Cubs

Cubs starting to believe in magic

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Cubs starting to believe in magic

NEW YORK — Clubhouse DJ Chris Denorfia programmed the postgame playlist with The Cars’ “Magic,” Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra,” Pilot’s “(Oh, Oh, Oh it’s) Magic” and that “I’ve Got The Magic in Me” song from the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack.

Yes, the Cubs have a completely different vibe this season, conjuring up a 2-0 victory over the New York Mets that took 11 innings on Wednesday at Citi Field. So who cares if Simon the Magician really is that good or the Mets lineup really is that bad?

As the offense disappeared on back-to-back nights in Queens, it became hard to tell which one of these teams went for offense and built the franchise around young hitters. The Cubs and Mets will probably be scoreboard-watching all summer long and fighting for a wild-card spot, but it’s been almost all zeroes here.

Yet the Cubs are now 6-0 against the Mets this season and back to six games over .500 — and smiling and laughing after scoring 10 runs in the last eight games.

[MORE CUBS: Maddon likes Motte's 'pure blunt force' in ninth inning]

Freewheeling manager Joe Maddon had responded to a five-game losing streak by — obviously — welcoming mentalist/mind reader Simon Winthrop into the clubhouse to perform his tricks in front of the team before Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Mets.

“Win or lose,” Maddon said, “I am really proud of the way our guys have been playing baseball. There is no quit. There is no giving up. We’re a little bit challenged offensively right now, and a lot of times teams will sink because of that. We have not.”

The Cubs finally broke through with two outs in the 11th inning, needing Starlin Castro to “Respect 90” and beat the throw on a slow-rolling groundball toward third base. Castro hustled for an infield single and allowed Anthony Rizzo to score from third base.

“We’ve been like that almost all year,” Castro said. “We won a lot of games by one run. We won a lot of games by two runs. We lost games by one or two runs. That’s really important. If we keep the game close, we got a chance, (because) you never know. We got a pretty good team. No matter what, we’re going to be together.”

[MORE CUBS: Addison Russell ready to handle the grind of a long season]

The Cubs have won 19 one-run games — and nine in extra innings — but it’s not like they’re doing it with smoke and mirrors. They hope this is the real Jon Lester.

Their $155 million ace began July with seven scoreless innings after a rough April (0-2, 6.23 ERA), an excellent May (4-1, 1.76 ERA) and a rocky June (0-3, 5.74 ERA).

“I’ll use anything we can get right now,” Lester said. “Hopefully, now we can just get on a little bit of a roll and not worry about going too good, too bad all the time.

“That’s really our whole rotation. I don’t think you put it solely on one guy. Once our rotation gets on a roll, that’s when things start clicking.

“The times where our offense isn’t picking us up, we’ve got to pick them up.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a new Cubs hat right here]

While Lester is usually all business — and has felt the weight of his contract and the newness of everything — he couldn’t help but laugh at the clubhouse beats and the emerging personality of this team.

Lester looked over at Rizzo and referenced his sweet “Matrix” slide on a double steal in the ninth inning.

“Now we got a mix tape of magic music,” Lester said. “We got Houdini over here running to third and saying it’s magic. Hey, I’ve been through seasons where you have stuff like that. It makes it fun. It makes it interesting.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.