Adrian Sampson couldn’t believe it.
Chatting with a reporter before Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs newcomer learned the scruffy old ball writer had never seen Game of Thrones.
“Really?” Sampson said. “Oh, gosh. That’s such a great show.”
Sampson, for those who may have tuned out the Cubs since their Red Wedding purge at the trade deadline, is the Cub who best summed up where this team is right now — with its no-name roster of second-chance players — when he dropped the “Game of Thrones-esque” reference last week.
“It’s ours for the taking. If you want it, you’ve got to go get it,” Sampson said after making a strong first impression in a four-inning spot start in his Cubs debut in Cincinnati.
It doesn’t take a GOT cosplayer to understand the free-for-all sword play over precious roster spots going on these final five weeks or so of the season.
But maybe it helps to actually see the show before pretending to know enough to write about it?
“I highly recommend it,” Sampson said. “If you like a good story — and I like a good story — it’s fun to watch.”
As much as anything, that might be the value of what’s going on with this team right now.
And if Sampson best summed up the state of the Cubs with his comment, he might also best represent that storyline that’s playing out among the second- and third-chance guys on a roster that figures to need more than a few of them heading into next year — regardless of the direction team president Jed Hoyer eventually decides he wants to go or how quick Hoyer’s not-a-rebuild lasts.
“It’s all about being at the right place at the right time,” said Sampson, who a year ago was pitching in Korea — and four months ago was unemployed.
Sampson, who struck out four in two high-leverage, high-performance innings Wednesday night against Colorado, is a fifth-round draft pick of the Pirates in 2012 who had a 5.71 ERA in 41 career appearances for the Mariners and Rangers before Korea.
But he already has survived on the big-league roster beyond what looked like a one-day promotion for the spot start (see: 4.96 ERA at Iowa after signing in May).
And his performance in three appearances so far (1.29 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in seven innings) has all but assured a lengthy look in the next few weeks.
Which for now makes him the pitching staff’s biggest badass since The Mountain.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” manager David Ross said. “He understands the opportunity he’s given right now and taking advantage of it.”
That’s the whole Game of Thrones thing Sampson was talking about last week.
Not that teammates have expressed it exactly that way in conversations in the clubhouse.
“But I think everybody thinks it,” he said. “And not everybody wants to say it, whether it’s superstition or just putting it out there in the universe. Sometimes it can nip you in the butt.”
Sampson’s been around enough to know who is and say what he thinks. And has enough stuff with his fastball-slider-changeup array to get big-league hitters out.
Which makes right now right here just about the exact right place and right time for his career to have landed him — along with as many as a dozen other players on the roster looking for everything from a second to last chance to stick.
Consider that Sampson turns 30 in October.
Outfielder Rafael Ortega, who turned 30 in May, is hitting well this season after having been waived or released eight times by seven teams in the last eight years.
Infielder Patrick Wisdom, who turns 30 on Friday, is still a rookie — but one who has found himself in an unlikely Rookie of the Year race through just 80 games this season.
Frank “The Tank” Schwindel, who turns 30 next June, was claimed off waivers from Oakland only last month and has raked enough since replacing the traded Anthony Rizzo that he’s going to threaten local cult status if he keeps it up.
And outfielder Michael Hermosillo, the local kid signed to a minor-league deal last winter, turns 27 in January after hitting a home run in his starting debut for the Cubs last week — after producing a .575 OPS and negative WAR value in 56 career games with the Angels.
“I think you have these stigmas we put on guys that are older that come from Triple-A, like, `Well it’s not going to last, it’s not going to last,’ “ Ross said. “Just to see some guys prove that wrong is fun for me.”
Case in point: One of the most surprising success stories of the past week is the fact that Sampson is still on the roster after many around here learned his name for the first time when he was called up from Iowa for that emergency start.
How surprised was he?
“I wouldn’t say surprised,” he said. “I would say it’s anybody’s for the taking. That’s how I look at it. It’s put up or shut up at this point. If you put up the numbers, you open some eyes and you get some attention and then you meep going from there and try to build off of it.”
Case in point: Wednesday’s work in extra innings in the nightcap of Wednesday’s doubleheader. He gave up the automatic-runner/unearned run in his first inning of working, striking out two and allowing only a two-out single, then stranded the runner with a 1-2-3 second inning of work.
“I want this job very much, and I’m going to keep doing everything I can on a day-to-day basis, on and off the field, to make sure they know they can trust me in any role,” Sampson said.
"All these guys want the job. And if that’s the mindset from everybody — hitters and pitchers and coaches, whatever — then good things will happen.”
Talk about "Game of Thrones-esque." Talk about a good story.
Anybody fan of GOT, if not the Cubs, can see that.