By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Baseball rarely is as it is supposed to be, no matter the amount of planning and preparation. It’s your turn only when decided by the order of things or the path of the ball, making it the randomized spectacle that it is this time of year, an individual game masquerading as a team game that sometimes affords only the illusion of control.
So one can excuse Cubs manager Joe Maddon if he’s a bit bewildered at the moment, trying to figure out what happened Saturday night and how. He referenced the late Gene Mauch after the Cubs’ 8-4 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, describing the advice he once received about a manager’s job as a time-traveler.
“Play the game three times – before, during and after,” Maddon said late Saturday. “Gene told me that many, many years ago. I will tomorrow, with my cup of coffee, large, a large Americano. I’ll sit there and go over this whole thing again and rehash it. But you have to play it before, you have to play it before it ever occurs. And then, of course, during the game, anything, anything goes. Your plans could get blown up.”
Whatever his plans were, they weren’t what that was. The win was more the product of some players who were almost not here being more present than ever at critical moments. Maddon could have played the game in his mind several hundred times before envisioning what actually occurred, as indeed anything went.
Dexter Fowler had the lead-off single and then scored the first run, added a home run in the eighth inning and had diving catches to steal hits in both the third and the fourth. He wasn’t expected to be on the team this season after setting out for a free agent payday, yet market circumstances eventually brought him back at the 11th hour in a surprise move. So of course he’s mattering now.
Miguel Montero was almost left off the roster for this series due to chronic back pain that has dogged the 33-year-old catcher for months. Just Friday, there were reports that he wouldn’t be able to participate in the series, with Montero telling WSCR’s Bruce Levine, “My back locked up in San Francisco.” He was better after receiving treatment and able to pinch hit Saturday night. What’s more, WSCR’s David Schuster tweeted late Saturday that Montero “was oh so close to being released two months ago.” So of course he hit a 402-foot grand slam with an exit velocity of 105.3 mph, his hardest-hit home run of the season.
Two players who could easily not have been there were there. And here we are.
And somewhere there’s Maddon, gazing into his Americano and trying to make sense of it, working to use it to inform what happens Sunday. If he means what he says about heeding his mentor’s guidance, it sounds like a lot of work for somebody in charge of a team doing what the Cubs have been doing already in the playoffs, having to play them all in his head over and over again. From the opening pitchers’ duel through the 13-inning disappointment in NLDS Game 3 and then the unforgettable Yom Kippur rally for Game 4, it can’t be easy to continually re-experience all of it while envisioning more.
Nor can we know just when one task ends and the other begins, finishing his job of going over the last before moving on to the next, while being confronted with so much clear evidence that there still may be little he can do.
Hope he is enjoying the Americano, but I understand why his office also has an always-stocked wine fridge.