed eight shutout innings and a career-high 98 pitches for Assad. The Chicago Cubs offense, however, again failed to come through, setting up a 2-1 walk-off loss to the Reds.
It marked the first time the Cubs (72-64) suffered back-to-back losses on walk-off hits since Aug 15-16, 2019. With the Reds’ win, they take the season series over the Cubs, a valuable tiebreaker for a potential postseason spot.
Jeimer Candelario’s home run in the seventh was one of only five Cubs hits. Assad scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out seven.
“I was staying confident, trusting myself, trusting in my pitches and trusting in the guys behind me,” Assad said through an interpreter. “I was executing my pitches and attacking.”
The first three Reds reached base to begin the bottom of the ninth against Mark Leiter Jr. on a double, walk and hit batter. Elly De La Cruz’s single to right field tied the game, and Leiter got Nick Martini to fly out for the first out of the ninth.
Manager David Ross called on right-hander José Cuas to face Hunter Renfroe with the bases still loaded. Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner nearly pulled off an incredible double play to end the inning and force extras. With the infield playing in, Swanson made a diving stop to his left and fired the ball to second, but Hoerner’s one-hopper to Candelario was just late.
The offense’s performance wasn’t good enough against a Reds team dealing with a depleted pitching staff because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Ross didn’t have many high-leverage options for the ninth coming off Friday’s doubleheader. Leiter was “running on fumes” Saturday having pitched in four of the Cubs’ last five games, Ross said.
“You get eight shutout innings from your starter and definitely like your chances to win the game and obviously we weren’t able to close out the last two, but it feels that’s as much if not more on the offense than anything,” Hoerner said. “Obviously you can win with one, but it’s really challenging. Nothing to panic about or anything. But obviously a lot of guys in here that they feel like they could have changed the outcome of today’s game.”
Ross did not consider giving Assad the ninth and said he questioned whether to even send him back out for the eighth because of the hot weather and how inconsistently Assad has been stretched out. Ross also didn’t want Assad to face the top of the Reds lineup for a fourth time.
“He did his job,” Ross said. “That was a phenomenal performance. We need to score more runs.”