Pete Mackanin interviewed for the manager’s job that went to Dale Sveum in November 2011, when the Cubs technically had Carlos Zambrano on their roster and Alfonso Soriano’s megadeal still had three seasons remaining. The blueprints for a renovated Wrigley Field were just that. Saturday afternoons like this didn’t seem at all close – with no guarantees The Plan would ever work.
On a sunny, 75-degree day that started to feel like summer for the crowd of 41,555 at Clark and Addison, the Cubs handled the Philadelphia Phillies, improving their best-in-baseball record to 33-14 with a 4-1 win over a young team now in the rebuilding cycle.
Mackanin – a Brother Rice High School graduate who grew up on the South Side and has managed in Venezuela, Australia, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – knows what his Phillies (26-23) are up against here on Memorial Day weekend.
“Very formidable team,” Mackanin said. “These guys have a lot of everything. They got good pitching and defense. They got dangerous hitters up and down the lineup. It’s always tough to come in here and play.”
Kyle Hendricks – who’s developed rapidly since Ryan Dempster decided to waive his no-trade rights and agree to a deal with the Texas Rangers minutes before the July 31 deadline in 2012 – nearly threw a complete-game shutout.
Dexter Fowler – the final item in late February for a spending spree that approached almost $290 million – drilled his 16th career leadoff home run for what’s become a grinding offense. Fowler lifted Jerad Eickhoff’s fifth pitch of the game – a 92-mph fastball – and it bounced into and out of the left-center field bleachers.
Mackanin became the interim guy when Ryne Sandberg abruptly resigned last summer, managing the Phillies during their surprising three-game sweep and a Cole Hamels no-hitter in late July. Since then, the Cubs are 79-33 and haven’t lost a Jake Arrieta regular-season start.
“A lot of it has to do with the entirety of this place,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Our young guys are different because they don’t act like young guys. Their comportment is not like a young man in a baseball sense, where they get it. Their work ethic is so good, how they interact, how they attack the day. They don’t take anything for granted. They’ve had a good day – they don’t get haughty and proud of it. They just go back out the next day and play.
“These veteran guys that have been involved in championships know that’s what it takes. You get the combination of Wrigley Field, the fan base, this facility and a youth-driven good team, that should bring out the best in all these guys.”
The Cubs scored four runs off Eickhoff (2-7, 4.07 ERA), a 25-year-old right-hander the Phillies received from Texas in the Hamels trade last July. On Sunday afternoon, the Cubs will face Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75 ERA), an electric talent acquired from the Houston Astros in the offseason Ken Giles trade.
The Phillies have the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, a multibillion-dollar TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, an interesting mix of athletic position players (Odubel Herrera, Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco) and a well-regarded, sensible team president in Andy MacPhail, who helped build the Cubs team that came so close to reaching the 2003 World Series.
But the full-scale rebuild takes years to complete. It will be interesting to see how fast the Phillies can become a playoff-caliber team – and maybe someday break the window that now appears to be wide open for the Cubs.
“It’s wonderful to come to the ballpark every day to be attached to all of this,” Maddon said. “It’s just the place you want to be, man. You want to be there as a professional right now in Major League Baseball.”