LOS ANGELES – The Cubs talked a good game on Sunday night, manager Joe Maddon explaining his ninth-inning strategy during a Dodger Stadium press conference and the defending World Series champs standing at their lockers answering positive-slant questions about how they’ve been through this before and already done the impossible.
But there was no avoiding it in the visiting clubhouse, how much better this Dodger team is now and how much this 4-1 walk-off loss stung, because the Cubs are now down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series without All-Star closer Wade Davis throwing a single pitch.
The year after Maddon took so much heat for how hard he pushed All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman – and three days removed from Davis getting the seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals – all the focus shifted to how John Lackey wound up allowing the three-run homer Justin Turner launched over the center-field wall.
“We got confidence in everybody that goes out there, so there’s no disappointment in any of that,” Davis said. “Lackey’s track record in the playoffs has been amazing. I don’t think that’s something anybody should be second-guessing.”
Davis is a professional who wouldn’t subtly criticize a teammate or passive-aggressively criticize his manager. That’s what Twitter is for while the Cubs fly home overnight, two losses away from vacation, and talk radio on Monday morning, more than 24 hours to fill before Game 3 at Wrigley Field.
“You have to understand when you have a guy like that coming off the performance that he had, to warm him up and not use him is equally as bad,” Maddon said. “Warm him up, not put him in the game, and then ask him to pitch maybe two innings later, that's really not good for him.
“I really was waiting for that opportunity to grab a lead and then throw him out there. That's what it was all about. There was no way he was pitching more than one, and that was pretty much it.”
Here’s how Davis – who unleashed 44 pitches to finish off the epic Thursday night/Friday morning clincher at Nationals Park – understood his pregame availability: “Help win the game whatever way we can.”
“I knew it was only going to be like a one-inning-type stint.”
Maddon sent Brian Duensing back out to begin a second inning against the Dodgers and watched the lefty reliever walk Yasiel Puig to lead off the ninth. After a sacrifice bunt and a Duensing strikeout, Maddon bet on Lackey’s Big-Boy-Game experience.
Lackey threw 27 pitches the day before and is 38 years old and has made only two regular-season relief appearances in a big-league career that began in 2002. Lackey walked Chris Taylor and watched his second pitch to Turner – a 92-mph fastball – soar out to center field and into the glove of a Dodger fan.
“You want to be in these games,” Lackey said. “It’s not typical the way I’m usually in ‘em, but still got to try to get the job done.”
Look, the Cubs bullpen is already in disorder and has no margin for error when the offense scores only one run and the Dodger relievers throw an eight-inning combined no-hitter in Games 1 and 2. But everything is magnified in October, when relievers become stars and all the decisions are dissected in real time on social media.
Davis never makes excuses and wouldn’t say that he’s still feeling the aftereffects from Washington.
“Everything’s pretty taxing in the playoffs,” Davis said. “It’s just part of it. You take the ball whenever they ask you to take the ball.”
Davis – who so rarely shows emotion – laughed when a reporter asked if he could go longer than three outs again.
“You guys love that question,” Davis said. “Like I said, we’re just trying to win games.”
After talking for 90-plus seconds about a game he didn’t play in, Davis nodded and said: “We’re good.”