Houston becomes focused Cubs’ latest home away from home
HOUSTON — They came from far and near, all riding the same blue wave of this-is-our-year. They rooted against the home team, chanted “M-V-P” at Kris Bryant and generally made spectacles of themselves, as has become their custom as the postseason draws near.
Cubs fans have taken over another opposing stadium, this one still technically belonging to the Astros — a playoff team in 2015 and right in the thick of the American League wild-card race a year later. The Astros are young, exciting and terrifically talented, but the Cubs are rock stars.
The blue wave drowns out everything else.
Even the Astros’ own general manager, Jeff Luhnow, got caught up in it before Friday’s 2-0 Cubs victory.
Luhnow got his MBA at Northwestern and lived for several years in Wrigleyville during the 1990s, a time during which he says he attended “hundreds” of Cubs games. Which is to say, he became a fan.
“Yes,” he said, “I think I will be watching very closely if the Cubs go all the way this year.”
Indeed, if they go all the way. What’s more fun than thinking and talking about that?
Ask Cubs fans what’s on their minds, and it’s the same stuff for everybody. The MVP, Cy Young and other awards. The postseason pitching rotation. The best one-through-eight lineup. The designated hitter spot, should the team advance to the World Series. Anticipation. Anxiety. Watch parties. Tickets.
You’d swear it’s already October.
Unless you talk to the Cubs themselves, that is. They’re trying — really trying — to keep their heads in the moment. Even with their cartoonishly large lead in the division and the essential guarantee of having the home-field edge through the National League playoffs, they’re fighting to avoid being sucked under by the blue wave that’s following them everywhere they go.
“A lot of that stuff,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, “we can just talk about later.”
Since he arrived in Chicago, manager Joe Maddon has reminded players often to slow their roll to a one-game-at-a-time pace. Some call that “coach-speak.” In the visitor’s dugout Friday, Maddon called it “sports psychobabble.”
It sounded so much better coming from him.
“It’s about today,” he said. “Today is the most important thing the rest of the season.
“It’s about every day. I’m not there with all the [postseason questions] yet. I think the trap is to be worried about things you don’t have to worry about yet. Once we’ve finally qualified for the playoffs, then we may start looking at things differently.”
Yes, the man whose team likely will clinch the N.L. Central with at least 15 games left to play said “finally.”
The Cubs entered this series coming off back-to-back defeats in Milwaukee. A less-consequential pair of games has never been played, but it didn’t sit right with a team that tries to be its best self every day.
“We weren’t happy about it,” Maddon said. “We weren’t happy at all.”
With one out to go in the bottom of the ninth Friday, the blue wave made itself heard. Cubs fans rose to their feet — undoubtedly, with October on their minds.
Several minutes later, nearly all traces of orange were gone from the stands. But the blue lingered. It isn’t going anywhere.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.