SAN FRANCISCO – Joe Maddon always talks like a Haight-Ashbury philosopher and gets to play dress-up with the black leather motorcycle vests the Cubs wore for this “Easy Rider” road trip. But Major League Baseball’s hippie manager – the one who became rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams – definitely vibrates on this city’s frequency.
The memories came rushing back for Maddon seeing the San Francisco Giants again, thinking about how the Cubs staged an epic comeback in Game 4 of last year’s National League Division Series and unleashed a wild celebration inside AT&T Park visiting clubhouse, relieved to not have to face Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game that would have created so much anxiety in Wrigleyville.
“It’s crazy how the human mind works,” Maddon said before Monday night’s 5-3 win highlighted by Jake Arrieta dealing like it was October and Javier Baez dashing for an inside-the-park home run. “First of all, no time elapsed. What was it, nine months ago? It’s incredible how we as humans – time just evaporates on us.”
It was actually 10 months ago. But forget it, he’s rolling.
“So the nine months evaporated,” Maddon said. “It was like we had just walked in yesterday. Driving in, the sky here always has a different method of blue. I don’t know if it’s the ocean being right here, the coolness to the air. But there’s a different method to the blue here. It’s not blue-blue. It’s just kind of like pale blue.
“And then it feels crispy. So it’s always got that feel. And when we walk in – even though it was nine months ago – we were just here yesterday. So that was very familiar as we drove up today.”
This is also where Maddon worked as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when the Anaheim Angels outlasted Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series.
“The Giants – you always have a ton of respect,” Maddon said of the proud organization that has cratered to 44-70 after winning World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and creating such a vibrant atmosphere inside and around a stadium that became an instant classic. “It’s a tough place to play, but I’ve had some good memories here. Last year probably can’t be topped.
“I thought that victory here last year really set up the entire postseason. I thought (about) all that stuff. To beat them here and not have to take it back to Chicago, I thought, was pretty much the whole linchpin, the key point, the seminal moment in last year’s postseason that permitted us to win.”
That ninth-inning rally saw the Cubs erase a three-run deficit by scoring four runs again five different San Francisco relievers. The Cubs then survived a 21-inning scoreless streak vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series and climbed out of a 3-1 hole against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
The been-there, done-that confidence contributed to the championship hangover that saw the 2017 Cubs at the .500 mark 21 different times and as recently as July 15. But the muscle memory will help in a division race the Milwaukee Brewers probably didn’t expect to be in, where the St. Louis Cardinals are at .500 and the Pittsburgh Pirates are two games under.
“I just went through that whole thing, but it doesn’t matter right now,” Maddon said. “This is a whole new situation. We’re trying to write a whole entirely different chapter. We’re writing this chapter in a much different way than we did last year.
“So regardless of all the nostalgia and all the warm fuzzies, it’s an entirely different moment right now – for them and for us. They’re having an entirely different moment themselves. So it’s just a different method right now. Last year is last year. It’s just a totally different day.”
The schedule will also ease up after this weekend’s series against the Arizona Diamondbacks amid the noise pollution at Chase Field. At that point, the Cubs might not face another team with a winning record until Labor Day in Pittsburgh, and one game above .500 on July 21 has so far been the high-water mark for the Pirates.
The Cubs have more home games left on their calendar this season (26) than any other Central team. Of their 51 remaining games overall, 39 are against teams with a record of .500 or below. Now up 1.5 games on the Brewers, FanGraphs calculates the playoff odds for the defending champs at 91.5 percent.
“Personally, I never take anything or anybody for granted in anything, in any walk of life,” Maddon said. “I learned that from ‘The Godfather.’ Mario Puzo taught me that.”