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Imanaga's Ks, Bellinger's blast, Busch's walk-off: Key moments from Cubs' win

Ryan Herrera Avatar
May 8, 2024

When Michael Busch and Miguel Amaya collided in the top of the sixth, allowing a potential pop out to fall harmlessly to the ground, it felt like a big moment had passed the Cubs by.

The Padres had runners on first and second against Shota Imanaga, who’d pitched a brilliant game up to that point. There was one out in the inning. The Cubs were ahead by a run. And Manny Machado was at the plate.

As good of a hitter as Machado is, giving him second chances is almost never a good thing. So, when the Cubs missed the opportunity to get him out on an pop fly in foul territory — Busch later took blame for the error — they’d just given new life to a hitter with a long track record of success in those moments.

Imanaga wasn’t fazed. He went right back at Machado, and he got him to swing right through a 1-2 four-seamer running inside. The swinging strikeout elicited a roar from the 38,133 in attendance.

However, he wasn’t out of the jam just yet.

Up to the plate stepped Xander Bogaerts. Though he’d had far from his best start to the season offensively, this is still the guy who’d had nothing below a 120 wRC+ in any of his previous six seasons. He’s still a hitter who can make any pitcher pay for a mistake.

But again, Imanaga didn’t waver. After working a 2-2 count, he uncorked a splitter that had already proven plenty effective throughout his outing Tuesday night, getting a bad swing-and-a-miss from Bogaerts to end the threat.

There’s no doubting how big this moment was in helping the Cubs eventually earn the 3-2 ‘W’. The emotion Imanaga displayed after punching out Bogaerts says it all.

“That was a big turning point of the game,” Imanaga said through interpreter Edwin Stanberry. “I was going to face Machado and Bogaerts, two amazing hitters, so in my head, if I got a strikeout, that would’ve been great. And I was able to, so looking back, it was good.”

“Two men on base, it was the sixth, 1-0 game,” Amaya said. “To get out of that inning, it was a special moment.”

A two-run shot that ended his night in the top of the eighth — on what everyone postgame agreed was a good pitch that just got beat — ultimately hurt Imanaga’s line, but it was overall another stellar outing in a growing line of them. Imanaga struck out eight Padres hitters over seven-plus innings, racking up 15 whiffs with his splitter and 10 called strikes with his four-seamer. He also limited hard contact, holding San Diego to an average exit velocity of 84.1 mph on 19 balls in play.

On the season, Imanaga is 5-0, the Cubs have won all seven of his starts and his 1.08 ERA leads all qualified major league starters.

It was fair to question back in March how the beginning of Imanaga’s big league career would go, but he’s passed the test with flying colors while leading the Cubs to a 22-15 record.

“He’s been a big deal here,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s been so, so important to us and a big reason why we’re off to this start.”


The Cubs’ offense has had its issues since Cody Bellinger hit the injured list.

The lineup had produced the 18th-most runs in baseball (45) from April 24 — the day Bellinger hit the IL with two right rib fractures — through Monday. From the start of the season through April 23, their 126 runs ranked fifth.

Bellinger returning Tuesday night wasn’t going to magically fix things. No one player can do it themselves. But obviously, having one of your top hitters in the batting order is always better than not.

“You want to have your best players in the lineup,” Counsell said pregame. “You want to be able to put your best team out there as much as you can. Getting Cody back puts us in a step in the right direction on that. … He’s been off [on the IL] a little bit, but confident that it was a short layoff and we can get him back into the swing of things quickly. Just getting him back is a good feeling for everybody.”

Bellinger had managed his workload throughout the recovery period, and even in his return, the Cubs eased him in by using him as the designated hitter. But Bellinger showed he could get his rhythm back quickly after missing a couple of weeks.

In the bottom of the first, Bellinger worked a 12-pitch at-bat against San Diego’s Randy Vásquez. After falling into a 1-2 count, he fouled off seven of the next eight pitches to keep the at-bat alive. Though he ultimately flew out to end the battle, it was a good sign for what was to come the rest of the night.

“We were joking around that he exceeded his allotted swings for the day,” Counsell quipped. “But it’s the kind of at-bat you want when you come back, right? When you haven’t seen a lot of pitching in the last couple of weeks. You get to learn your swing a little bit by swinging at that many pitches and feel where your body’s at.”

Three innings later, the teams were still scoreless when Bellinger took his second at-bat of the night. He worked Vásquez into a full count, and when he got a hanging changeup over the heart of the plate, he drove it 106.6 mph off the bat into the right-field bleachers to give the Cubs the lead.

He was also instrumental in getting his team back the momentum after the two-run shot off Imanaga put the Padres ahead for a half inning.

Mike Tauchman led off the bottom of the eighth with a walk, and then Bellinger shot a base hit into right field, allowing Tauchman to go first-to-third. That set up Christopher Morel’s sacrifice fly to center, tying the game back up at 2.

Bellinger ended up 3-for-4 in his return, his only blemish being that long first-inning at-bat. With the lineup going through its struggles, getting back the Cubs’ biggest offseason signing on the offensive side proved to be the boost it needed Tuesday.

“Obviously, you don’t expect to go out and get three hits,” Bellinger said. “But for me, I felt like I was in a good spot before the injury, and then working back, I just wanted to maintain it. It was a good first day.”


Rain had fallen during the day but held up throughout the entirety of the Cubs/Padres matchup — until the skies opened up and the rain came back down again in the ninth inning. It all set up a wet, wild finish to the contest.

Busch stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He’d noticed a drizzle begin while the Cubs were on defense, and by the time he was warming up for his at-bat, it was really coming down. He could hear the fans getting “amped up a little bit,” hoping for a quick finish before the rain could cause any problems.

For anyone concerned about a delay, Busch didn’t even give the rain a chance.

As San Diego’s Enyel De Los Santos fired the first pitch of the frame, a 93.7 mph four-seamer up in the zone, lightning lit up the sky. But Busch brought the thunder, driving the ball 427 feet for a no-doubt, walk-off home run — the first of his career.

“It was pretty special. It all happened so fast,” he said. “I was just thinking about that 10-15 minutes ago; I don’t think I’ve ever had a walk-off home run in my life. So, it was pretty cool.”

Since his five-game homer streak came to an end a few weeks back, Busch hadn’t looked as strong at the plate. From April 16 through Monday, he’d posted just a .498 OPS and struck out 28 times in 71 plate appearances.

But of course, when his team needed him most, the guy the Cubs tabbed to potentially be their first baseman of the future came through.

“It was fantastic,” Amaya said. “He didn’t want a rain delay.”

“It was right on time,” Bellinger said. “The rain was coming. Atta boy, Buschy.”

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