Just about halftime of the Ohio State-Minnesota game Thursday night, Adrian Sampson struck out Colin Moran with a 2-2 changeup to end the fifth inning at Wrigley Field.
What does the Ohio State game have to do with Sampson?
For one, neither was was supposed to provide a more compelling storyline at Wrigley on this night than Cubs rookie starter Keegan Thompson and the ongoing auditions for rotation jobs — much less both.
For another, nobody expected either to embark on an upset watch for most of their time on the field.
Bottom line: No. 4 Ohio State pulled away late and held off Minnesota.
Other bottom line: Sampson’s upset bid is still in play as the nondescript right-hander retired all 10 Pirates he faced, with four strikeouts, after taking over for the command-challenged Thompson in the second.
Cubs manager David Ross, who called Sampson’s effort “phenomenal,” said Sampson — who’s trying to impress enough to stay in the Cubs’ pitching mix into next spring — might even get another start down the stretch.
“Anything’s possible,” Ross said. “He’s already started one for us, so he’s definitely got that. He started a lot at Triple-A and did a nice job in the one start he’s had [for the Cubs].”
As the lost Cubs season reaches the easily-distracted portion of the schedule known more commonly as Football Season, these are the storylines to pay attention to — along with maybe North Carolina-Virginia Tech on Friday and Penn State-Wisconsin and Miami-Alabama on Saturday.
Sampson, who pitched last year in Korea and this year in the minors until last month, has a 1.59 ERA in five games for the Cubs, including a four-inning spot start in his Cubs debut in Cincinnati (spanning 11 1/3 innings total).
On this night, he took over a 3-0 game (on Moran’s three-run homer in the first off Thompson) and got it to the sixth in the same place. They eventually won 6-5 in 11 innings.
“The bullpen as a whole did a pretty darn good job, starting with Sampson,” Ross said. “He set the tone, got the flow back in our corner, got the rhythm back for us: quick innings, a lot of ground balls, a lot of first-pitch strikes, being aggressive in the zone, a lot of movement. He was very efficient.”
There may not be a lot of witnesses the next few weeks to whatever follows the bouncing ball at Wrigley Field that Wilmer Difo sent into motion when he whiffed trying to catch Ian Happ’s popup to allow the winning run to score.
Barely 26,000 were in the house Thursday — the fifth straight home crowd of fewer than 30,000, and only the eighth since full capacity was allowed June 11 (all eight in the last 11 home dates).
Meanwhile, how about that Illinois win over Nebraska?