Joe Maddon appreciates baseball’s little intricacies perhaps more than most, giving him opportunities to tinker with little things more than many of his major league managing counterparts would.
But it’s in those instances when Maddon’s mind begins to run wild, thinking through and acting on scenarios that more times than not have paid off for the Cubs this season.
So when Maddon found himself in what he refers to as a “National League moment” on Saturday against the Rangers with two runners on and the Cubs clinging to a one-run lead, he turned to Matt Szczur for the second straight day.
And like he had a day earlier, Szczur was inserted in the pitcher’s spot and came through with a two-out RBI single that notched the Cubs to a 3-1 win at Wrigley Field.
On Friday, Szczur delivered a two-run single as part of a five-run sixth inning after he hit for Cubs’ starter Kyle Hendricks. Saturday, starter Kyle Hendricks was on deck before Miguel Montero walked, putting runners on first and second after Jason Heyward reached on a fielder’s choice.
Decision-time for Maddon.
“It’s the fascinating part about the game in this league compared to the (American League) having to make decisions like that,” Maddon said. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it was wrong. You do what you think is the right thing to do in the moment.
“When Matty gets a hit, everybody’s happy. It was a great move. If he doesn’t get a hit, it was still the right thing to do. He’s come through the last couple days really big, giving us a little bit of a pad.”
Szczur came through after the Cubs had difficulty solving Rangers starter Yu Darvish, who made his first start since June 8 and who had been on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Darvish struck out five of the first six hitters he faced before the Cubs finally got to him in the third inning.
After Darvish walked Montero, Tommy La Stella singled for the Cubs’ first hit. Darvish struck out Kris Bryant, but Anthony Rizzo delivered a two-out, two-run double that gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
Hendricks (8-5) gave the Cubs their second straight solid outing by a starter. He surrendered only three hits and striking out seven and winning for the first time since June 4. After dropping six straight decisions, Hammel was effective against the Rangers before the Cubs added an insurance run in the sixth inning.
Adam Warren, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon combined for three hitless innings to preserve the win.
“I’m just going game by game, pitch by pitch and trusting the routine I’ve put together with some help,” Hammel said.
On Saturday, the help again came from the Cubs’ defense and bullpen. But it was Szczur who came through in a pinch after Maddon made the call to get him into the line-up.
“He’s been big all year,” Heyward said. “It’s tough to do that job – guys like him, La Stella, Javy (Baez) – people who don’t play every day but they give you their best every time. It’s not about the result with them. You just want to know that they’re going up trying and they really put the team first…it’s awesome to see it pay off.”
Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.