LOS ANGELES — “Nope,” Kris Bryant said when asked if any sense of panic crept inside the Cubs clubhouse, pausing for four seconds, giving a death stare and turning to his right with a next-question look. “I’m not concerned at all.”
Bryant stood at his locker after Tuesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers extended the scoreless streak to 18 consecutive innings, the Cubs falling behind 2-1 in this best-of-seven National League Championship Series. With a backpack slung over his shoulders, Bryant answered every question from any reporter, finally walking out of the room at 9:01 p.m.
The “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants echoed throughout Dodger Stadium the last time Bryant played here in late August. He managed the only two hits off ex-Cub Rich Hill in six innings, knocking two curveballs for singles, and then showing the attitude this team needs now.
“He has the classic fighter-pilot personality,” super-agent Scott Boras said. “The more planes that are in the air, the calmer he gets. You know why? Because he goes: Great, I just get to shoot more things.
“That’s just his way of looking at life. Pressure – whatever it is – it’s just: Let’s go.”
Whatever happens next at Dodger Stadium, Bryant’s warp-speed development is a major reason why the Cubs believe they will keep playing deep into October for years to come.
As pointed and as personal as Boras could get while the Cubs tore it down to build the best team in baseball – “Meet the Parents,” “All-Day Sucker,” etc. – this time the agent didn’t at all oversell his client.
Bryant has been even better than advertised since the Theo Epstein administration made a franchise-altering decision with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Within the last two years, Bryant has accounted for 65 homers and 201 RBI and put up a .900 OPS while playing six different defensive positions. During that time, the Cubs have won 200 games and made back-to-back trips to the NLCS.
Since his junior season at the University of San Diego, Bryant has been the national college player of the year, the consensus minor-league player of the year, an NL Rookie of the Year and possibly a unanimous MVP.
“I remember when he was in college, I went to see him play in Irvine,” Boras said. “They had a night game. He hit a ball to the wall in right field, center field, left field. And then hit one out about 410. I go: ‘I’ve been watching games here forever – I’ve never seen anybody (do that).’ You’re talking about 1,500-1,800 feet of at-bats.
“He goes: ‘Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I came to the ballpark today and I really wasn’t so concerned about it. It was kind of relaxing.’”
Boras asked: “Why?”
“Well, I had three finals today,” Bryant told Boras.
“He took three finals and goes and rakes,” Boras said. “He’s just that kind of guy. Nothing fazes him.”
Like what could be the unbearable pressure of playing for a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 – and being one of its centers of attention from the moment you got drafted – and playing with “Embrace The Target” on your chest all season.
Inside his home office in Southern California, Boras keeps an old photo of himself as a Cubs minor-league infielder. Before launching his career as the game’s most powerful agent, Boras worked as an attorney at a Chicago law firm, riding the El from Lincoln Park/Old Town and going up into a Loop skyscraper.
Boras knew Bryant had no chance to make the 2015 Opening Day roster, the Cubs wanting to gain that extra year of club control and push his free-agency clock back until after the 2021 season. No matter how loud Boras yelled through his megaphone or whatever the Major League Baseball Players Association does with that service-time grievance.
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But there is truth in advertising. Adidas got it right putting up that “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard in Wrigleyville last year. Red Bull then filmed Bryant with a goat in New Orleans for that “Down on the Farm” commercial.
“I figured if we’re going to be 11 days in the minor leagues, we’re going to do something special,” Boras said. “God gave us a big storm and (Kris) was wearing rubber boots. The Red Bull people really created it. Once we saw that, I (said): ‘Yeah, that looks good. Let’s do that. If we can’t play in the big leagues, at least we can kill the curse.’ And being a former Cubbie, we know a lot about that curse.”
No matter how many Cubs fans freak out on Twitter – or how lost the rest of this lineup sometimes looks against these Dodger lefties – Bryant still thinks this could be The Year. And that’s all that really matters now.
“Super calm,” Bryant said. “Nobody’s throwing stuff. Yeah, on the outside, you would kind of think that’s what would be going on because it’s fun to hit.
“But there’s no panic – nothing in here. That’s good. That’s right where we need to be.”