LOS ANGELES – What a physically grueling and emotionally draining stretch for Jose Quintana, who wanted so bad to be in the playoffs but couldn’t have imagined the highs and lows quite like this.
On top of the Cubs playing their third game in four days in three different time zones – and a week where he already matched up against Max Scherzer and worked out of the bullpen Thursday night to help eliminate the Washington Nationals – Quintana felt the anxiety and handled a family emergency.
The victory flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to the West Coast got diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Friday morning when Quintana’s wife, Michel, experienced a panic attack.
The Cubs waited until Saturday to make what sounded like an obvious announcement: Quintana would be their Game 1 starter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
“She was just nervous,” Quintana said after a 5-2 loss at Dodger Stadium where he was just as good as Clayton Kershaw. “That’s the first time it happened like that on a plane. I just tried to relax her, and the doctor said: ‘We have time. We can stop and she can go to the hospital.’”
At that point, the Cubs needed a new flight crew, but from the moment he arrived in a midseason trade with the White Sox, teammates and staffers have been impressed by Quintana’s attitude and professionalism.
“We spent five hours on the tarmac,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Nobody complained. It was an empathic moment. Everybody understood what's going on. As a human being, you're concerned for other human beings.
“Q got off the plane. He spent some time, (talking to) our team doctor, everything seems to be well. Q got his rest. We contacted him. He felt good about pitching.
“It was a human moment. We’re playing a game. When you’re dealing with human beings, people take priority. I was really pleased with the way our group handled the situation. And I really respect Q's word. He said he's ready to rock 'n' roll, so we believe him.”
Quintana strung together four scoreless innings but seemed to wear down in the fifth against a Los Angeles lineup that is still tough even without All-Star shortstop Corey Seager. Quintana walked Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes in back-to-back at-bats, setting up two runs for the Dodgers and a bullpen battle that the Cubs would not win.
“I can’t imagine how that went for him,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “I’m glad everyone’s OK there. For him to come out and do what he did there – keeping them to two runs – it was pretty big. Obviously, it just didn’t work out for us today.”
The Cubs are learning what Quintana is all about, keeping his team viable while Scherzer flirts with a no-hitter, getting two outs as a reliever in an elimination game and canceling out Kershaw after five innings.
“My mind is strong,” Quintana said. “You want to go out there for your team. You got to push through it.”