You go. We go.
The four words seem simplistic and yet, when it comes to how Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon describes the importance of Dexter Fowler’s leadoff role, the same collection of nine letters becomes even more meaningful.
You go. We go.
Each time Fowler went on Tuesday night, the Cubs followed his lead. From his leadoff triple in the first inning of the Cubs’ 3-2 victory over the Marlins to a pair of singles in his next two at-bats, Fowler was the pace-setter as the Cubs won for the sixth time in their last seven games.
“He is the engine of this machine,” said Cubs’ starter Jason Hammel, who won his career-best 11th game after allowing four hits over six shutout innings. “As he goes, we go.”
And on a night when Marlins’ starter Jose Fernandez limited anyone not named Dexter Fowler or Willson Contreras to only three hits, Fowler lived up to Maddon’s long-standing expectation.
Fowler scored the Cubs’ first two runs and drove in their third with a fifth-inning RBI single. The production was enough to sustain Hammel (11-5), who was effective despite only having command on his fastball while struggling with his off-speed offerings.
An early dose of run support made life easier for Hammel, who sees a noticeable difference in the Cubs’ production numbers when Fowler at the front of the equation.
“That’s been my job since I came up,” Fowler said. “You’re the leadoff guy and so you’re supposed to lead it off.”
The Marlins got to within 3-2 in the seventh inning off reliever Pedro Strop, whose throwing error on an attempted double play opened a door of opportunity. Strop allowed RBI singles to Adeiny Hechavarria and J.T. Realmuto before Travis Wood avoided any further damage when Chris Coghlan made a diving catch in shallow left field to cut the rally short.
Hector Rondon pitched a scoreless eighth inning before Aroldis Chapman notched his 22nd save of the season with a perfect ninth.
As effective as Hammel was, however, the spark Fowler and Contreras made at the top of lineup loomed large. Fowler went 3-for-4 while Contreras, who hit in the two-hole for the resting Kris Bryant, reached base with two singles, including one that came after Fowler’s triple.
As much as Contreras continues to improve both at the plate and behind it, the rookie catcher credited Fowler, who has reached base in 13 of his last 22 plate appearances over his last five games, when he has scored eight runs.
“When he plays at that level, he definitely picks everybody else up,” Maddon said. “It accelerates everybody else’s confidence hitting-wise (and) he’s a nuisance to the other team.”
As much of a pain in the backside as Fowler may be to opposing pitchers, he’s having just the opposite affect on those inside the Cubs’ clubhouse. If he continues to flourish at the top and ignites the rest of those hitting behind him, his influence at the top may be just the spark the Cubs need to make a long playoff run.
“It take pride in my job,” Fowler said. “I just get on base any way I can…and then let the big boys do their thing.”
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