Instead of simply crediting the Cleveland Indians for another high-wire victory in October, the blame game can also go in so many different directions after a 1-0 playoff loss: What if Jorge Soler sprinted out of the batter’s box?
That’s not a hypothetical question Cubs manager Joe Maddon spent a lot of time thinking about after Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall jumped and misjudged the flyball Soler drove into right field on Friday night at Wrigley Field. Soler – a player with a history of leg injuries throughout his career – didn’t wind up with a fluky inside-the-park home run but still ran hard enough to get a triple.
“Honestly, I heard about that – I was kind of surprised by it,” Maddon said Saturday. “What happens sometimes – and I think this is what I saw – is you’ll see a guy hit a ball and their head’s down. They don’t even know where it is.
“I think when he saw it from our perspective, it was in the stands, and it kind of blew back. So I’m not trying to make excuses for him. I’m just saying the best he could have done was get to third base, anyway.
“Nothing else was going to happen beyond that. I’m glad he got to third. If he had gotten to second, that would have been a problem.”
These issues are much bigger than just Soler, the Cubs going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in Game 3, getting shut out for the fourth time in eight playoff games and maybe feeling anxious during the franchise’s first World Series event in Wrigleyville in 71 years.
Soler accounted for two of the team’s five hits against a dynamic Cleveland pitching staff that already eliminated the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams built around explosive offense.
With John Lackey going up against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in Game 4, Maddon went with a defense-first lineup, putting Soler on the bench, starting Gold Glover Jason Heyward in right field and hoping the Cubs will slow down mentally and play their game again.
“I thought that once we got here there would be no issues regarding how we would approach the day,” Maddon said. “(But) I’m not 24. So when a guy walks into the ballpark or drives to the ballpark and sees this increased whatever – just the magnitude of everything – it could have been a little bit unsettling. I didn’t read that among our guys. But I’m not naïve enough to say that it’s not possible.”