After the name change, Imanaga lifts Cubs past Cardinals

Chicago Cubs starter Shota Imanaga delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

There’s no telling what might push a slumping team to turn things around.

Perhaps a comical name change has lightened the mood around the Cubs clubhouse.

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

The real Imanaga explained that this is the name of his coffee shop, which makes it easier when he orders and picks up his daily latte; and the II was just to add character.

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

Imanaga was back to 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 in 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)

This win broke a streak of eight straight games when the Cubs scored 4 points or fewer. It was their first comfortable win, by more than two runs and no overtime, in a month since beating Atlanta 7-1 on May 15.

Like most Cubs, Happ was 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 took a big hit and a little exhale,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “With men on base it is a game-changer.”

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

“I was quite hungry, so I thought about what kind of food I would have after the match,” Imanaga said. “These are my honest thoughts.”

Asked for clarification, Imanaga said he was focusing on carbohydrates and proteins and not offering a specific menu item.

“He kept making pitches,” Counsell said. “Every starter who is in the game at that point definitely has some fatigue. Shota has proven that he can continue to make 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 down the first base line. The rookie pitcher was fouled when he failed to pick up the ball properly as the tying run was scored.

Roycroft, a graduate of Willowbrook High School, walked a bases-loaded walk in the fifth and left the mound, but he was not charged with any runs in 1⅓ innings of work. When asked why he brought on Roycroft 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 was supposed to do, weak ground balls right in front,” Marmol said of Roycroft. ‘The commando was not there against the leftists. Overall, he came in and kept the ball on the ground, which is what we needed at that time.

“It’s good for him to experience that and come in, in a packed room here. If he does what he did today, there are going to be times when he’ll fight through it and be fine. There are times when it starts to look like this. But it is useful that he experiences it.”

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

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