By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The improbable has become the expected for the upstart Cubs. Miguel Montero’s walk-off 10th-inning home run in a 3-2 win against the Brewers on Wednesday night is just the latest magic that has occurred for this electric group of players.READ MORE: Local Businesses Hope For Similar Outcome Of Shoppers For Small Business Saturday
Winners of six straight and 12 of their last 13 games, the Cubs have had a penchant for drama.
“I am used to close games,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after his team’s 11th walk-off win of this season. “Where I came from in the past, there was a lot of that. There were a lot of low-scoring games, one-run games. I come into the game on a nightly basis expecting it. You’re (the media) not privy to the dugout itself, how hard guys are constantly in the game, involved in the game. When you win these types of games, it really does help you get through (the dog days) and into September.”
Maddon has implemented the take-no-prisoners approach, which includes sometimes hurting the feelings of his own players if he has to make a gut move. For the second straight Jason Hammel start, Maddon took Hammel out with a lead in the early innings. With Chicago up 2-1 with two outs in the top of the sixth, Hammel was removed for a lefty-lefty matchup after throwing just 65 pitches. In his previous start, Hammel was shocked when taken out after four-plus innings and 75 pitches with a three-run lead. He’d walked the first two batters of the fifth inning in that start.
Maddon’s rules dictate that the moment, not the player’s feelings, dictates a move that could determine a win or loss. On Wednesday, it meant putting in left-hander Clayton Richard to face the lefty-swinging Adam Lind.
“I have said this before, this is not a 100-pitch exercise,” Maddon said. “Lind is coming up — I didn’t like it. I felt Clayton could get a groundball. It did not play that way, (but) we got the out.”
Maddon was ready for the wrath of Hammel after the game. And indeed, Hammel told reporters he was angry about getting pulled early.READ MORE: 'The WasteShed' Art Store, Selling Recycled Supplies For Less, Opens Second Location In Evanston
“I am certain he will be upset,” said Maddon, who just recently pulled another strong move in benching three-time All-Star Starlin Castro. “I expect him to be upset. I am happy he will be upset. All of that because he is such a competitive pitcher. From my perspective, where I am sitting, it’s not about being nice. It’s about trying to do the right thing at the right moment.”
Anthony Rizzo has set the tone for the Cubs all season with his determined, MVP-caliber play. He electrified the Wrigley Field crowd with three defensive gems Wednesday, highlighted by a leap off of the tarp and concrete seat railing and into the crowd to record an out in the sixth inning.
“That play has a contagious component to it,” Maddon said. “That was a great play, but I loved the throw to third base. (Rizzo also tossed out a runner at third base after a sacrifice by throwing behind him.) He practices that play, and there is an awareness component to that. All those things matter. Who knows what a runner on third base and one out would have led to.”
Montero’s walk-off home run was necessary after closer Hector Rondon’s wild pitch allowed the tying run to score in the ninth inning with two outs.
“I said it earlier in the year — right now the feeling in the clubhouse is we are pretty unbeatable,” Montero said. “We had the same type of feeling in Arizona in 2011. We would walk into the park and say, ‘You know what? We are going to win today.’ If we lose, we would say to each other, ‘How did that happen?'”
Rizzo believes this recent stretch has made the Cubs a confident group.
“These games (in the streak) have really helped us,” Rizzo said. “We have gotten into that strong mentality of, ‘We can do this.’ All year we have been grinding, and right now with this nice little run, everybody feels good about it.”MORE NEWS: Bond Set For Westchester Man Charged With Attempted Armed Burglary In Oak Brook
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.