Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson hasn’t seen enough of this new version of the Cubs to say with any conviction whether they’re for real, no matter how many times they beat his first-place team this week.
“The potential’s definitely there,” he said.
The Chicago-area native knows better than most in the game the history and scrutiny that follows each new incarnation of Cub teams with every year that passes in this second century without a championship.
As a three-time All-Star who played on a World Series team in Detroit and three playoff teams for the Yankees, Granderson also knows better than most the pitfalls, uncertainty, hype, hope and hard luck that are constant companions of even the best young teams and the most well-paid, star-studded ones.
Case in point Wednesday night: The best of the Mets’ stable of young, hard-throwing pitchers, Matt Harvey, stifled the Cubs on three hits for seven scoreless innings at Wrigley Field.
And the Cubs won 2-1 anyway, on the strength of eight impressive innings by overshadowed veteran Jason Hammel and a pair of late-inning runs against the Mets bullpen – the final run scoring on Chris Coghlan’s bases-loaded walk with one out in the ninth.
“There’s a great vibe in our dugout,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the Cubs’ fifth victory this season when trailing after seven (they won three of those all last year).
“They’re starting to believe.”
It gave the Cubs and their touted core of 25-and-under hitters victories in the first three games of a four-game series that concludes Thursday – despite the Mets starting three of their top 26-and-under pitching prodigies on those games.
“It’s just something we all dream about as a little kid,” said 21-year-old Cubs second baseman Addison Russell, who on his 23rd day in the majors doubled off Harvey in the sixth, then singled and scored the tying run against reliever Carlos Torres in the eighth. “Finally being able to face a guy like Harvey. I feel bless and thankful for that.”
Hammel looked like he was going to make it moot when a walk, single and hit batter loaded the bases in the first with one out. He pitched out of it, retiring 13 of the next 14.
“Obviously facing Harvey, it was going to be the first guy to blink,” said Hammel, whose leadoff single allowed to Granderson in the sixth turned into the Mets’ run on a Daniel Murphy double followed by a ground out. “I was actually the first guy to blink. But we battled back.”
The Cubs might be a year or more away from making a serious October run even if the projections and promise of Theo Epstein’s regime play out as planned.
Granderson’s been around too long to make predictions on that kind of thing, whether it involves one of his hometown teams, his current team or anyone else’s.
“The big thing is, one, you’ve got to hope everybody stays healthy,” he said. “That’s one thing that we can never control.
“And, two, hopefully everybody continues not to be content. There’s one thing of getting there and getting excited that I’ve made it. But then some people stop working at that point.
“Hopefully everybody continues to keep wanting to get better and say, `This is one point [on the path] of where I want to be over the course of my career, and hopefully I’m a little further [than] this point next year, and the year after that.’ “
Granderson should know. After his Tigers lost to the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series, his 2010 Yankees team won just one playoff series, and his ’11 and ’12 Yankee playoff teams were bounced in the division series.
This upstart Mets team with all the pitching, and the first-place standing in the N.L. East even after the losses, might be his last best shot.
“It’s a lot easier said than done,” he said.