Dan Hayes

Why Wade Davis was the only person in the building not surprised by Michael Taylor's home run


Why Wade Davis was the only person in the building not surprised by Michael Taylor's home run

Wade Davis may have been the only person at Wrigley Field who wasn’t alarmed when Michael Taylor’s fly ball found the basket on Wednesday night.

Several minutes after Jon Lester converted the Friendly Confines into a madhouse with his pickoff move, Taylor turned the aged venue on its side with a back-breaking grand slam that sealed a 5-0 Game 4 victory for the Washington Nationals over the Cubs. Taylor’s homer through the heavy wind and persistent mist that enveloped Wrigley surprised even his own manager.

But Davis said he wasn’t the least bit dazed when Taylor’s opposite-field blast scooted over the fence and sent both teams scrambling to prepare for Game 5 on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t think I’m ever surprised when someone hits one good,” Davis said. “That’s just usually what happens.”

Cubs fans likely found the entire scenario shocking.

Davis has been the stalwart in the Cubs bullpen all season. Sure, he’d surrendered more homers (six) this season than any other since he moved to the bullpen. But that has been the trend baseball-wide.

Despite serving up a few extra round-trippers, Davis converted 31 of 32 saves for the Cubs. With the Cubs down by a run in the eighth, Davis was viewed as the potential lifeline. In a matter of minutes, the crowd had transformed from a frenzied state after Lester’s get-me-over pickoff move nabbed Ryan Zimmerman into a nervous ball of energy when the Nationals loaded the bases with two outs.

Lester yielded a two-out single to Daniel Murphy and Carl Edwards Jr. walked two consecutive batters and fell behind in the count 1-0 to Taylor when Cubs manager Joe Maddon made the call for Davis.

But only two pitches later, Taylor defied the odds when he drove a 95-mph fastball out to right on a day when home runs seemed next to impossible. The result of the 393-foot, opposite-field drive caught Nationals manager Dusty Baker off-guard, particularly after the wind and rain had knocked down Addison Russell’s drive in the second inning.

Yet much to Baker’s surprise, the same elements that afforded Washington an opportunity to start Stephen Strasburg on regular rest after a Tuesday rainout were still in a giving mood. The round-tripper was the first Davis had yielded in the postseason in 107 batters as a reliever and broke open a tightly-contested ballgame.

“I really didn't know,” Baker said. “Fortunately for us, the elements are on our side because Russell's ball would have been way up in the stands and maybe even on the avenue. That ball was blowing back in because that ball was hit a ton.

“I've played many games here, managed many games here, and everybody talks about, you know, how the ball flies here. But I think the time that I was here, I think the stadium takes away more homers than it gives. And tonight, it gave us one.”

Davis was down 1-0 when he took over for Edwards, whose wild streak had loaded the bases. But the free-agent-to-be said the hitter’s count didn’t affect how he planned to approach Taylor. Davis evened the count when Taylor fouled off a first-pitch fastball but left the next one over the middle. Even the 16-mph winds that knocked down Russell’s blast weren’t going to slow down Taylor’s drive.

“I felt pretty good about the at-bat,” Davis said. “Just that particular pitch, tried to go down and off and obviously I threw it almost down the middle.

“It was a bad pitch. It was down the middle and he put a really good swing on it. Definitely if I could have it back, but we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow.”

IVs and Hawaiian dudes: Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch Game 4 for Nationals

IVs and Hawaiian dudes: Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch Game 4 for Nationals

The latest twist in the Nats’ version of “Who’s On First” simply boils down to Stephen Strasburg feeling better on Wednesday.

The last-minute decision to start Strasburg in Game 4 of the National League Division Series has nothing to do with peer pressure from his teammates or the media. The All-Star pitcher’s flu-like symptoms improved enough overnight for him to inform the team he’s ready to go.

At least that’s the Nationals’ version in a saga that has seen the All-Star pitcher’s courage questioned and the team’s ability to put out a clear and concise message mocked for an entire news cycle.

Less than 24 hours after manager Dusty Baker said Tanner Roark would start the potential elimination game, the Nationals announced that a suddenly healthy Strasburg would go instead. The team’s message was further muddled early Wednesday when Nats general manager Mike Rizzo reaffirmed that Roark would start on a DC radio station.

In the end, all that matters to the Nats after this distracting much-ado-about-nothing cycle is that Strasburg will face the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“Many statements that have been made about this subject have been inaccurate,” Rizzo said. “If you're alluding to the fact that -- did the media pressure him into starting this? I don't think Stephen Strasburg cares about what the media thinks about him or says about him. He wanted the ball in this game because he wants to win this game and he thinks he's our best option. And he's an ultra-competitor and he feels this gives us a chance to win.”

If you’re all confused by this you’re not alone.

Though Cubs manager Joe Maddon had an inkling that Strasburg would start, Baker said Wednesday afternoon that when he left Wrigley on Tuesday night he was under the impression Roark was his guy.

The decision to stick with Roark after Tuesday’s rainout stunned the baseball world as everyone figured the Nationals would take advantage of the weather to use Strasburg, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in Game 1 of the series. When they stayed with Roark because Strasburg -- who threw a bullpen Monday and played catch on Tuesday -- was ill, Baker, Rizzo and the pitcher were all questioned heavily.

