MIAMI – It’s easy to picture the Cubs turning into a team that people love to hate.
Junior Lake stood at home plate on Wednesday night, admiring the flight of the ball he launched out toward the left-field seats inside Marlins Park.
Gripping the bat in his left hand, Lake walked at least five steps before beginning his home-run trot. He tossed the bat aside, far enough that it almost landed on the dirt track by the visiting dugout.
As Lake rounded third base, he looked into Miami’s dugout and held his right index finger up to his lips, as if to say: “Ssshh!”
Until that big swing in the sixth inning, the Cubs trailed by six runs…in a game they would lose 7-3…to a dysfunctional team that’s now 10 games under .500.
“We don’t do that here,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward, “and that will be the last time you see it.”
Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto said something to Anthony Rizzo as he crossed home plate. Jose Fernandez – the Miami ace still recovering from Tommy John surgery – looked like he couldn’t wait to jump over the dugout railing.
Both benches emptied as Rizzo tried to restrain Lake, who waved his arms and yelled right back at the Marlins. Maddon has talked a lot about the Cubs playing with confidence and taking the fight to the National League, stressing that nothing will be handed to them.
“I don’t want us to take the fight there by acting like a punk,” Maddon said. “I don’t want that at all. I want us to take the fight there by playing the game properly and hard and fundamentally sound.
“You know that we’re coming after you – that’s what I want. I don’t want us to take a page out of ‘Major League’ and flamboyantly flip a bat after a long home run. I don’t want that at all. That has nothing to do with us ascending.
“I’d like to use this moment for our minor-league guys – that doesn’t play. For kids watching – that doesn’t play. Don’t do that. That’s not cool. That’s very, very much not cool. If you’re watching the game back home in Chicago tonight, don’t do that if you hit a home run. Don’t do it. It’s not cool.”
Maddon delivered that message to Lake, who seemed genuinely contrite as he stood at his locker. Lake wanted catcher Miguel Montero to be his interpreter, to accurately express his feelings and make sure nothing got lost in translation.
Lake wanted to apologize to Dan Haren, because he respects the Miami pitcher and didn’t mean to “pimp” that home run. Lake also confirmed he doesn’t have a history of bad blood with Fernandez or any of the Marlins.
Lake – who’s been given an opportunity to prove he belongs in The Show with outfielder Jorge Soler (sprained left ankle) on the disabled list – admitted he got caught up in the emotions.
“After I crossed first, I knew I didn’t do it right,” Lake said through Montero. “But after that, I heard them chirping from the other dugout, and that’s why I kind of lost control a little bit. I already knew I didn’t do it right.”
Lake then wanted to make a point in English: “I give it everything when I play. I don’t want to (have) people yell at me like I’m scared. I’m not scared of anybody. But I recognize (what I did) was a bad thing.”
Montero next translated another takeaway for Lake: “I don’t want to be a bad influence.”
The crowd of 22,962 booed Lake during his next at-bat, cheering when he struck out to end the seventh inning. He also grounded out to end the game. But at the age of 25, he has shown a much more disciplined approach at the plate. And he can always fall back on his defensive versatility and the physical gifts that once made him an intriguing prospect.
Lake’s bat-flipping show is just the tip of the iceberg as The Plan accelerates.
Theo Epstein’s front office represents an Ivy League influence that creates some resentment – maybe jealousy – among the old-school types inside this industry.
The Tampa Bay Rays pushed Major League Baseball to launch a tampering investigation after the Cubs hired Maddon, a star manager who loves playing to the cameras and hates all these unwritten rules.
The Cubs keep telling everyone how great their farm system is, how they’re so young and so talented. They want to play loose and free and plan postgame dance parties in the clubhouse.
There also could have been some spillover from Monday night at Marlins Park after “SportsCenter” timed Starlin Castro’s home-run trot at 30 seconds.
To learn how to win and finally get through October, the Cubs will have to develop some sense of swagger, almost an arrogant vibe around the team.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
That’s part of the reason why the Cubs gave Jon Lester six years and $155 million guaranteed. Their ace didn’t look particularly sharp against the Marlins – giving up six runs in five innings – but he knows what it takes after winning two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox.
The Cubs (27-24) just lost a series to a reality-show team on the brink, and now head to the nation’s capital for a four-game series against the Washington Nationals, a World Series favorite that might show them how far they still have to go.
“This game’s competitive,” Lester said. “Nobody wants to – in their minds – get shown up.
“I don’t know if you can compare this one instance to a team that’s in it at the end. I know that we talk about tonight, and then get on a plane, and move on and play tomorrow. That’s what makes a good team.
“Tonight stunk. Move on. And we’ll come get Washington tomorrow.”