The Chicago Cubs may have just kept their season alive and Daniel Palencia was on the mound to help make it happen. After just receiving the call-up for today's game against the Brewers, he was immediately cast into the fire in what has been the most important game of 2023 for the team to date.
Let's set the scene - following two straight devastating losses to the Brewers and Guardians, the Cubs were primed to give their fans another gut punch. The Cubs had led 6-2 in the game until a two-run eighth inning brought it within two. Adbert Alzolay coughed up the other two, and nearly the game, in the ninth, forcing extras at 6-6. Further setting the grim tone was a brutally unlucky line drive double play from Jared Young that erased the ghost runner, giving Milwaukee a golden opportunity to walk it off in the tenth.
Palencia was asked to keep the game tied for another shot in the eleventh. He flashed the velocity that makes him one of the team's most exciting young pitching prospects, living in the high 90s and touching triple digits twice per Statcast. His performance admittedly wasn't the most exciting part, however.
After getting the first out of the tenth, Palencia gave up a hard single to Owen Miller. What could've possibly ended the game turned into a stellar outfield assist from the Gold Glover Ian Happ to erase the run at the plate followed by an excellent play from Miguel Amaya and Nico Hoerner to take Miller off the bases when he made the mistake of going for second:
Hoerner brought in the free runner in the eleventh, giving Palencia the chance for a win in his debut. His first out brought Miller, the ghost runner, over to third. His second out came on a weak fly ball from Bryce Turang. His final out, however, came with a little more help from his friends Happ and Amaya:
The Cubs get a crucial win and Palencia gets a debut to remember
It's hard to stress how important a win like this is for the Cubs. The All-Star break is just five games away and, with the team still waffling between buying and selling, three unacceptable losses to fall eight games back in the division would've been a strong indicator for Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins to hold yet another fire sale. They still very well might, but they've at least staved off the wolves for another day.
For Palencia, however, this is something special. While a lot of his debut revolved around the super heroics of Happ, Hoerner, and Amaya on defense, he did his part too and didn't look too shaken by the big moment. We'll be able to evaluate him better as his big league tenure continues, but it was a solid start nonetheless.
There were some questions about whether it was worth bringing up the recently-converted reliever yet. He held a 6.83 ERA across all levels of the minors this year but especially struggled in Iowa where he posted a 7.90 ERA with continued command struggles. For his development, he definitely needed time in the big leagues eventually though to see if he could be a key piece going forward. His ERA is also considerably inflated by a few meltdowns, meaning most of his individual performances are better than what the numbers indicate.
It'll take time to see if Palencia can stick on the Cubs as a reliever, but he's also just one of several undergoing the conversion. Reinforcements could be on the way to further bolster the bullpen as needed. The Cubs themselves still have a lot of work to do too to avoid another sell-off. For now, let's just celebrate a really fun victory and a memorable debut to make this Fourth of July one to remember.