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All is Well in the Windy City

November 9, 2016
Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

The Chicago Cubs outlasted the Cleveland Indians in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series and ended more than a lifetime of frustration for their fans. For the first time since 1908, the Cubs are World Champions. As this Series demonstrated, sometimes there is a very thin line between winning and losing; between celebrating championships and enduring long, cold winters; between Grady Little and Joe Maddon.

In the 2003 American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox were leading the New York Yankees 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 with their ace, Pedro Martinez, on mound. The Red Sox were trying to get to the World Series for the first time since Bill Buckner broke their hearts in 1986 and they had not won the World Series since 1918.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

After Nick Johnson popped out to start the inning, Derek Jeter doubled. Boston manager, Grady Little, did not panic; he stayed with his ace, which was understandable. A single by Bernie Williams made it a two-run game and Little stayed with Martinez. A double by Hideki Matsui put the tying runs in scoring position; Little stayed with Martinez. Finally, after Jorge Posada doubled to tie the score, Little decided that Martinez was finished.

The game remained tied until Aaron Boone ended it with a home run off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning. Boston fans were devastated and Little never managed another game for the Red Sox.

Joe Maddon may be riding high, but the only difference between Grady Little and Joe Maddon is that Maddon got away with his questionable management of the pitching staff.

Maddon’s mismanagement of the bullpen actually goes back to Game 6 of the Series. The Cubs were firing on all eight cylinders and led the Indians 7-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Mike Montgomery was pitching for the Cubs and he issued a one-out walk and a two-out single to put runners at first and second. Maddon brought in his closer, the flame-throwing lefty, Aroldis Chapman.

It seemed perplexing that Maddon decided to use Chapman in such a situation. Even if Maddon had left Montgomery in, or had gone to another reliever, and Francisco Lindor had hit a three-run homer, the Cubs still would have been up by two runs. Maddon then could have used Chapman if he felt the need.

Even with the five-run lead preserved, Chapman was right back out on the mound for the eighth inning. He got a strikeout and then gave up a single, but a double play quickly erased the threat. Even though the Cubs tacked on two more runs in the top of the ninth to expand their lead to seven, Maddon trotted Chapman back out to the mound to start the ninth inning; he walked the leadoff batter before departing.

Chapman pitched 2 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season, on Sunday, October 30. With the travel day on Monday and the blowout on Tuesday, Maddon could have had a well-rested Chapman to call upon early in Game 7. If the Indians had indeed made a game of it, Maddon then always could have gone to Chapman.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

In his postgame press conference on ESPN, Maddon defended his decision to go with Chapman. “I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly,” Maddon said. The game could have been lost right there? So there was a chance that Lindor was going to hit a six-run homer off Montgomery?

The Cubs took command of Game 7 and were up 6-3 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning with their ace, Jon Lester, on the mound pitching in relief. (I actually think Maddon lifted starter, Kyle Hendricks, too soon, but that’s another debate.) This is where things got a little dicey. After Jose Ramirez singled, Maddon decided to bring in Chapman.

Brandon Guyer greeted Chapman with a ringing double, Ramirez scored, and it was a two-run game. Then Rajai Davis hit a laser into the left-field stands and, just like that, the game was tied. Cubs fans could be forgiven if thoughts of, “Here we go again” suddenly danced in their heads.

Chapman gave up another hit before striking out Yan Gomes to end the inning. After the Cubs failed to score in the top of the ninth, Chapman retired the Indians in order in their half of the inning.

The Cubs waited out the rain and pulled out a win in extra innings, so all’s well that ends well. I don’t think the Cubs would have fired Maddon if the Indians had won the World Series. And I don’t think the Red Sox would have fired Grady Little had the Red Sox lost even if he had taken Pedro Martinez out of the game after Derek Jeter’s double.

Managers these days are expected to go to the bullpen at the first hint of the first sign of the first glimmer of trouble. Grady Little thumbed his nose at that philosophy and it cost him his job. Joe Maddon painted himself into a corner and lived to tell the tale.

Jason Heyward Saves the Day?

The morning after the Cubs won the World Series, Nancy Armour had an article in USA Today entitled “Jason Heyward’s speech spurs Cubs during Game 7 rain delay.” The article says that Heyward called his teammates together in a cramped weight room, gave them a pep talk, and told them to get back out there and win just one for the Gipper. Not really, but the article made it sound as if, without Heyward’s speech, the Cubs may not have won the World Series.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

I like Jason Heyward. I met him once during an Atlanta Braves Caravan during the off-season just before his rookie year. He was very polite, well mannered, and well spoken. He hit a home run in his first big-league at bat for the Braves and he is the best defensive outfielder in baseball today. Even though he failed to live up to his early promise while with Atlanta, I hated to see him go when the Braves traded him to St. Louis.

Heyward struggled all season long in the first year of his eight-year, $184 million contract; he hit just .230 with seven home runs and 49 runs batted. He was worse in the World Series, hitting just .150. I don’t believe a pep talk from Heyward made any difference in the outcome of the Series. To believe otherwise would mean that a bunch of professional athletes who won 103 regular-season games, took care of the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series needed a pep talk from their least productive player to get over the top.

It makes for a good story, and maybe the Cubs feel better about the first $23 million they paid Heyward, but I’m just not buying it.

(Statistics are from baseball-reference.com; game details are from retrosheet.org)

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