At Wrigley, Cubs become baseball's biggest party and best story


At Wrigley, Cubs become baseball's biggest party and best story

The Cubs are baseball’s biggest party now, a crazy mix of bonus babies and spare parts, led by a mad-scientist manager who loves giving the middle finger to unwritten rules and an Ivy League executive who can casually namedrop rock stars without sounding obnoxious.

The Cubs have been playing (mostly bad) baseball at Wrigley Field for 100 years, but they had never seen anything like this before, clinching a playoff series at Clark and Addison for the first time in franchise history.

Beating the hated St. Louis Cardinals made it that much sweeter for a crowd of 42,411 that wouldn’t sit down in the ninth inning on Tuesday, standing on tiptoes and holding up iPhones trying to snap pictures of the final out.

The roar echoed out into the night when Hector Rondon — a Rule 5 pick who came back so much stronger from Tommy John surgery — struck out Stephen Piscotty swinging to save a 6-4 victory and end this National League Division Series in only four games.

“We’re doing things that we shouldn’t be doing this year,” Anthony Rizzo said. “And we have a great time doing it. This city deserves it. These fans deserve it.”

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez steps into starring role for Cubs to help finish Cardinals]

You could feel the press box shaking after Rizzo blasted the go-ahead shot into the right-field bleachers in the sixth inning, his second home run off Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist in two days. The Cubs didn’t win the division like Rizzo predicted back in January, but they do have 101 wins this year.

“When I was popping off at The Cubby Bear, I was thinking 90,” said Joe Maddon, thinking back to his first shot-and-a-beer press conference as Cubs manager last November.

The Cubs whipped this white-towel-waving crowd into a frenzy, clapping along with Starlin Castro’s walk-up music and becoming baseball’s biggest story in October. This franchise rose out of the ashes of five straight fifth-place seasons, advancing to the NLCS to face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets on the road for Saturday’s Game 1.

“I was talking upstairs with Eddie,” said Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations who’s tight with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. “This is like our first record.

“You put that record out and then things blow up and it’s a whole different time of innocence and exceeding expectations and bursting on the national scene.

“But these guys care so much about each other. Maybe it’ll get more complicated as time goes by. But I don’t think it will get any less special.”

[MORE CUBS: Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder left speechless after Cubs win NLDS]

Epstein doesn’t know if this will be the best chance for the Cubs to win their first World Series since 1908, but the unique chemistry is impossible to miss, all the clubhouse goofiness balanced by a deep roster and the tenacious way this team kept coming at the Cardinals.

The Cubs won Game 4 with seven different relievers and three rookies in the lineup, plus backup infielder Javier Baez, who’s 22 years old, had to wait until September for his call-up from Triple-A Iowa and got the crowd chanting “LAC-KEY! LAC-KEY!” after his three-run bomb off John Lackey in the second inning.

Jorge Soler showed off his rocket arm with a great throw from right field, nailing Tony Cruz at home plate and keeping it a tie game in the sixth inning. It was hard to tell where Kyle Schwarber’s solo home run landed in the seventh inning, soaring out toward Sheffield Avenue and appearing to clear the scripted Budweiser sign atop the video board in right field.

“Our guys don’t buy into the little narratives,” Epstein said. “They’re doing it for each other, for the organization. The pressure, the history doesn’t really bother these guys.

“They’re young. They’re innocent — in a great way. They were in instructional league last year. You think they’re worried about history? They’re worried about getting their laundry done in time for Saturday.”

[MORE CUBS: Despite 100 wins, Cardinals couldn't slow Cubs' momentum]

The Cubs wore their new official postseason T-shirts: “CHICAGO WANTS IT MORE.” A fan held up a sign: “NEXT YEAR IS NOW.” From the top of the dugout, Schwarber and Rizzo high-fived fans, Rondon sprayed champagne into the crowd and arrow-shooting reliever Fernando Rodney puffed a victory cigar.

Forget that stuff about goats and ghosts and curses. The Cubs believe they are a team of destiny now. Rizzo — a two-time All-Star first baseman who just turned 26 in August and has grown into a real leader — believes they are playing for the old Cubs who could only dream about moments like this.

“They left this uniform in a better position,” Rizzo said. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to leave this uniform in a better position. Look at this weather in October with the wind blowing out. It hasn’t blown out all year here. If that doesn’t have something to do with Ernie Banks smiling down on us, I don’t know what does. He would be really proud of this team. Billy Williams said it at Ernie’s funeral: This team is going to win in 2015 as a team.”

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”


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