CHICAGO – After two emotion-charged, wind-blown, offense-starved contests on the North Side, the Cubs were in need of a major “Pick-Me-Up.”
Seventy-one years of waiting for a Fall Classic at Wrigley Field put a major energetic charge into the players and fans starting on Friday night. But a pair of losses was a gut punch to a team in search of their first World Series title since 1908, leaving them just a single loss from elimination.
Joe Maddon said before Thursday’s game that fans should be nervous with the season on the line and the unimaginable sight of the Indians celebrating a championship in the Friendly Confines just another bad game away from reality.
Maybe that’s the thought that crossed through the player’s head during a pressure filled, intensity fueled three hours and 27 minutes of baseball on Sunday night in a Game 5. With a such a special season on the verge of coming to an end, the Cubs simply weren’t going to let each other down.
“So you have to be able to punch and counter-punch all the time,” said Maddon of this elimination game. “We were able to do that tonight.”
Starting first on a most unusual pop fly near the Cleveland dugout in the second inning. David Ross crept over near the edge of the dugout and was going for the catch but misjudged it. When the catcher stretched back to his right, the ball bounced off his glove.
Luckily Anthony Rizzo, the man who started the “Grandpa Rossy” Social Media campaign to honor the catcher during his final year before retirement, managed to corral the ball for the out.
Oddly enough, it was Rizzo that Ross said was playing the “Rocky” theme before the game in the locker room and even mimicking some boxing moves to motivate his teammates.
“Played some speeches in here, some motivational stuff, ‘Little Giants,’ ‘That one time,'” said Rizzo of his pregame fire-up session. “You’ve got to keep it loose.”
Kris Bryant helped to do that in the fourth inning when the Cubs were trailing 1-0 on a homer allowed by starter Jon Lester to Jose Ramirez in the second inning. Dormant for most of the World Series – just 1-for-14 in the previous four games – Bryant picked up the team with a solo homer to left to tie the game at one.
“Not crazy sense of urgency, but certainly we want to get some runs there so that they’re not going to go to Miller and Allen with the lead there,” said Bryant of his at-bat, which came after another out in the 1st inning. ‘So for me I wasn’t going out there trying to hit a homer or anything of that. It was, have a good at-bat, and it’s nice that it went over the fence.”
It helped to motivate a pair of younger players that were struggling as well. Addison Russell (2-for 15 in four games) got an infield single later in the inning to give the Cubs a lead. Javier Baez (2-for-17, six strikeouts in four games) got an bunt single to keep the inning going for Ross, who hit a sacrifice fly to bring the eventual winning run to the plate.
“The thing is, you know, whenever we get people on base, and we don’t have any outs, and I would take some good approaches and some good at-bats in those situations and we get people on, I think that we’re a threat,” said Russell. “You look down the lineup, we’ve got people that can put up great at-bats through the whole lineup. If you put the ball in play, you have a better chance, obviously.
“I think tonight a lot of people’s approach was to just put the ball in play.”
Aroldis Chapman didn’t have that luxury when he came in quite early to try to bail out the Cubs’ bullpen in the 7th inning. Inheriting a runner on second from reliever Carl Edwards Jr., the closer delivered one of his longest and most clutch performances of his career.
Despite hitting a batter Chapman protected the Cubs’ one-run lead with a pair of outs in the inning. Rajai Davis reached in the 8th and proceeded to steal two bases, but the left-hander was unfazed as he fanned Francisco Lindor to end another scoreless inning.
Those worried about Maddon’s decision to try to have Chapman save his first game starting in the 7th inning since 2012 had little to fear. The closer bailed out his manager of criticism and saved the season with a 1-2-3 inning that included a game-ending strikeout of Ramirez.
“He asked if I could be ready possibly to come into the 7th inning, and obviously I told him, “I’m ready. I’m ready to go,'” said Chapman of the long outing. “And whatever he needs me to do or how long he needs me to pitch for, I’m ready for it.”
Keeping up the theme of the evening for the Cubs, who picked each other up for their first World Series win at Wrigley Field in 71 years and 22 days.
While the Cubs like their dance music to blare after victories, ‘Lean on Me’ might be appropriate for a team that helped each other to keep a once in a lifetime season going for at least one more game.