Cubs skipper Maddon had to make some tough decisions in Game 3
SAN FRANCISCO — Big-voiced boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer started it off, which was kind of weird because this was not a ruuumble but a baseball game.
But maybe the hollering was appropriate for the event that followed.
Indeed, Game 3 of the National League Division Series featured two heavyweights — starting pitchers Madison Bumgarner for the Giants and Jake Arrieta for the Cubs. Beard vs. beard. Lefty vs. righty. Thirty-three regular-season wins between them.
Even the song blasting out of the P.A. before the first pitch from Bumgarner — ‘‘Fire on the Mountain’’ by the Marshall Tucker Band — was appropriate.
Because there was fire by the Bay, even if the distant mountains were obscured by evening fog.
“You rock and roll and try to make good decisions,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the game.
And Maddon had made a bunch of decisions that so far have worked out well, even if he said some have been ‘‘agonizing.’’ Not playing right fielder Jason Heyward against Bumgarner at the start — the lefty-lefty issue — was but one. Bringing in Pedro Strop for Arrieta to start the seventh inning was another.
How about bringing in Aroldis Chapman, the one-inning closer, with six outs to go? Or putting in Albert Almora Jr. in right field, where Heyward might have been, when that two-run triple by Conor Gillaspie went over Almora’s head?
Keeping the team focused and without fear or anxiety has been Maddon’s biggest success since the beginning.
“Game 165,’’ he said before this key matchup. ‘‘That’s all I want them to think about.’’
“There’s no panic there,’’ Cubs right-hander John Lackey said. ‘‘We have fun in the clubhouse, and when we get on the field, it’s time to work and be a professional. He trusts guys to be pros.’’
Thinking about Bumgarner, who left not looking at all like the star he is, one recalls again that intro song.
Bumgarner and the Marshall Tucker Band hail from the Carolinas, and the opening lyrics — ‘‘Moved my family away from my Carolina home/Had dreams about the West and started to roam’’ — pretty much describe the big lefty’s life and control issues Monday night.
Bumgarner, the onetime postseason master, walked a batter, hit a batter and gave up four hits in the first two innings alone. One of those hits was a line-drive three-run home run over the left-field wall by none other than Arrieta.
The big dude needed 101 pitches just to get out of the fourth inning. So much for being fired up by ‘‘gold in them hills’’ and ‘‘lightnin’ in the air.’’
So what we’re saying here is: Bring on the next round!
It can’t come soon enough because the quicker it arrives, the quicker the Cubs can slay all the ghosts of the last century or so.
“From Day 1, we have been talking about winning the World Series,’’ Lackey said. “That’s the goal. We want to be the last one standing, and that has not changed.’’
Why should it change?
In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated — with another jinx to be busted because the Cubs are on the cover — writer Ben Reiter states, “The Cubs appear to be the most unbeatable force ever to have entered baseball’s postseason.’’
As best I can tell, this is written without irony or levity or smirk. That is, it’s sincere.
If all of this is just one step after the other up the ladder to the very peak, well, then that’s how the postseason will go. The Cubs have talent everywhere, which is a nice thing.
It means the team can hope for success even when one of its MVP candidates, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, was batting .000 in the postseason. Other players must pick up the slack.
“It’s a good group of guys, too,’’ Lackey said. “So it’s a really fun atmosphere to be a part of.’’
The quest continues.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.