WASHINGTON – Jose Quintana stood a few steps over from the exact spot where ex-catcher Miguel Montero ended his Cubs career, going viral with a rant that blamed Jake Arrieta and the coaching staff for letting Washington leadoff guy Trea Turner run wild.
This time, plastic sheets covered all the lockers inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, the drunken dancing and cigar smoke early Friday morning such a drastic change from how quiet the low-energy Cubs felt in late June.
Quintana already helped save a team that appeared to be close to imploding when Theo Epstein’s front office made that blockbuster trade with the White Sox during the All-Star break.
Quintana delivered again in the National League Division Series, allowing only one unearned run in a Game 3 where Max Scherzer would take a no-hitter into the seventh inning and the Cubs would somehow scrape together a 2-1 win.
Quintana got two outs in the all-hands-on-deck Game 5, throwing 12 pitches before All-Star closer Wade Davis took over in the seventh inning and understood no one else would be warming up behind him in the bullpen.
Quintana is too humble and respectful to demand that the Cubs give him the ball in Game 1 opposite Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, but the lefty knows how he feels about the NL Championship Series.
“I’m ready to go, man,” Quintana said after a heart-pounding 9-8 win that began Thursday night and ended Friday morning in Washington. “Why not? Let’s go. Keep going.”
The Cubs started rolling when Quintana joined a 43-45 team on July 14 in Baltimore, watching him dominate the Orioles two days later (seven scoreless innings, 12 strikeouts, zero walks) and closing a 5.5-game deficit on the Brewers within the week. The Cubs would spend every day in first place in August and September while Quintana (7-3, 3.74 ERA in 14 starts) gave the team a sense of consistency and enjoyed his first real exposure to a pennant race.
“Timing is everything,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “Like I’m going to continue to say throughout my time here in Chicago, our ownership and front office, they mean what they say. We want to win every year. We want an opportunity to win a World Series every year.
“Like I said when that trade happened, that’s what they showed. They followed through with their actions, and we followed suit.
“The biggest thing I’m proud of with this group of people here that joined us is we all rise to every challenge and look it right in the eye and have fun with it. You don’t know how it’s going to work out. You don’t know the outcome. But we all rise to the challenge and take it on.”
The Dodgers will not be an easy team to beat four times in a seven-game series, especially with manager Joe Maddon running out of guys he trusts in the bullpen and the rotation in suboptimal condition after a draining battle against the Nationals.
Maddon said John Lackey is also in the conversation for Game 1 starter. But a moment like this is exactly why the Cubs gave up top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for a 28-year-old pitcher who is under club control through the 2020 season for a little more than $30 million.
“The timing was certainly (unique),” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We were struggling. It was negative. But in some ways – Theo and I talked about this at the time – this is a deal that if it had come up in May or July or in December (was) exactly what we’ve been trying to find in a young, talented, controllable starter.
“There was a level of frustration, which is natural. We look out on the field and you see all this talent and we’re two games under .500 and really been inconsistent the whole time.
“This guy exactly fit what we were looking to acquire. This timing was interesting. But at the same time, I don’t think the timing would have mattered.”
For someone who had never played in the postseason before, Quintana just got a crash course in how exhilarating, frustrating and unpredictable it can be.
“It’s amazing,” Quintana said. “Sometimes it’s crazy how these guys play that baseball – behind 4-1 in the second inning and we come back in the game right away. It’s amazing, that energy we need for the playoffs. I’m really happy to be a part of this team.”