Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Cubs on verge of NLCS elimination after loss to Mets (w/video)

CHICAGO

It's time for even Joe Maddon to be worried.

Either that, or to be further deified.

Tuesday's 5-2 loss was the third straight for Maddon's Cubs in the National League Championship Series against the Mets, meaning getting to their first World Series since 1945 would now include being the second team to ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

"It's not going to be easy," Maddon said. "But, of course, it can be done."

Standing on the grass inside the Wrigley Field cathedral before Game 3, Maddon insisted losing the first two did not diminish the significance of playing this meaningful a game within the Friendly Confines.

"Just look at that scoreboard. There's 30 teams and we're one of four still left playing. That's pretty solid," he told the Tampa Bay Times.

"Driving in today, thinking it's been about one year ago (when he was hired), look where we are already. That's pretty impressive. That's not a concession speech. But where we're at right now, that's pretty darn impressive. We have a lot of work left to do, but you feel it. You can feel this place definitely has got its own soul and its own spirit."

That the Cubs have already won 101 games, due to the simultaneous arrival of several of their promising prospects and the hiring of Maddon after he opted out of his contract with the Rays, is an accomplishment, and one that has frenzied Chicago, with ticket prices pushing into four digits.

But Maddon's challenge now is to keep it from extinction, well aware the franchise lore is steeped in failure and fans fatalistic by nature.

He tried several of his usual "what, me worry?" tricks leading up to Tuesday's game. After Sunday's Game 2 loss, he blared the Rocky theme from his Citi Field office, referencing the effort of the boxer's comeback. He scheduled only a light, casual Monday workout to keep his Cubs their usual loose selves.

After driving his customized 1976 Dodge Tradesman van to Wrigley on Tuesday, his only change was to hang in the clubhouse a print of a photo he bought off eBay of Bauldie Moschetti, who ran the Boulder Collegians semi-pro team for which Maddon played and got signed from by the Angels.

"That's my own personal motivation," he said.

Otherwise, much as he did with the Rays, he made a point of not doing anything different no matter how dire the situation. "The moment you do, the players feel it," Maddon said. "They think something's wrong. There's really nothing wrong."

And he stayed in character after Tuesday's loss, saying the focus was simply winning tonight, the first of four one-game streaks.

• • •

With all that has gone wrong for the Cubs, from billy goats to black cats to Bartman, it looked as if they may have gotten a big break Tuesday when a ball lodged in the outfield ivy kept the Mets from adding at least a run in the sixth.

But sloppy defense and a lack of offense against Mets starter Jacob deGrom and friends doomed them.

The score was 2-2 through five, the Mets getting another homer from Daniel Murphy, his sixth of the postseason over his past five games, and the Cubs from Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, whom Maddon started because of "a decent opportunity" to go deep.

But the Mets went ahead with a good bounce in the sixth, when a third strike skipped away from Cubs catcher Miguel Montero for a wild pitch, making Yeonis Cespedes' steal of third count. They overcame the bad break when Wilmer Flores' sharply hit ball skidded by Soler but got stuck in the outfield ivy, limiting Michael Conforto, who scored easily, to third, where he was stranded. And they took advantage of some shaky Cubs defense on a slow roller to third and a fly ball to left to add two in the seventh.

• • •

Dave Martinez played on some bad Cubs teams during parts of four seasons on the north side of Chicago.

So, like Maddon, the former Rays bench coach has been overwhelmed by the reaction.

"The fans have always been here," Martinez said, sitting in the dugout. "It's always been a fun place to play. … My favorite place to play."

But, this, he admits, is different. "Because we're winning, no doubt."

"It's been unbelievable, it really has," Martinez said. "Anywhere you walk, you see Cubs T-shirts, Cubs hats, 'Go Cubs,' 'Let's Go Cubs,' banners flying, the W sign flying. To have that kind of fan support playing in this city, it's unbelievable."

• • •

Theo Epstein knows a little about busting curses.

He was GM of the 2004 Red Sox team that came back from the 3-0 deficit against the Yankees then won a World Series for the first time in 86 years. Now he is the architect of this Cubs team that is playing to end a Series drought that is even longer, dating to 1908.

"It feels really similar," Epstein said before Tuesday's game. "That feeling of walking around town and seeing how excited people are, that's really gratifying. That you played a small role in bringing that kind of excitement to people's lives is great."

• • •

If the reason the Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945 is the curse placed on them by Chicago bar owner Billy Sianis after being refused entry to Wrigley because he wanted to bring in his goat named Murphy, nephew Sam Sianis is willing to help.

Taking a break during a busy lunchtime Tuesday at his Billy Goat Tavern under Michigan Avenue, Sam Sianis said he is pulling for the Cubs to win it all.

And if having him out to Wrigley Field again — he has made numerous "curse-busting" visits — helps, he is ready for the call. "If they want me there, I'm willing," he said.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' success has been good for business at the bar, which is also known as the setting for the John Belushi Saturday Night Live "cheezborger, cheezborger" skit.

"Are you going to be around (today)?" asked Sam's son, Bill, who helps run the place. "We're going to have a goat here."

 
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