The little things — and one gutsy call — that led to a ‘significant’ win for Cubs
There’s so much data and information in today’s game that sometimes it can almost seem overwhelming.
But there’s still an element of feel involved in the game — it’s what makes the sport so pure, so beautiful. You can’t always track it, but it’s what makes everything so unpredictable, so captivating.
Monday night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs showed a knack for the feel plays — those moments that can seem so minuscule, yet so crucial. Plays based on intuition — when everything is telling you one thing, having that sixth sense — “feel” — that’s the difference between winning and losing.
None were bigger than Nick Madrigal’s steal of third base with no outs in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game.
The moment doesn’t necessarily call for an aggressive baserunner to swipe third base. A simple bunt, something that pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart was trying to lay down, would suffice.
But Madrigal — pinch-running for Yan Gomes as the free runner to begin extra innings — had that hunch.
“I felt like in that situation, I thought [Mariners’ reliever Matt Brash] was locked into the hitter and just trying to be aggressive,” the pinch runner Madrigal said. “I had a feeling and went for it. Once I saw an inside move, I just was committed already.”
Madrigal’s surprise break for third caught Brash off guard. He rushed a throw to third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who was playing off the bag in a slight shift.
Madrigal wasn’t fazed.
He kept sprinting, evading a throw that had to be perfect — but wasn’t — and sliding in safely to third base. The winning run was now just 90 feet away for the Cubs.
“It’s a play where it might look like it was lucky and obviously it was not what we drew up, you don’t wanna get picked off,” his teammate Nico Hoerner said. “But so many people freeze in that moment. They get in the rundown, and it never works. But he just was committed to it, and he went for it, and it ended up working out.
“You attack the game and sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but he was committed to what he was doing and it worked out, so that was awesome.”
“I think [Madrigal] thought he was invisible there,” Gomes said. “I’m not sure we draw up that play like that. It worked out in our way. Sometimes that’s what happens playing here at Wrigley. Fans start screaming, guys turn around like ‘what’s happening?’ And the next thing you know, he’s sliding into third.”
Two batters later, Hoerner delivered the game-winning single, his first walk-off of his career and rewarding both that feel and aggressiveness.
“It felt significant to win that game,” Hoerner said. “Not just for obviously today’s win, but just to know you can beat good teams in close games, do the extra inning thing. All that stuff matters, I think. Just a nice win to have early in the season.”
The other intuitive play that led to that “significant” win came from the Cubs’ big free agent acquisition, shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Yes, the Cubs signed him to come through in the clutch and deliver big hits or produce slick plays at the game’s hardest defensive position.
But they also targeted him for that inkling that’s the difference between a hard-fought loss against a playoff team and a captivating, thrilling win that gives the Cubs belief they belong amongst that group.
In the top of the 8th inning, clinging to a 1-run lead, reliever Brad Boxberger allowed a leadoff double to Cooper Hummel. When JP Crawford came up to bat, Ross noticed Swanson.
“I just remember scanning the field and I saw Dansby about a pitch or two before, probably 2 pitches or 3 pitches before look at [third baseman Patrick Wisdom] and be like ‘Hey hard hit to me, I’m coming to you,’” Ross said.
Again, a feeling — and boy, was he right.
Crawford hit a 90-mph groundball straight to Swanson and just behind Hummel at second base. Hummel charged for third, but Swanson delivered a perfect strike to Wisdom, leaving Hummel with no shot and stymieing a would-be rally for Seattle.
“That play Dansby made to get the guy at third with no outs, it’s just not a play many people attempt and just a huge, game-changing type of play,” his double-play partner Hoerner said.
It’s those moments that easily are overlooked over the course of an oft-arduous, 162-game season. But they’re plays that add up. Do them enough and you’ll steal a few extra wins.
“That’s why that guy wins Gold Gloves and we fought so hard to get him,” Ross said of Swanson. “He’s just a winning player and those are type of — we talk about baseball players and winning players, those are the types of things that I don’t think go down in the scorebooks, but help you win ballgames. That was nice.”
Swiping a few extra wins and you can go from a just-missed-the-cut team to playing meaningful games in October when the lights are even brighter than they were Monday night at Wrigley Field.
“Getting off to a good start is for sure important for anybody. But at the same time, I feel like it’s important to understand what we’re building here,” Gomes said. “The second half went really well last year. We lose a series or we lose a couple games that look ugly, we can’t hang our hats on it. We got way too good of a team, way too good of a coaching staff, way too good of a fanbase that is behind us every single game to hang our hats.
“I feel like we’ve built a team that from top to bottom can really do this. We got a lot of experience here. When something happens, we got 10-15 guys that have done it already. We got a lot better things going on that we can turn to different things here.”