Cubs

The unsung hero of Cubs' epic Game 5 victory doesn't even wear a uniform

The unsung hero of Cubs' epic Game 5 victory doesn't even wear a uniform

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oh man, another challenge??

That was the reaction from about half the press box at Nationals Park as the hour moved to early Friday morning in an epic Game 5.

Anybody who had to wake up early for work the next morning likely went through the same exasperation when Joe Maddon called for a challenge with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning on a play that seemed pretty cut-and-dry.

But it wasn't cut-and-dry. The Cubs won the challenge, successfully picking backup catcher Jose Lobaton off first base and ending the inning.

It completely halted the Nationals' momentum, sniping any chance they had of completing a comeback against the Cubs and their discombobulated bullpen.

Theo Epstein and Kris Bryant both said that moment — the backpick at first base and subsequent challenge — will be the one thing from this zany, bonkers game that they remember for the rest of their lives.

"Willson's pickoff there was huge to shift the momentum," Bryant said. "Not many people would attempt that throw because if you throw it into right field, the runner scores.

"That's one of the times we really enjoy the replay review."

And yet the hero of that moment was a guy that doesn't even suit up to play for the Cubs. 

Nate Halm's official title is advance scouting coordinator, but he is also in charge of replays during the game, sitting in front of screens ready to challenge at a moment's notice.

He was sitting in his usual war room as Thursday night bled into Friday morning and noticed on one angle that Lobaton's foot appeared to come off the bag.

Halm looked again at another angle — quickly, of course, because teams are only allotted 30 seconds after a play to either challenge or move on — and saw Lobaton's foot clearly came off the bag while Anthony Rizzo was still holding the tag firmly on Lobaton's...crotch.

So Halm jumped up, screaming for Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff in the dugout to challenge the play.

They did, and the rest is history.

Three pitches before that soon-to-be-infamous challenge, Lobaton had singled off Wade Davis with two outs. The Nationals had just scored one run off yet another Michael A. Taylor RBI and Lobaton's hit moved Taylor into scoring position as the tying run.

Davis got a quick strike on Trea Turner at the plate and when he ran the count to 1-1 with a curveball that missed the zone, Contreras noticed Lobaton dancing far off the bag on his secondary lead. So the Cubs catcher gave the signal to Rizzo at first base to be ready for a backpick.

Davis' next pitch missed, but Contreras wasn't worried about the location, snapping a perfect strike over to Rizzo, who was somehow able to keep the tag on Lobaton as the Cubs caught a major break.

It was a horrendous error on Lobaton's part, because he was going nowhere with a runner (the tying run, no less) in front of him on the basepaths.

And it was just the boost the Cubs needed to regain momentum they never again relinquished.

"We were trying to find a way to get to the finish line," Epstein said. "The double play was big with [Nationals pinch-hitter Adam] Lind and then the replay, with two guys on. 

"Real close play. I didn't even think we were gonna challenge and Nate saw something on the replay, saw Lobaton's foot come off the base. That was a huge moment in the game to get an out without having to throw more pitches. Obviously they had the tying run on base there in scoring position."

Nineteen different guys suited up for the Cubs in that epic Game 5.

Yet it was a guy that doesn't even put on a uniform that wound up the hero.

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

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USA TODAY

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

In Theo Epstein's end of season press conference on Friday he said that any coach Joe Maddon wants back will return in 2018.

Evidently, there's one coach Maddon didn't want back.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs have fired longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Bosio served as the Cubs pitching coach from 2012-17. He was the team's pitching coach under former managers' Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Rick Renteria (2014), and was retained when Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

Bosio, who is one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, was instrumental in the career resurgence of Jake Arrieta who captured the Cy Young award in 2015, and the development of 27-year-old starter Kyle Hendricks (MLB's ERA leader in 2016).

One reason that could've led to Bosio's firing was the pitching staff's control issues during both the regular season and postseason, which Epstein mentioned during Friday's press conference. The Cubs issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) during the postseason.

As the Cubs hit the market for a new pitching coach, Nightengale mentioned that one name that could be on the radar is former Tampa Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season.

Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.