In a game that seemed unlikely to ever end, the Royals got to the eleventh before their bullpen eventually yielded the game's first run. Of course, the offense let them down all night, but neither team seemed likely to score for most of the evening.
For five perfect innings, Yordano Ventura mixed heat with a change-up and a particularly sharp curve. Working off of a fastball that only reached 98-MPH six times on the evening--four times in the first against Kris Bryant, once to Miguel Montero in the fifth, once in the sixth facing Starlin Castro--Ventura changed levels with his breaking ball, magnificently disrupting the timing of the Cubs' batsmen with an efficiency for which he is not known, frankly. Through six innings, his pitch count numbered a mere 74 while facing one more than the minimum.
Unfortunately for Ventura, Kyle Hendricks and Trevor Cahill held the Royals' offense similarly scoreless through eight innings, cutting him out of the decision despite not allowing a run.
Facing Chris Coghlan, who had Ventura's number the last time the two faced each other, Ventura started the bottom of the seventh with a full-count walk. Kris Bryant followed with an infield single granted upon review after initially being called out, and suddenly the young flame-thrower found himself in a situation in which he had twice as many base-runners behind him as he'd had through the first six frames combined.
With Tommy La Stella--the least likely clean-up hitter ever--at the plate, Ventura induced a grounder to second baseman Ben Zobrist, who commenced the 4-6-3 double play to record the first two outs of the inning, but the most substantive scoring threat of the night for Ventura stood a mere 90 feet from home plate with Starlin Castro stepping into the box. After digging himself a 2-0 hole, Ventura used two straight filthy charlies to set up Castro low and then get him chasing low and away.
As this was a game in a National League park [insert tired whining about the National League not employing the designated hitter here], Kendrys Morales entered as a pinch-hitter for Ventura with one out in the top of the eighth despite Ventura having thrown just 94 pitches through seven. Morales recorded the second Royals' out of the eighth with a grounder off the mound straight to shortstop Addison Russell. Reliever Trevor Cahill rattled off a knuckle-curve followed by two straight change-ups to get Ben Zobrist on swinging on three pitches, and Ventura found himself in the dugout a non-factor in the decision, despite a sterling performance in which he struck out six, walked just one, and allowed just two singles in seven scoreless innings.
Kelvin Herrera entered in Ventura's place in the eighth, and worked a perfect eighth to send the game to the ninth knotted up at zeroes.
Without a lead playing at home, Joe Maddon turned to Clayton Richard just to dispose of Alex Gordon and then brought out Hector "Don't Call Me Bruce, I'm Still Trying" Rondon to face Lorenzo Cain, apparently thinking nothing of the fact that his offense had yet to plate a run and that the game felt as likely to go 19 innings as it did to end in the ninth. Cain legged out an infield single, barely beating a throw from Addison Russell on the grass in the hole.
Unfortuntately Lorenzo Cain--who has had a rough past couple of weeks on the basepaths--got picked off of first base after becoming just the second Royals' baserunner since the Mike Moustakas's double in the fourth gave the Royals their second [and final] runner in scoring position. Eric Hosmer flied out harmlessly to left for the third out of the ninth, and the two teams headed to the home half of the ninth still scoreless.
Luke Hochevar stepped into the fray for the Royals in the bottom of the ninth and started things off by finessing a cutter past rookie Kyle Schwarber. Austin Jackson worked the count full against Hochevar before ripping a screaming liner to center, but Lorenzo Cain snagged it for the second out of the inning. The first pick of the 2006 draft induced an pop up in foul territory that Hosmer closed his glove around for the final out of the inning, sending the game to extras tied up at 0 - 0.
As the Cubs turned to Pedro Strop in the tenth, Moustakas and Perez went down with little more than a pair of whimpers before Alex Rios worked a full-count walk. Next in the order: Alcides Escobar. Inning over with such predictability as to not warrant an explanation.
The tenth inning belonged to reclamation success story Ryan Madson, who was tasked with facing the heart of the Cubs' order, starting with Rookie of the Year front-runner Kris Bryant. Madson twirled his change past Bryant for a swinging third strike and worked the same magic against La Stella. Dethroned shortstop Starlin Castro rifled a ground-ball single through the left side and gave way to pinch-runner Quintin Berry with two down. With Madson holding Berry on with what felt like 17 pick-off attempts at first before finally turning his attention to Montero in the batter's box, the fates eventually showed Montero to be no match for Madson's demoralizing cambio, and Madson walked back to the dugout having struck out the side.
Maddon cranked the strategery up to 11 in the 11th, moving Berry to center, Jackson to right, La Stella to second, and Bryant back home to his natural position at third. He also turned loose the volatile Fernando Rodney, who threw one fastball to Christian Colon en route to notching the Cubs' 14th strikeout of the night. Zobrist chopped a grounder to third baseman Kris Bryant for the second out of the inning. Gordon ripped one back to the mound that Rodney knocked down and scrambled to field, getting Gordon with plenty of time at first for the final out of the top of the 11th.
For those keeping track at home, Herrera, Hochevar, and Madson each pitched an inning at this point. Ned Yost turned to dong-prone rookie Miguel Almonte with Wade Davis warm in the pen, and with his first offering of the night, the Royals were walking off the field, heads hung in loss-fueled shame with Chris Denorfia rounding the bases.
With pitching as good as the Royals' pitching was tonight--save one pitch/pitcher, of course--it can be easy to get distracted by that pitching and not pay enough attention to the Royals' woeful offense.
The Royals struck out nine times against Kyle Hendricks through the first six innings and whiffed another three times in two innings from Trevor Cahill. They earned two walks off of Chicago's starter in the first but otherwise scattered a scant four hits across the first nine innings of the game.
Were potential Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta on the mound, this output would have been expected.
He wasn't, though.
All night, it seemed as though the Cubs, specifically their bullpen, refused to throw fastballs. The Royals fought off sinkers, breaking balls, and change-ups all night with little success. Striking out 14 times while managing just seven base-runners against the sextet of Kyle Hendricks, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Fernando Rodney is not a successful night at the dish.
In the battle for home-field advantage in the American League, the Royals dropped a game behind the Blue Jays, who came back in the late innings against Baltimore. Toronto owns the tie-breaker against the Royals having won the season series between the two teams, so the Royals would need to enjoy a two-game swing in the season's final six games to snatch the top seed in the American League.