THE CUBTOBER DIARY: The Pressure Point
CHICAGO – In a locker room jammed with tenured veterans, he’s the eager student taking in all the sights around him.
It’s made this postseason special for Jose Quintana, who is taking part in his first mid-and-late October baseball of his career after five playoff-less seasons with the White Sox. Everything is new, from the atmosphere to the stakes and even the pressure.
One observation that the pitcher has made about this new time of year is how his teammates handle it. Even with two elimination games in six days and another approaching on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, the team’s demeanor is surprisingly calm.
“I don’t see panic in them, in everybody. So everybody is happy,” said Quintana on Wednesday before the Cubs kept their season alive with a 3-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. “When we stay in the clubhouse, we try to joke a little bit, try to be more relaxed as we can, and just go to the field and play this game.”
Quintana will be the first to get things started in the Cubs’ elimination Game 5 contest against the Dodgers on Thursday, the first “win-or-go-home” start of his career. The pitcher got a bit of the pressure feel when he came into Game 5 of the National League Division Series in relief against the Nationals a week ago, but this figures to be quite a bit different.
“Just we talked a little bit and we said one game at a time, so that’s what we need to do now,” said Quintana. “Everybody feel great. Everybody’s happy around.”
Maybe that’s because the Cubs have less pressure than their opponents even as the face elimination? It’s a question that’s asked many times in postseasons of the past, where one team holds a major lead in a series with the opponent appearing all but out of the playoffs.
The Dodgers could be in that situation, considering they are trying to end a 29-year National League Pennant and World Series title drought. They’ve been to the playoffs 11 times since that 1988 championship and their failures have begun to pile up. Manager Dave Roberts is in a more unique situation having helped the Red Sox to the only comeback in MLB history from down 3-0 back in 2004.
Yet he’s not buying into the pressure being on his Dodgers just yet.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t say that the pressure is on us. I think that we’re in a pretty good spot. We’ve got our number one pitcher going tomorrow, and we’ve got two of the guys at the back end rested,” said Roberts if there pressure grows on the Dodgers after the Cubs’ Game 5 win. “But I can’t speak to their mindset, but I still like the position we’re in.”
Dealing with pressure has been one of the talking points for Joe Maddon over the past two seasons – telling his players to embrace it, but don’t let it get out of hand. Hence that philosophy remains the same, even as the team continues to fight for their playoff lives on Thursday.
I” never want us to use the word — I mean, pressure, like I said before, is a good word. So if they’re taking that word and channelling it in a proper direction, I’m all about it,” said Maddon. “If you’re taking that word and it’s going to cause you to clam up, not be yourself, go attempt different methods, I don’t like that word.
“But I love the word. I want there to be pressure. I want there to be a carrot at the end of the stick. I want all of that.”
So do his players, where it’s really on them or not.