The canned crowd noise, which had been a low rumble for the Marlins’ lineup announcement, roared as the PA announcer introduced “your Chicago Cubs.”
The louder it got, the tinnier it sounded.
“Your young guys get off the hook,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday of playing at Wrigley Field without fans.
Conventional wisdom says playoff experience, which the Cubs have plenty of, can give a team that extra edge in the postseason. But the Cubs’ 5-1 loss to the Marlins in Game 1 of a best-of-three Wild Card Series begged the question, in this unique setting, was Miami’s tumultuous regular season more valuable experience than the Cubs’?
On Sunday, when the Cubs were still basking in the rejuvenation of their offense against the White Sox, Jason Kipnis mulled over how much of an advantage his team’s playoff exposure was going to be.
“A lot of stuff that gets to people in the postseason the first time is the noise, and the emotions, and the trying to too much, and knowing you’re on national television in front of everybody -- that’s the only game that’s going on -- or something like that,” the Cubs second baseman said. “I think this year it’s just going to seem like the games we’ve been playing.”
The Cubs and Marlins’ route to this season’s expanded playoffs were wildly divergent. The Cubs are in the postseason for the fifth time in the past six years. Wednesday marked the Marlins’ first playoff game since the 2003 World Series.
The No. 3 seeded Cubs won the NL Central, the only division with four playoff teams. The Marlins, a No. 6 seed, pushed the Phillies out of the playoff picture to get in.
The Cubs owe much of their regular season success to a scorching hot start. The Marlins found themselves stranded in Philadelphia for a week due to an early COVID-19 outbreak.
“Since we came out of COVID, we’ve been playing playoff games pretty much every day,” Marlins closer Brandon Kintzler said on the Cubs Talk Podcast this week. “So, we have that intensity already. We don’t need to flip the switch or anything.”
The Cubs needed a reset button.
The offense was looking forward to the clean slate the playoffs would bring, after disappointing numbers in a shortened season – only Ian Happ and Jason Heyward hit over .250.
But on Wednesday, it translated to just four hits. Their only run came on Ian Happ’s fifth-inning solo homer.
"There’s a lot put on one game in a situation like this,” Happ said “But we haven’t let one game dictate our season the entire year. We’ve never let that happen in this organization since I’ve been here.”
The Marlins, on the other hand, tested Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks with runners in scoring position for four straight innings.
Hendricks pitched out of jams in the fourth through sixth innings. In the seventh, Miami’s Corey Dickerson hit Hendricks’ 106th pitch of the night over the left field wall for a three-run home run.
“Now we can go out there and have fun,” Dickerson said of battling through a stress-laden regular season schedule. “We’re a lot looser, confident, I think those games definitely help.”
On Thursday, the Cubs and Marlins return to a fan-less Wrigley Field for Game 2, a potential elimination game for the home team.