The Rundown: Almora Shaken, Hendricks Helps Cubs Escape Houston with W, Bryant Keeps Chopping Wood, Cubs Set HR Record

Sorry, Rundown fans, Mike isn’t back yet. While I secretly believe he’s planning a huge surprise for my upcoming birthday, he claims work obligations are keeping him away for the remainder of the week. So you’re stuck with me this time, and really only because the Cubs have their lone scheduled break in 33 days.

On that note, I’m going to be somewhat absent over the coming weekend. Between a trip to Chicago for a concert and celebrating the end of my 30’s, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. It’s been quite a couple weeks already, so I’m just hoping I’ve got enough candle left after burning it at both ends for too long.

Anyway, let’s get into some of the recent happenings in Cubdom.

Almora’s foul ball strikes child

It was hard to tell from watching the game exactly what had happened, since the cameras tactfully avoided the scene and the announcers were nearly as silent as the crowd. Part of that was a desire to avoid idle speculation, but more was that a young child had been struck by an Albert Almora Jr. foul ball.

Almora tracked it the whole way and knew immediately what had happened, a realization that left him visibly shaken and completely unprepared to finish his at-bat. He was almost unable to remain in the game and no one could have blamed him for bowing out, though a few internet tough guys did offer various forms of idiocy on the topic throughout the evening.

“I just wanted him to understand, ‘This is not under your control. There’s nothing you could’ve done about that differently, so please don’t blame yourself,'” Joe Maddon explained to the media after the game. “Of course, it’s an awful moment, but it’s a game and this is out of your control and you just have to understand that part of it.

One of the lasting images from the game will surely be a security guard embracing and consoling a sobbing Almora when he came in from the field later that inning. But what first looked to be tears of guilt or grievance were later revealed to be born of relief and joy.

Almora said after the game that he’d received an update on the fan, a 4-year-old girl, though he did not reveal the specifics of what he was told. Unofficial reports from fans at the ballpark said the girl was conscious and responsive and that she was expected to to OK after a precautionary trip to the hospital.

“I’m at loss of words,” Almora  Being a father, two boys…but God willing, I’ll be able to have a relationship with this little girl for the rest of my life. But just prayers right now, and that’s all I really can control.”

Having just attended a pair of games with my son this past weekend, this whole thing was really eating at me last night. I don’t know Almora from Adam, though my previous observations of him lead me to believe he is very sincere about his desire to see this whole thing through and stay in touch with the family. That’s just who he is.

It’s easy to see professional athletes as impervious to emotion, unless it’s in celebration, so seeing Almora completely unguarded was actually refreshing. You obviously wish the circumstances were different, but here’s to hoping the little girl is indeed fine and this story can have a much happier ending.

Cubs eek out win

Even without the frightening scene with the young fan, the Cubs’ win was never comfortable. Their only runs came in the first three innings, both on solo shots, and the Astros had several opportunities to tie or take the lead. But Kyle Hendricks played stopper yet again, going eight innings and allowing a single run on four hits and a walk.

The Cubs ace has come a long way from a slow start that led us to wonder whether he might benefit from following an opener in his starts and has now gone at least eight innings in four of his last six. He has struck out 24 against just two walks and has given up only three total runs (two earned) over the course of 33 innings in those games.

“Today was the best I’ve felt mentally,” Hendricks told reporters. “Just keep it simple. Make good pitches. Today, I really did that. There were only four pitches I didn’t execute.”

Hendricks threw more curves (17) than in any other game this season and it’s the second-most he’s ever thrown in a game (22 on 8/1/16). He threw 16 in his previous start, putting that and Wednesday night among his top seven games in terms of curve percentage. What was really interesting from a viewer’s perspective was how the camera angle from the game almost made it appear that Hendricks was dropping down to a three-quarter delivery and looping a soft slider in there.

It was a curve, though, and he used it to great effect. Only one of the 17 benders he threw was put in play and just two were fouled. Two more were swung and and missed, but the real key was the six called strikes he got. Hendricks was able to mix in a pitch Astros hitters were clearly not ready for based on the book they had on him, keeping them off balance all night.

