Cubs

Cubs still have a chance to get wild-card game at Wrigley Field

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Cubs still have a chance to get wild-card game at Wrigley Field

MILWAUKEE – Wrigley Field might not stay dark in October.

The Cubs waited to start their postgame celebration/dance party until seeing what happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night, watching it unfold on the televisions inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse.

Their 1-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers combined with Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds means home-field advantage in the National League wild-card game is still up for grabs.

That will create some drama on the final day of the regular season. The Cubs need to beat the Brewers again on Sunday afternoon and hope the Reds – a last-place team that just snapped a 13-game losing streak – handle the Pirates at PNC Park.

[MORE: Why Cubs believe Jake Arrieta will be unstoppable in October]

So Joe Maddon won’t manage Game 162 as if the Cubs are still in the Cactus League, when no one saw 96 wins coming.

“I was thinking going into this game if we did not have a chance, I was going to treat it more like a spring-training game, getting guys out after X-number of at-bats,” Maddon said. “But we’ll play it straight up as of right now.”

The Cubs will start Dan Haren (10-9, 3.67 ERA), an accomplished veteran pitcher who doesn’t want to say he’s 100 percent retired after this season in case he pulls a Brett Favre. The Reds will start a rookie with a 7.22 ERA named Josh Smith against a 97-win team.

Maddon has repeatedly downplayed the importance of home-field advantage, drawing upon his experience with the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2013 Rays had to win a Game 163 tiebreaker at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and then traveled to Cleveland to beat the Indians in the American League wild-card game.

[RELATED: Behind Arrieta, the Cubs are ready for October]

“It’s all about the fans,” Maddon said. “Baseball is a different kind of (animal). I don’t care if it’s the playoffs. I’ve been involved on the road in a playoff situation where it’s really hot and teams have done well.

“It’s about that pitching that day. It’s about your guys’ focus. I don’t think this game is as impacted on the road as, say, like maybe a basketball or football game can be.”

The Cubs are riding a seven-game winning streak and a huge wave of momentum. Kyle Hendricks had a perfect game on Saturday night until Martin Maldonado, Milwaukee’s No. 8 hitter, singled up the middle with one out in the sixth inning.

Chris Coghlan – a bubble player for the wild-card lineup – fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle. Pedro Strop, Fernando Rodney and Hector Rondon – who will need to deliver if the Cubs are going to go on a long playoff run – combined for three scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

Hendricks had been an A-ball pitcher when Ryan Dempster finally approved a trade to the Texas Rangers in the final minutes before the trade deadline on July 31, 2012.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs postseason gear right here]  

The Cubs were trying to shed short-term assets and stockpile arms for the future. Hendricks didn’t feel like he got into a real groove this season, but he still finished with a winning record (8-7), a sub-4.00 ERA (3.95), 32 starts and 180 innings for a playoff team.

“It would be huge,” Hendricks said. “It would be big for the fans, No. 1. For us, we feel confident in our team either way, no matter where we play. But obviously that home atmosphere there has been unbelievable all year, and it would help us out that much more.”

The Cubs have gone 49-32 at Wrigley Field this season – and 47-33 on the road – and will no doubt feel confident wherever Jake Arrieta pitches next.

“You stay focused on the day and you take care of your own business,” Maddon said. “If you do that, you get to tomorrow with an opportunity to do something really cool.”

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 36th homer in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 36th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

 

Sosa went down and golfed a pitch out for his 36th homer on July 17, 1998. He smacked Marlins reliever Kirt Ojala's (who??) pitch just over the wall in center field at Pro Player Stadium for a 2-run shot that closed out the Cubs' scoring in a 6-1 victory.

 

The blast accounted for Sosa's 88th and 89th of the season. By comparison, Javy Baez currently leads the Cubs (and the National League) with 72 RBI on July 17, 2018.

 

Steve Trachsel tossed a complete game for the Cubs in the victory that day and Sosa finished with the only extra-base hits for either team (he also had a double).

 

Fun fact: Former Cub Ryan Dempster started the game for the Marlins, but lasted just 4.1 innings to run his season record to 1-4 with a 6.70 ERA.