Brandon Morrow hasn't closed in a decade, but he pitched in every game of the World Series: High leverage enough for you?


Brandon Morrow hasn't closed in a decade, but he pitched in every game of the World Series: High leverage enough for you?

MESA, Ariz. — Brandon Morrow pitched in every game of the World Series.

Is that "high leverage" enough for you?

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Morrow will be the Cubs' new closer on Opening Day, the team's fourth in as many seasons. Wade Davis was sensational in 2017, living up to the hype of being one of baseball's best relievers by converting 32 of his 33 save opportunities, being selected as the Cubs' lone representative at the All-Star Game and striking out Bryce Harper to send the Cubs to their third straight National League Championship Series. But he got a record-setting contract from the Colorado Rockies, meaning Morrow is now the guy on the North Side.

It's not like Morrow is some consolation prize, though. He was terrific as a late-inning man for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and logged some really important innings during the playoff run that went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Morrow turned in a 2.06 ERA during the regular season, then he shut down the Cubs in the NLCS and pitched in all seven games of that epic Fall Classic against the Houston Astros.

It wasn't all pretty, of course. He gave up four runs and two homers without recording an out in that bonkers Game 5. But in his six other outings, he surrendered just one run on four hits over 5.1 innings of work.

No, he hasn't been a go-to closer in a decade. But he's pitched in plenty of important moments and is ready to take on the bullpen's most high-profile role.

"I've closed before. It's been 10 years, but there's so many different places to pull experience from. And I think all the playoff experience last year helps a lot in pressure situations," Morrow said Wednesday at Cubs camp. "That was something that I didn't have before. I pitched in almost every other situation besides a playoff situation and World Series games and coming in with bases loaded, two outs in the World Series and everything like that. I've pretty much seen it all.

"You'll see somebody that is pretty even-keeled. Ups and downs don't really get to me. I'll be out there competing on a daily basis."

Last year was Morrow's lone campaign with the Dodgers after spending his first 10 big league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres. But that was his first postseason, and those experiences pitching for a World Series contender were mighty valuable. Not only did he pitch — and succeed — on the game's biggest and brightest stage, he also got into a closer's mentality, looking at the eighth inning like it was the ninth ahead of the virtual lock of a scoreless frame from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, one of the league's best.

"I was treating it like I was pitching in the ninth last year," Morrow said. "From a mindset point of view, you've got Kenley behind you, if you get through the eighth, the game's basically over. He's one of the best. So I was thinking, 'If I close out the eighth, we've got Kenley in there and finish it off.' That kind of mindset, trying to prepare myself that way.

"In the playoffs, maybe there's that little bit of butterflies at first, and then it's just baseball at a high level. I think those games definitely prepare you for some tough spots throughout the regular season that you can pull experience from and know that you can keep yourself calm. Over the last 10 years, I've kind of seen it all. I've got a much lower heart rate than I used to."

According to Morrow, the Cubs pitched an important role to him when they signed him, not yet guaranteeing the closer's role should Davis have decided to return to the North Side. But that job is Morrow's now.

If you're still not sold on Morrow as a Davis successor, allow Carl Edwards Jr. to calm your fears with this ringing endorsement.

"Morrow's a great guy. I talked to him, and it's kind of like me talking to Wade Davis all over again," Edwards said. "I'm just looking forward to getting to pick his brain."

Despite a lack of recent closing experience, Morrow was one of the biggest names on the relief-pitching market this winter. Just like they did with Morrow's teammate in Los Angeles, Yu Darvish, the Cubs made the splash they needed to accomplish the only goal that matters these days: winning the World Series. And while Morrow, and Darvish for that matter, didn't do that last season, they came darn close. They've been on that stage, like the rest of these Cubs who won it all in 2016.

For a team seeking championships, that experience is invaluable.

"That was one of the things in free agency that I was looking forward to was 'Are we going to compete?' And obviously the Chicago Cubs are in that small group of teams that you think have a really good chance to win a World Series," Morrow said.

"I'm sure that's high on their list, guys with experience in those situations and guys that have shown that they can handle the pressure and continue to throw strikes and compete."

Playoff tradition? Sign Morrow up. Bullpen dancing? Maybe not so much.

"I keep getting asked that," he said about those post-homer dance parties under the left-field bleachers. "Is that going to continue?

"I might be the awkward one in the corner just bobbing my head."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st 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's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound


Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.