CHICAGO – When lefthander Brian Duensing signed a one-year deal with the Cubs with no fanfare last December, the notion he would be pitching in the eighth inning of a big game down the stretch was, well a stretch.
But there he was Sunday at Wrigley Field, facing Cardinals star Matt Carpenter in the eighth with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead.
Chicago manager Joe Maddon ordered an intentional walk to Stephen Piscotty with runners on second and third to get to Carpenter, a move that easily could have backfired.
But Duensing got ahead of Carpenter 1-2 before inducing a swing and miss on a changeup, ending the threat and getting the ball to Wade Davis for what has been an automatic save in a 4-3 victory.
Davis, who thought Dexter Fowler’s game-ending flyout was a home run that would hit the center field scoreboard, was more focused on his fantasy football picks afterward.
“Duensing’s in charge,” said Davis, now 31-for-31 in save opportunities with Chicago. “Oh, this is a mess. Never should’ve left him in charge. This is his last weekend. And he almost fell down.”
True, when Duensing turned and pumped his fist after the strikeout, he did wobble like one of those clown bop bags before righting himself in time.
“I didn’t go down,” he protested. “I stayed up. That’s the most important thing.”
So what happened? “My spike got caught and I was off-balanced,” he said. “I was too fired up I guess.”
Duensing had reason to be fired up. A 34-year-old who spent his first seven seasons with the Twins, he was released twice last year by the Royals and then pitched only 13⅓ innings with the Orioles before becoming a free agent, so he wasn’t exactly on everyone’s radar.
The Cubs handed him a one-year, $2 million deal, adding some depth and a situational lefty to the bullpen mix. But now Duensing has become one of their most integral parts, with a 2.47 ERA, including a 1.69 ERA in 58 appearances since April 24.
Maddon repeatedly has called Duensing unsung, and not just because it’s poetic sounding. He reiterated that message Sunday.
“Duensing gets no credit,” he said. “Duensing has had a great year. Look at what he’s done. A little bit of a bump at the beginning of the year. Spring training was not spectacular. First month was OK. And then he’s been on a roll every month since April.
“He’s really been the guy. And I’m good with him [against] righties.”
If Duensing cares about getting any credit, he is keeping it to himself. He praised bullpen coach Lester Strode, pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching coach Mike Borzello for plotting out every potential batter he will face late in games.
“I’m just trying to go do my job, whatever they ask me to do,” Duensing said.
“So far I feel like I’ve been pretty prepared every time I’ve gone out. I’ve had an idea of how I want to go about the hitters I’m going to face.”