That allowed Maddon to ease off the pen and lean on a well-rested Steve Cishek for the save. That was a win the Cubs really needed, and getting it ahead of their day off as they head to St. Louis was huge.

KB does KB things

Kris Bryant is very, very good at hitting baseballs. There was a little concern about his two-game absence following an outfield collision with Jason Heyward Sunday that forced Bryant from the game, to the extent that a Twitter account from one of 670 The Score’s shows posted an asinine poll asking whether the slugger was “fragile.”

Well, he answered those questions with a bomb to center that gave the Cubs the cushion they’d need to win the game. The early-season struggles have long been washed away and KB’s numbers are better across the board than during his MVP season. And he’s been freakishly good over the last month since switching the Axe Bat.

Dating back to April 26 in Arizona (132 PAs), when Bryant first made the switch to the new stick, he’s slashing .321/.432/.734 with a 196 wRC+ and a .469 wOBA. He has walked more (20) than he’s struck out (19) and 20 of his 35 hits in that time (12 homers, 7 doubles, triple) have gone for extra bases. That’s a .413 ISO, 236 points above the league average over that same period.

Remember when we said he was healthy back in December? How about when we told you the early slump was the result of bad luck and poor mechanics? As much as I know it’s petty to climb up on my high horse and say “I told you so,” this is one of those occasions on which I’m happy to be the head chef of Crow Kitchen.

Cubs homers

Kyle Schwarber‘s leadoff homer was the Cubs’ 50th of May, a team record for any month. Remember when Sammy Sosa hit 20 all by himself in June of ’98. Man, that was wild. Anyway, the Cubs now have five players with at least 10 homers (Schwarber, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez) and they’ve hit multiple dingers in eight straight games.

Notable quotables

  • I don’t know what we can do, let’s just put fences around the whole field. It’s so sad when you see stuff like that happen and Albert has two young kids himself and he’s certainly taking it really hard, but we’re here supporting him and to support the family in whatever they need…You can see through these fences here. There’s a lot of kids coming to these games, young kids wanna watch us play…I think any safety measure we can take to make sure that fans are safe, we should do it. – Kris Bryant
  • It was the best execution I’ve had Willy and I were just locked in together. Same page all day long. That’s where I’ve got to stay going forward. – Kyle Hendricks
  • I had to try to keep my composure during that at-bat, but when that half-inning was over, I just couldn’t hold it anymore. – Albert Almora Jr.

Thursday Walk Up Song

Protect Ya Neck – This Wu-Tang Clan classic is on the setlist for Saturday’s show and I’m very stoked. I even ponied up the VIP meet-and-greet prior, so that’s cool. And I may or may not have gotten a tattoo of the Cubs W flag, but with a blue Wu-Tang symbol. I also may or may not be out of my mind.

Shameless plug section

I don’t like to mess with Mike’s work by inserting my pitches, but I have no such qualms with my own work. First, I want to thank everyone who’s visited CI this month and over the years. We’ve grown tremendously since really making a big push ahead of the 2017 season and this month has been our biggest of all time. And I mean by a huge margin. Like more than 25% over our previous high, set last month.

But here’s the thing: It takes a ton of energy to keep that going, which means it’s also getting more expensive. Believe it or not, we’ve actually had to retain an IT professional to make sure this beast keeping moving. We’re pulling in enough to keep the lights on, though a little extra always helps. So if you’re in the market for an awesome addition to your home or office, check out Hex Head Art.

Oh, those metal signs have automotive-grade pain, so you can actually have them outside. We’ve also got t-shirts for sale, not to mention a partnership with StubHub if you’re looking for tickets. Even if you’re just looking for standard Cubs gear, you can shop through Fanatics and we get a small cut.

Because there aren’t enough Cubs-themed podcasts already, I’ve agreed to co-host a new one with Julie DiCaro from 670 The Score and Brad Robinson of WBBM. It’ll be sponsored by and hosted on both The Score and and our working title is “Into the Basket.” More to come, but I expect all 5-star ratings right out of the gate.

Finally, I have to give a big shout to Axe Bat, which has taken over as the weapon of choice in the Altman household. My son, Ryne, now has two of them and I’ve made the switch in my softball league.

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