Marcus Stroman’s strong start can’t save Cubs from taxing bullpen in loss to White Sox

The good news for the Cubs in a 5-4 loss to the White Sox on Sunday: Marcus Stroman threw one of his best games of the season.

The bad news: The 12-inning game stretched their bullpen, with two double headers on the schedule this week.

In a normal game, Stroman’s seven shutout innings would have put the Cubs in good position for a doubleheader against the Brewers on Monday. But the Cubs needed four relievers to wrap up Sunday’s game, even with Robert Gsellman taking the mound for the 11th and 12th innings.

“It’s a tough one to swallow because we had a great game,” Cubs reliever David Robertson said. “Stroman threw a hell of a game.”

Stroman held the White Sox scoreless through seven innings, allowing three hits, all singles.

It was Stroman’s third start since coming back from the COVID-19 related IL a week and a half ago. And it was the closest he’s been to replicating his peak performance this season, seven shutout innings against the Brewers before he hit the IL.

“I’m still not there body-wise, mechanics-wise,” Stroman said. “Taking [18] days off, it’s a lot … especially when you can’t workout or train a lot of those days. So, it’s been tough to get my body in position, but I felt pretty good out there.”

Stroman also made one of the Cubs’ best defensive plays of the game, only rivaled by center fielder Christopher Morel’s eighth-inning catch at the wall.

Two innings before, White Sox infielder Danny Mendick’s sacrifice bunt attempt should have moved the go-ahead run to third base. But Stroman was thinking third the whole way.

“That’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “I’m usually off the mound pretty quick. So, if it’s not a perfect bunt, I usually feel like I have an opportunity to get the guy at third. I kind of peaked real quick while I was running over there, and I knew I had a chance.”

Stroman cut off the bunt, barehanded it, spun and made an on-target throw to third baseman Patrick Wisdom just in time for the tag.

“I don’t want to say you expect him to make that play,” Robertson said, “but when he makes it, you’re not surprised because he’s that good at defending the mound.”

The Cubs seized a one-run lead in the seventh inning as Rafael Ortega drew a walk, stole second base and scored on an error.

They maintained the lead until the ninth.

White Sox slugger Gavin Sheets hit a double up the left field line. Then, Adam Engel chopped a ground ball to Robertson’s right, which he fielded cleanly. But his spinning throw to first base was wide, and A.J. Pollock, pinch running for Sheets, advanced to third on the single. He scored on a wild pitch soon after.

“It’s just a tough inning,” Robertson said. “It happens in baseball, it’s a hard game. A couple of things didn’t go my way. … I would have loved to come in there and shut that down real quick, but it just didn’t happen this afternoon.”

In extra innings, with the automatic runner on second base in play to start each frame, the score swung wildly back and forth, and the Cubs reached deeper and deeper into their bullpen.

Finally, in the 12th inning, White Sox rookie Jake Burger hit a walkoff single into left field.

“Long one, especially going into a long day tomorrow,” Stroman said. “I thought the team played incredibly well, it just didn’t work out in our favor.”

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