After name change, Imanaga lifts Cubs past Cardinals

There's no telling what might spark a slumping team to turn things around.

Maybe a comedic name change helped lighten the atmosphere around the Cubs clubhouse.

When the team returned home from Tampa Bay this weekend, pitcher Shota Imanaga had a new nameplate on his locker. He's now “Mike Imanaga II.”

The real Imanaga explained that's his coffee shop name, which makes it easier when he orders and collects his daily latte; and the II was just to add character.

“It started as a joke around the clubbies and the staff,” Imanaga said, using his translator. “The nameplate, I know it costs money to make, but the fact that they accepted me, I'm very thankful and it makes me very happy.”

Imanaga was back in his dominant form Saturday against St. Louis and Ian Happ hit a 3-run homer in the seventh inning to send the Cubs to a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field.

Chicago Cubs' Ian Happ (8) celebrates with teammates and fans at the dugout after hitting a three-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty) AP

This victory broke a streak of eight straight games when the Cubs scored 4 runs or less. It was their first comfortable win, by more than 2 runs, no extra innings, in a month, since they beat Atlanta 7-1 on May 15.

Like most Cubs, Happ has been in a cold spell at the plate, going 1-for-24 in the previous seven games. This time, he connected with two on, two outs and two strikes against Cardinals lefty John King.

It was Happ's 25th home run against St. Louis, second only to his 30 against Cincinnati.

“We got a big hit and a little bit of exhale,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “With men on base, it's a game-changer.”

Imanaga (7-1) threw a season-high 103 pitches, completed 7 innings and finished with a flurry, striking out Brendan Donovan with two runners on base, while the Cubs' lead was just 2-1. Imanaga showed some emotion after getting the out and had more jokes when asked what was going through his mind.

“I was pretty hungry, so I was thinking about what kind of food, nutrition I should take after the game,” Imanaga said. “This is my honest thoughts.”

Asked to clarify, Imanaga said he's focused on carbs and proteins and didn't offer any specific menu item.

“He kept making pitches,” Counsell said. “Every starter who's in the game at that point, there's some fatigue, absolutely. Shota's proven that he keeps making pitches.”

Villa Park native Chris Roycroft got an early call from the bullpen for the Cardinals, replacing starter Andre Pallante in the fourth inning. The first batter Roycroft faced was Nico Hoerner, who hit a slow bouncer up the first-base line. The rookie pitcher was charged with an error when he didn't pick up the ball cleanly as the tying run scored.

Roycroft, a Willowbrook High School graduate, walked the bases loaded in the fifth and left the mound, but he wasn't charged with any runs in 1⅓ innings of work. Asked why he brought Roycroft in so early in the game, St. Louis manager Oli Marmol said it was because Roycroft is tough on right-handed hitters.

“He did exactly what he needed to do, weak groundballs right in front,” Marmol said of Roycroft. “Command wasn't there against the lefties. Overall, came in and kept the ball on the ground, which is what we needed at that moment.

“It's good for him to experience that and come in, in a packed house here. For him to do what he did today, there's times where he's going to pitch through it and be fine. There's times it's going to look like that. But for him to experience it is beneficial.”

Before the game the Cubs placed pitcher Jordan Wicks on the 15-day injured list with a right oblique strain and brought up Keegan Thompson from Iowa.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.