THE CUBTOBER DIARY: Luck be a Cubbie?
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The thought before this recent era would seem a bit ludicrous. Even mentioning the two words in the same sentence would draw a puzzled glance from that fan base or others around the major leagues.
Luck and the Cubs? Hardly.
The examples of this concept and this team through the years are so numerous, it’s humbling. The Goat, Black Cat, Durham, Bartman, Gonzalez, bad trades and bad play.
Last season’s World Series title helped to erase a lot of that sting from the franchise; nothing like ending 108 years of frustration to eliminate all of these examples of bad luck. But at the same time, the Cubs seem to have become the benefactor of some good luck lately.
Go figure, right?
Game 1 of the National League Championship Series showed a perfect example of this change of fortune.
In the top of the sixth, the Cubs had yet to scratch out a hit against Stephen Strasburg, who looked all the phenom he was dubbed to be when he entered the league at the beginning of the decade. Not only were the Cubs getting hits, they weren’t putting much contact on the ball, period.
But then came a break.
Javier Baez got his bat on a pitch from Strasburg and chopped it down the third base line. On the borderline of being fair or foul, Anthony Rendon decided to go after the ball quickly to get a jump on the speedy infielder. This is a player who made just 7 errors in 145 games at the “Hot Corner” and sported a fielding percentage of .979 during the regular season.
But this time, he couldn’t make the play.
The ball bounced out of his glove and to his right, allowing Baez to easy get in for the hit. Most times Rendon easily makes the play or the ball would have gone harmlessly foul. Not this time, for luck was on the Cubs’ side.
Turns out this break was one the Cubs took advantage of in this inning. With Baez on base, Hendricks was able to sacrifice the runner over to second instead of likely batting against Strasburg with no one on. The Cubs’ pitcher was no match for his opposite in his first at-bat in the third inning.
Two batters later, Kris Bryant broke up the no-no with an opposite field knock to right. Anthony Rizzo brought him in with a double. A 2-0 lead against what looked like an unbeatable pitcher for five innings. Luck be a Cubbie on this night.
“We took advantage of a mistake,” said Maddon, mentioning that play first in his opening remarks at his news conference following the 3-0 win over the Nationals. “The third baseman is outstanding. We got lucky right there. But again, the two-strike knocks, KB and Riz had difficult first four at-bats combined, and after that they come up with two pretty big hits. Pretty spectacular.”
Later in the game, the Cubs got some more luck. In the ninth inning, Ryan Zimmerman nearly reached base after a dropped third strike but was hit by the ball thrown by Willson Contreras. The umps ruled him outside the baseline and out, shutting down the last Nationals hope for a comeback.
Let’s be honest, it’s not always luck that wins. But it never hurts to have it, right?
‘Of course you do. Of course you do,” said Maddon if a team needs luck here and there in the playoffs. “Neither team — we made some plays. How about Javy’s catch on that pop up? You have to make plays, you can’t give extra outs and fortunately we did not do that tonight. You have to capitalize on mistakes if they are forthcoming, especially a game like that.
“There are some other games like 9-8 tonight and all those other high-scoring games may be a little different. But when pitchers are at the top of their game, you have to score on outs. You have to make your own music somehow, because it’s very difficult.”
At least this Cubs team, at last, can sing a different tune when it comes to the fates working for them instead of against.