By Rob Longley
CHICAGO — The Toronto Blue Jays were able to steal a win against slumping Tampa Bay with Ryan Tepesch starting. Trying for the same against the reigning World Series champions was a significantly tougher assignment.
Tepesch, starting his third game for the Blue Jays, didn’t get lit up on Saturday at Wrigley Field, but with Toronto’s offence was held in check by Chicago starter Jose Quntana, it all added up to a 4-3 loss to the Cubs.
Two losses here dulled the positives of a 7-3 home stand, but the Jays will attempt to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon when Marco Estrada faces the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.
The Jays were actually alive in this throughout, holding the Cubs to 2-2 into the sixth inning after some joint work by Tepesch and reliever Danny Barnes.
But a sharply struck Javier Baez grounder in the bottom half of the sixth off Barnes couldn’t be corralled by shortstop Darwin Barney, bringing home Ian Happ with the go-ahead score. Barney got his glove on the ball but needed to knock it down to hold the runner at third.
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first, an inning that could have been much, much worse after Tepesch loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a hit batsman. One run scored on a liner by Happ to right field that Jose Bautista couldn’t quite reach.
The bases were still loaded but Tepesch and the Jays got out of it when Alex Avila hit into a double play.
The Jays took the lead in the fourth after a Kevin Pillar single set things up for a pair of former Cubs. Barney doubled and catcher Raffy Lopez, who was batting .059 when he came to the plate, singled home both runners.
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Cubs tied it in the bottom half on a leadoff solo homer to left field from Happ.
The Jays pulled to within one in the eighth inning when Pillar banged out his fourth of the series, a single that scored Steve Pearce to make the score 4-3.
With the loss, the Jays fell to 8-6 all-time versus the Cubs, 2-3 at Wrigley.
The thousands of Jays fans had a treat during the seventh inning stretch when Hockey Night In Canada legend Don Cherry was the guest singer/conductor for the traditional Wrigley Field rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
“I was nervous, I’m glad it’s over,” Cherry said after getting an appreciative response from the sellout crowd of 41,558. “What a place this is. Just an amazing atmosphere.”
Grapes paid homage to the late, great Harry Caray, the larger-than-life Cubs broadcaster who popularized the tradition, by saying, “It’s a beautiful day for baseball.” But when it came to “root, root, root for the Cubbies,” Cherry changed the ending to “best team.”
As for the Jays, Cherry believes injuries have ultimately done them in this season.
“Look at the injuries, that’s what I think,” Cherry said in the Wrigley Field press box high above home plate. “Look at the rest of the teams. The injuries have been killers.
“But they could still make it. It would be great if they did.”