BY TONI GINNETTI
For the Sun-Times
Keep it simple, and take it slow.
That is the message manager Joe Maddon is working to instill in his young Cubs team, which he believes is playoff-bound.
‘‘Right now, the biggest thing I’m looking for is our guys’ ability to not let the game speed up,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s why I talk sports psychology 101 all the time.
‘‘You can talk about sabermetrics all day long, [but] how did our guys react to the moment? How did they control their emotions? That’s what’s going to separate you, because talent-wise we’re as good as any group. That’s what permits you to play late in September and into October.
‘‘Once you get that ingrained in your club, it becomes part of your day. Kansas City has it.’’
Which is why the 2-1 victory in 11 innings Sunday against the Royals was so important to the Cubs. The win concluded a 2-3 homestand that featured the defending American League champs and the contending Washington Nationals.
‘‘That’s how you get better, playing teams that are considered very good,’’ Maddon said.
And playing them close, as the Cubs did in all five contests.
‘‘This was a tough homestand, and we were in each and every game,’’ said veteran catcher David Ross, who drove in the game-winning run with a bloop single. ‘‘Guys have confidence, and they don’t give up. That’s been a great thing to see and fun to be part of.’’
Ross has been part of five playoff teams, including one World -Series winner with the Boston Red Sox in 2013.
But even Anthony Rizzo, who is a young veteran of the recent futile Cubs years, sees the difference.
‘‘It’s big for us. We’ve been grinding as a team,’’ he said after going 2-for-5, including a triple. ‘‘I think we know if we get down early, you don’t give up. You keep grinding. Everyone is believing more.’’
Royals starter Yordano Ventura and Cubs lefty Tsuyoshi Wada had a scoreless duel going until the Royals scored once in the sixth. Wada (5⅔ innings, one run, two hits, four strikeouts) allowed a two-out walk before reliever Travis Wood gave up a walk and an RBI single to Alex Gordon.
Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan (3-for-4) tied it with a two-out single in the seventh.
Every Cub except the starting pitchers played a part, although -Jason Hammel was on deck to pinch-hit before Ross’s game-winner.
Wada lowered his ERA to 2.30 in his third start since returning from the disabled list.
After Wood gave up the RBI single, the rest of the bullpen held the Royals hitless over the final 5⅓ innings, with the victory going to Zac Rosscup (2-1).
‘‘We really needed this win,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’ve played better at home than our record [15-11] would say. It ends the homestand on an upswing and helps the confidence going on the road.’’
The victory also improved the team’s record in one-run games to 14-10, including 10 of 14 victories in May.
Playing close games can accelerate the learning curve.
‘‘It’s great for our development,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I love it. It’s the attitude of not giving up.
‘‘You have to love the fight. When you’re in the captain’s chair and have that kind of fight, what more can you ask for.’’