MILWAUKEE – Wrigley Field might not stay dark in October.
The Cubs waited to start their postgame celebration/dance party until seeing what happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night, watching it unfold on the televisions inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse.
Their 1-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers combined with Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds means home-field advantage in the National League wild-card game is still up for grabs.
That will create some drama on the final day of the regular season. The Cubs need to beat the Brewers again on Sunday afternoon and hope the Reds – a last-place team that just snapped a 13-game losing streak – handle the Pirates at PNC Park.
So Joe Maddon won’t manage Game 162 as if the Cubs are still in the Cactus League, when no one saw 96 wins coming.
“I was thinking going into this game if we did not have a chance, I was going to treat it more like a spring-training game, getting guys out after X-number of at-bats,” Maddon said. “But we’ll play it straight up as of right now.”
The Cubs will start Dan Haren (10-9, 3.67 ERA), an accomplished veteran pitcher who doesn’t want to say he’s 100 percent retired after this season in case he pulls a Brett Favre. The Reds will start a rookie with a 7.22 ERA named Josh Smith against a 97-win team.
Maddon has repeatedly downplayed the importance of home-field advantage, drawing upon his experience with the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2013 Rays had to win a Game 163 tiebreaker at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and then traveled to Cleveland to beat the Indians in the American League wild-card game.
“It’s all about the fans,” Maddon said. “Baseball is a different kind of (animal). I don’t care if it’s the playoffs. I’ve been involved on the road in a playoff situation where it’s really hot and teams have done well.
“It’s about that pitching that day. It’s about your guys’ focus. I don’t think this game is as impacted on the road as, say, like maybe a basketball or football game can be.”
The Cubs are riding a seven-game winning streak and a huge wave of momentum. Kyle Hendricks had a perfect game on Saturday night until Martin Maldonado, Milwaukee’s No. 8 hitter, singled up the middle with one out in the sixth inning.
Chris Coghlan – a bubble player for the wild-card lineup – fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle. Pedro Strop, Fernando Rodney and Hector Rondon – who will need to deliver if the Cubs are going to go on a long playoff run – combined for three scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
Hendricks had been an A-ball pitcher when Ryan Dempster finally approved a trade to the Texas Rangers in the final minutes before the trade deadline on July 31, 2012.
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The Cubs were trying to shed short-term assets and stockpile arms for the future. Hendricks didn’t feel like he got into a real groove this season, but he still finished with a winning record (8-7), a sub-4.00 ERA (3.95), 32 starts and 180 innings for a playoff team.
“It would be huge,” Hendricks said. “It would be big for the fans, No. 1. For us, we feel confident in our team either way, no matter where we play. But obviously that home atmosphere there has been unbelievable all year, and it would help us out that much more.”
The Cubs have gone 49-32 at Wrigley Field this season – and 47-33 on the road – and will no doubt feel confident wherever Jake Arrieta pitches next.
“You stay focused on the day and you take care of your own business,” Maddon said. “If you do that, you get to tomorrow with an opportunity to do something really cool.”