By the time Chris Denorfia jumped on the first pitch in the bottom of the 11th inning Monday night to hit the home run that beat the Kansas City Royals 1-0, rookie Kris Bryant had played four positions, second-year starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks had produced his best start of the second half and five Cubs relievers guys outpitched a Royals bullpen that last year made relief pitching the Next Big Thing in October baseball.
In the Cubs’ final regular-season game against a contender, the Cubs gave the home crowd a sip of October on a night they’ll get one chance — in their Oct. 7 wild-card game – to keep from becoming the final game played at Wrigley Field this season.
Denorfia’s no-doubt, line drive into the left-field bleachers off Miguel Almonte gave the Cubs their major-league leading13th walkoff victory of the season – most for a Cubs team since having the same number during their 1932 World Series season.
“We’re pretty good at relaxing,” Denorfia said, crediting manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff for creating a loose atmosphere in tense moments. “There’s just never any panic. When we’re on the fire, or on the coals, we’re not sweating. We’re ready to get the job done and just have a good at-bat or make good pitches.
“And that’s why we’re going to the postseason.”
Maddon said he plans to use the final week against the Reds and Brewers to a lot of bench players to get a better idea of what he has for decision time on playoff rosters.
Hendricks, who allowed just two hits in six innings, said he doesn’t know if he’s auditioning down the stretch for a starting role in the playoffs but got a big confidence boost from Monday.
Maddon said decisions on playoff rotations won’t be made in earnest until the Cubs get past the wild-card game and into a playoff series.