Zobrist is Cubs’ steady man in the middle

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Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist hits a run-scoring double against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning of Game 4 of baseball’s National League Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Ben Zobrist, as steady as they come, is the anchored, unshakable presence in the midst of all that rambunctious young Cubs talent.

Respected for his poise, needed for his bat, valued for his versatility in the field.

“He is Ben. And I love him for it,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Zobrist, 35, is situated in the middle of the clubhouse lineup, surrounded by lots of 20-somethings who watched and learned from him during his first tour with the Cubs.

“He’s just that veteran presence,’’ 32-year-old left-hander Jon Lester said. “He’s been around. And any time you have a ring in your back pocket, that’s a good thing to have with some of these young guys.’’

It was Zobrist who delivered the first big blow of the Cubs’ historic four-run ninth inning in San Francisco Tuesday night, an RBI double into the right field corner against Sergio Romo which cut the Giants lead to 5-3 and put the tying runs in scoring position. And, well, you know the rest.

The Cubs’ young All-Stars, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, started the rally. Budding stars Willson Contreras and Javier Baez finished it. In between, Zobrist linked them with the clutch blow that put the Giants on their heels and sent the Cubs to the NLCS for the second year in a row.

This will be the first for Zobrist, a World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals last season, as a Cub. Maddon says it’s great to have him this time around.

“He’s a metronome,’’ said Maddon, who managed Zobrist with the Tampa Bay Rays. ‘‘If you watch his work, it’s meticulous. Everything he does has a purpose to it, whether he’s working in the infield or in the outfield. He’s 35 and he works as though he’s 21. That’s just who he is. Great shape, takes care of himself extremely well.’’

Then there’s the influence, Maddon says, that Zobrist has on the rest of the lineup.

“His at-bats are what is most influential among the group,’’ Maddon said. “Not expanding his strike zone, never out of the at-bat, never giving away anything. I think for guys like Javy having a chance to watch him is very beneficial.’’

And it’s not hit and miss with Zobrist.

“He just does this every day,’’ Maddon said.

What’s more, Zobrist, who played 119 games and started in the All-Star Game at second base this season, is patrolling the outfield, where he played 46 games, which essentially allowed Baez to flourish at peak levels at second base this postseason.

“Javy is coming into his own,’’ Zobrist said. “He has to be on the field.’’

And Zobrist, who posted a .272/.386/.446 slash line with 18 homers, 31 doubles and 76 RBI, has to be in the lineup.

“That’s a hard thing to go from second to left to right, back to second,’’ Lester said.

“The biggest thing with Zo’ is just how consistent he is day in and day out. Never takes an at-bat off, no matter what the score is, what the situation is. Drawing walks and running the bases and all the little intangibles that get overlooked sometimes.’’

And the occasional big things, too, like that double in Game 4.

“I got in a good count with Romo to be able to hit a pitch like that to hit,’’ Zobrist said.

The Cubs bench erupted.

“The ninth inning is the toughest time to beat a team,’’ Zobrist said. “Just do your part and pass the baton to the next guy and put some pressure on them. We were confident, but you still have to execute. Coming back to win says a lot about our team.’’


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