CHICAGO • Ever since former teammate Anthony Rizzo placed a water glass on top of his hand to illustrate the size of the Cubs’ World Series rings, Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler has been able to imagine the weight of carrying history, in all of its sparkle, on his finger.
Yet, as he sat in the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field on Friday, 75 minutes away from finally receiving his iconic jewelry, Fowler saw the gift as both celebration and punctuation.
This ring has an end.
“Getting the ring,” Fowler said, “is like closing a chapter of my life.”
He started the next one with a leadoff homer and a quick lead for his new team before, predictably, a familiar story unfolded around him.
Two misplays in the outfield by Fowler’s teammates allowed the Cubs to score their final two runs and steal a 3-2 victory at Wrigley Field. Jason Heyward, the other outfielder with ties to both teams, and Rizzo presented Fowler his ring during a pre-game ceremony, and then that duo upended the game. Heyward drove home Rizzo for the game-tying and game-winning runs. Heyward’s first RBI came on a fly ball that right fielder Stephen Piscotty lost in the sun, and the second came in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly that brought home Rizzo after rookie left fielder Magneuris Sierra misplayed Rizzo’s sizzling liner into a double.
Both balls touched ivy when they should have found leather.
“Both of them ended up costing us,” manager Mike Matheny said.
While Friday was long scheduled to be Dexter Day at Wrigley — Fowler returned for the first time since signing with the rivals — it underscored an unexpected twist of 2017. Both teams miss him. The Cubs went oh-for-California on a road trip and lost six consecutive due to a meandering offense. The Cardinals know meandering — a lacking lineup has squandered league-leading pitching and left their defense exposed to mistakes like Friday’s. The Cubs trace some of their troubles to not having Fowler’s verve, and the Cardinals await him to shake loose from a sluggish start.
The Cardinals have received a .220 average from the leadoff spot. The only National League team lower is the Cubs, at .210.
Both rivals are circling .500, contending as much as the other allows it.
“When we start clicking,” Fowler said, “that’s when we’ll start rolling.”
As if on cue, Fowler greeted his former club with the 23rd leadoff homer of his career. Seven of Fowler’s eight homers this season have given the Cardinals a lead. Just minutes after getting an ovation from the Friendly Confines, Fowler circled the bases and his ball was dutifully tossed back from the bleachers, where it landed deep into the right-field stretch. Heyward didn’t move his feet as Fowler’s homer sailed over.
“People came to see him, and I think he gave them more than they wanted to see,” Matheny said.
The Cardinals expanded their lead to 2-0 with Sierra’s RBI single in the second. Lance Lynn appeared to have the rhythm to hold it. On the sixth anniversary of his major-league debut and pitching opposite a kindred spirit, irascible John Lackey, Lynn allowed a solo homer to Kris Bryant but pressed on to hold the one-run lead through five innings. He allowed two hits and struck out six.
But he knew something the line hid.
“I didn’t have my stuff,” he said.
The only hint Lynn offered was how he danced around Rizzo. The Cubs’ first baseman entered the game 11 for 32 (.344) against Lynn; the rest of the lineup was eight for 49 (.163). Each time Lynn faced Rizzo, he walked him, daring others to capitalize.
“I left the bullpen and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to make the other guys beat me because I don’t have my good stuff,’” Lynn explained. “You know the guys who give you trouble and today was one of those days I knew I didn’t have it. No point in messing with him. I wish they would just let me do (four fingers) and put him on. I didn’t get that choice.”
In the sixth, Lynn gifted Rizzo a one-out walk, but that wasn’t what cost him. The follow-up walk to Ben Zobrist (zero for 10 vs. Lynn) and a bloated pitch count did. Matheny went to lefty Tyler Lyons with two on and Heyward up. Heyward tagged a pitch from Lyons — but it stayed high, high enough to remain in the park.
High enough that Piscotty lost it in the sun.
“I had a general idea where it was headed, just couldn’t see it,” Piscotty said. “I tried to battle. Sometimes you can shift your body to get a different angle on it. I wasn’t able to do it.”
The ball plunked down to his right, a blink or two after he finally saw it. Rizzo scored for a 2-2 game. When the Cardinals took three walks but whiffed with the bases loaded in the eighth, that’s where the score remained when Rizzo faced Trevor Rosenthal. Rizzo slashed a liner to left field, the type of ball that Piscotty would call “the hardest plays to make because you don’t know if it’s topspin down or going to keep going.” Sierra has been playing the corner outfield spots in Class AA to prepare for liners like that. He came in, darted left, raced back — and then the liner went over his head. Rizzo advanced from second on a groundout to score on Heyward’s fly ball.
The Cubs scored three unanswered runs on one ball the Cardinals couldn’t catch and two they felt they should have.
When Fowler arrived in Chicago with the Cardinals on Thursday night, he looked out his hotel window to see fireworks over Lake Michigan. He decided they couldn’t be for him, but were early enough to be for someone he knew. He texted Rizzo, who confirmed they were part of his wedding proposal to his girlfriend. Fowler told Rizzo it was good practice — for handing him the ring, World Series not engagement, the next day.
Fowler, in his Cardinals’ gear, posed for a picture with his former teammates and flashed the oversized ring. He has explained how those ’16 Cubs will always remain close personally, and after the game he stressed how, even with the loss, he plans to stay close to the ’17 Cubs, too — in the standings.
Time to turn the page.
“This game is all about giving yourself a chance,” Piscotty said. “We loaded the bases, we strung together some good at-bats, and we put ourselves in that position. We gave ourselves a chance. Next time you have to come through.”