By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The sweet melody of Frank Sinatra’s famed “Sweet Home Chicago” played as Giants manager Bruce Bochy slowly strutted into Wrigley’s postgame media bunker late Saturday night.
It carried overjoyed Cubs fans into the North Side night after a 5-2 victory put their team ahead 2-0 in the National League Divisional Series. Cheers could be heard through the walls adjacent to Bochy’s right, drowning out the few words he could offer in defeat.
Bochy has won three world championships with the Giants. His team is now one more loss away from elimination, and he could hardly muster up any words.
“They were tough,” Bochy said with a dejected tone in his voice.
Frankly, there’s not much more he can say.
The Cubs were carried to 103 regular season victories and a dominating clinching of the NL Central title by the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.
But what makes this Cubs team special is that there seems to be a new hero each night. That’s the mark of a good team.
Game 1 on Friday brought Javier Baez blasting a ball into the wind that barely reached the basket in left field, the difference in a 1-0 victory. Saturday night at Wrigley Field continued the trend, with Hendricks hitting a two-run single in the second inning.
Hendricks would then leave the game after an Angel Pagan comebacker struck his forearm with two outs in the fourth inning. Wrigley Field began to worry as the Cubs’ Cy Young candidate was pulled from the game by manager Joe Maddon. In came left-hander Travis Wood.
When Theo Epstein took control of the Cubs’ baseball operations in 2011, one of his first moves was to trade veteran reliever Sean Marshall to the Reds for Wood, who started for three full seasons but was demoted to bullpen duty in 2015. Wood can be considered an unlikely hero in this playoff run, but he wouldn’t be the Cubs’ first.
After getting the final out of the fourth for Hendricks, Wood came to the plate and crushed the first pitch he saw 393 feet into the left-center field bleachers for a homer and the final tally in the 5-2 win. Wrigley Field went into a frenzy. The crowd remained on its feet, demanding Wood take a curtain call.
“It was a special moment for me personally,” Wood said.
Wrigley relished it, too.
Wood joined Kerry Wood in 2003 and Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 as the only Cubs pitchers to hit a postseason home run. He wants a piece of Madison Bumgarner in Game 3, a potential clincher for the Cubs.
In this Cubs season of so many memories, Wood was deserving of a major moment. Maddon credited his steady presence and upbeat demeanor as something on which the Cubs rely. When Hendricks had to leave the game, Wood was the ideal replacement. He’s able to come cold out of the bullpen and stabilize a potentially dangerous situation.
Pitching is just the beginning of Wood’s arsenal. During a game in late July, Maddon called upon Wood to play left field. He went into the ivy for an outstanding catch that helped set up a Cubs victory. Wood has nine career home runs, so his power isn’t anything new, but he’s never hit a ball on such a grand stage.
“Woody hitting a homer was part of the plan,” Maddon joked of his managing maneuver.
Following the victory, Maddon mentioned the Giants’ resiliency and credited their championship core. Winning three titles since 2010 is no fluke — San Francisco has seen some terrific teams. But a comeback against these Cubs isn’t likely.
The Cubs are the complete team, with the best rotation in baseball, a lineup stacked with All-Stars and a bullpen that can make every game short. Bochy and the Giants knew this coming in.
But who could account for Hendricks perfectly placing a two-run single in front of Hunter Pence or Wood hitting one halfway up the bleachers?
Bochy looked like he saw a ghost after the game.
Winning a World Series takes remarkable perseverance through the daunting October dance. Each series brings its own unique challenges. Getting past the Giants would be just the first step for the Cubs, who have been readying for their playoff push during a dominant regular season.
The Cubs have everything it takes to claim the crown — a complete lineup, stifling rotation and tenacious bullpen.
They also seem to have a new hero each night.