Shortstop Starlin Castro leaned back in his clubhouse chair, relaxing with a postgame beverage, smiling and talking with teammates, one leg propped on the chair at the next locker after the Cubs finished off a four-game sweep of the New York Mets on Thursday.
He looked up just in time to catch the eye of somebody working on the other side of the narrow clubhouse.
“What’s going on?” he said, with a nod, a slight pause and a smile that suddenly gave way to a split-second of earnestness.
“We’re good now.”
It really is that simple these days for the Cubs. And nobody in the room feels it deeper than the All-Star shortstop, who never experienced a meaningful game –never knew a winning record on a warm day — in five years of baseball in Chicago before this season.
“Party tonight!” catcher Miguel Montero yelled out, almost as soon as Castro was done with his thought, Montero getting the reaction – the all-eyes attention – he was looking for as he pulled on his sweatshirt, laughing, before heading out. “We’re going to party like rock stars!”
A light haze and faint smell of spilled beer still lingered from the Cubs’ latest dance-club victory celebration under the disco ball after Montero departed.
“Today’s celebration was nice,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, ice strapped to his thigh, one of the two spots he was hit by pitches during the 6-5, comeback victory. “We had a good one today.”
So good that manager Joe Maddon was still coughing, trying to clear his airway so he could talk, as he started his postgame media session.
“I’m just going to have to put my mask on before I walk through there,” he said, still trying to clear the rasp. “God, it’s every night. But I’ll take it. I’m not complaining.”
The National League-leading Mets brought the top-performing pitching staff in the majors to Wrigley Field this week, and the Cubs outpitched them in the sweep — even when Travis Wood’s 4 1/3-inning clunker Thursday is included.
The Cubs dragged a skid of seven losses in nine games into the series, much of it blamed on a battered bullpen, and they went on to win three of the four by one-run margins – the pen pitching 9 2/3 scoreless innings, with two wins, two saves and 13 strikeouts to just one walk (with back-to-back eight-inning starts by Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel giving a big lift to that process).
The Cubs came from behind to win the last two, including this one after Wood spotted the Mets a 5-1 lead in the fifth – including two solo homers by Anthony Recker and another by Wilmer Flores.
In three starts this month, Wood has allowed 15 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings with 10 of those runs coming on six homers.
But Maddon’s feel-good vibe even has Wood covered these days – the manager saying he’s not concerned about the left-hander and all but dismissing a possible change (lefty Tsuyoshi Wada pitched well in his final injury rehab start for AAA Iowa on Thursday and appears ready if called).
“His stuff is still really good,” said Maddon, whose concern with Wood seemed to extend only to getting him to set a better early tone. “I love this guy. He’s a great athlete. We’re still going to work on it.”
Nothing could spoil the 19-15, rock-and-roll mood on this day for these guys – many of whom were said to be heading to a function where Eddie Vedder figured to keep the rock-star thing going.
“This is a big series for us to sweep them,” said Rizzo, who singled home a run during the Cubs’ four-run fifth.
But don’t expect him to talk about things like heart, desire, vibe – not with 128 games left and just a week after the first-place team in their own division beat the Cubs three out of four in St. Louis.
“We just play baseball,” he said.