SAINT LOUIS – The Chicago Cubs must be tired after the week they have had. Depth has been a struggle and has forced manager Joe Maddon to rely on the entirety of his team to get the job done in a tight National League Central race at the midpoint of the season. This could explain why former Billiken James Norwood’s first opportunity to pitch in the majors came in such a critical situation.
Over the course of the last four games, three have gone to extra innings for the team from the north side of Chicago. The day James Norwood was called-up to the big club, in fact, the team went 10 innings against a motivated Cincinnati Reds club.
It was a game that the Cubs used seven pitchers to get a narrow 6-5 decision, but Norwood did not get his chance until Wednesday.
Since that game at Wrigley Field, the team has spent the last three games of a four-game series on the first of a west coast swing in San Francisco. The Giants are also a highly motivated bunch and are now just three games back of Arizona heading into Thursday. Two teams in a playoff atmosphere don’t ordinarily bode well for a rookie looking to get his first crack at playing in the majors. That narrative, however, went by the wayside on Wednesday in the 12th inning against the Giants.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon had Norwood up in the bullpen and throwing in previous games, but it wasn’t until both teams were deadlocked at 4-4 that he would finally hear the bullpen phone ring in his favor. Until that point, the bullpen was once again short on arms as the team had used six pitchers already. At this point, it didn’t matter who you were or where you had been recently. It was time for the former Billiken to grow-up fast and get his new club to the 13th inning.
Norwood entered and faced Brandon Crawford, a veteran of the Giants and has had special moments in the playoffs and in the World Series. The result… a strikeout, his first in what could be a long career. That 12th inning must have been a daze for the rookie, but after a base hit to Gorkys Hernandez, he settled down and struck-out center fielder Steven Duggar and got Alen Hanson to fly out to end the threat. A great inning of work from a rookie to get the Cubs to the 13th.
With the team having already used seven pitchers in the game, and seeing Norwood strikeout two batters, he trotted back out to the mound for the 13th inning to face the dangerous top of the Giants’ order. Former and current All-Stars lined that group with names like Brandon Belt, Andrew McCutcheon and a guy who will receive serious Hall of Fame consideration, Buster Posey.
Norwood got the first two outs. Giants’ pitcher Dereck Rodriguez grounded-out on a 96 MPH fastball from Norwood, the first pitch of the at-bat. Casey d’Arnaud flied-out on a 96 MPH fastball outside of the zone, which put the Cubs in a position to get out of the inning once again, this time after just three pitches.
The next three aforementioned batters, however, were able to find success. Belt walked on five pitches, four of which were all at 95 MPH or higher, before McCutcheon singled to put runners at first and second for Posey.
The Giants’ catcher, who opted out of next week’s All-Star game (replaced by Yadier Molina), swung through a first-pitch fastball on the inside of the plate before ending it on a 2-2 pitch moments later.
Though Norwood took the loss after what many would call an outstanding first outing, he impressed his new manager.
“The beautiful thing about Norwood was the way he handled it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He walked out there and, man, just had some great stuff.”
“That’s something to look forward to right there.”
Despite the loss, Norwood focused on the moment.
“It was amazing. Unbelievable,” said Norwood. “It’s what you dream of.”
Unbelievable may be an understatement