But Strasburg apparently responded well enough to overnight treatment, including IVs, to call pitching coach Mike Maddux on Wednesday and tell him he wanted to pitch. Maddux said the coaching staff would convene once they arrived at Wrigley.

Two hours later, word leaked out Strasburg would pitch adding another layer of confusion. Much to his surprise, Baker said Strasburg told him he wants the ball.

“I was planning on Tanner pitching,” Baker said. “Things are subject to change and … maybe the rain helped him and helped us, like I hoped that it would. I said my prayers and said, ‘Hey, man, let the rain try to help us.’

“Hawaiian buddies of mine … were saying, ‘Hey, sometimes, that's a blessing from the sky.’ They call it mana. I believe in that.”

Baker believes Strasburg is ready for a normal start. The turn comes on regular rest after Strasburg pitched Game 1 on Friday in Washington. Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 no-hit innings in the opener but was undone when the Cubs took advantage of an Anthony Rendon error in the sixth inning and went on to a 3-0 win. Strasburg allowed two unearned runs and three hits while striking out 10 and walking one in seven innings.

Baker reiterated Rizzo’s stance that Strasburg wasn’t pressured into the decision by the team, its players or the media.

“We didn't put that pressure on him, and I don't think that he would succumb to the pressure from the public or the media or anybody,” Baker said. “You know, he's a grown man. He made that decision on his own and he wanted to pitch, and he was very adamant about he wanted to pitch and how much better he was feeling.”

How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3

How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3

He expected to be excitable and was early in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday afternoon. But Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana also managed to surprise himself in the process.

Even though a raucous Wrigley Field crowd provided him with more emotions than he’d ever experienced, Quintana’s pregame preparation and an abundance of first-pitch strikes helped calm him down.

The combination was more than enough to get Quintana going. Once he did, the 2016 All-Star pitcher found another gear and managed to exceed the perhaps unfair hype created by the midseason blockbuster trade that brought him to the Cubs from the White Sox in mid-July. Quintana allowed an unearned run and two hits in 5 2/3 innings and the Cubs rallied for a critical 2-1 victory over the Washington Nationals to take a 2-1 series lead.

“I was surprised at me being in control because sometimes we try to do too much,” Quintana said. “That happens. That’s part of baseball. But I enjoyed that time and we did a good pregame and all my stuff was good.”

Quintana has experienced a number of big moments throughout his career from the All-Star Game to the World Baseball Classic to last month’s pennant race.

But the left-hander had never faced the kind of test that only October baseball provides. Even he wondered before Sunday’s workout if he’d be amped up when he stepped on the mound.

As expected, he was.

Quintana said the reception from the Wrigley crowd was different than anything he’d experienced and was nervous. But aside from one pitch, manager Joe Maddon didn’t see much different in Quintana’s demeanor.

“He overboogied on the third pitch, that elevated fastball to (Trea) Turner,” Maddon said. “Otherwise he really controlled his emotions.”

Just as they planned, Quintana was aggressive against a powerful Nationals lineup and littered the zone with strikes. He threw nine strikes in 13 first-inning pitches, including all three first pitches, and induced three weak grounders. In all, Quintana threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 22 hitters.

[MORE: 5 biggest keys to Cubs' thrilling Game 3 win]

And that was all he needed to keep pace with Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

“When he’s throwing strikes, it’s tough to get on him,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “Any time you hit those spots and he’s throwing strikes and mixing it up as well as he was, getting some swings and misses, you know he’s on.”

Not only did Quintana hit his spots, he had great stuff with 14 swings and misses among his 96 pitches, including six with his curveball. That led to seven strikeouts and only walk.

The combination of stuff, hitting spots and thorough trust of the gameplan provided Quintana with enough to navigate the Washington lineup with little trouble.

“He has a lot of conviction in what he’s doing,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. “You can see it in his eyes. He prepared himself before the game, a few days before the game. That’s a good thing for us.”

“He was amazing. We did everything he wanted. He was cool, had a good pace. He slowed it down a lot. That was a huge key for us.”

Contreras said Quintana was in such a rhythm that he didn’t want to bother him on the bench because Quintana was so dialed into the game. About the only thing that did bother Quintana was a pair of third-inning errors that jeopardized the scoreless contest. With two outs, a Zobrist error extended a rally, putting runners on the corners. Quintana missed on the next two pitches to Anthony Rendon, but got him to fly out to deep right-center.

Quintana only got stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the fifth. He threw a curve in the dirt to get Harper swinging to start the sixth. Rendon grounded out weakly and Quintana would have gotten through six if Kyle Schwarber didn’t drop Daniel Murphy’s lazy fly to left, one of four Cubs errors.

Though Quintana didn’t get a chance to strand Murphy on third, he was more than pleased with how he handled the moment.

“I think in the past sometimes I’ve been a little quick in the stretch,” Quintana said. “I just tried to be relaxed and just hit my spots. That’s all I tried to do and that worked good.”

“Honestly, I was a bit nervous in the first inning. I was (off) a couple pitches. After that, I tried to be focused.”

“It was amazing.”