LOS ANGELES – The Cubs dutifully put on their little-kid onesies, said their goodbyes to Vin Scully and made their escape Sunday from Dodger Stadium, heading to what apparently was a private, and moody, pajama party on their flight home after losing 1-0 on a pair of eighth-inning mistakes.
Starting pitcher Jon Lester, who clearly wasn’t pleased about getting the arm-preserving hook after six scoreless innings, seemed in no mood for the team onesie picture as he left the clubhouse wearing an American flag-motif onesie, cowboy boots and a stern look on his face.
“You look like a [gosh darn] parachute,” teammate Anthony Rizzo told Lester as he exited, eliciting no response from the 14-start playoff veteran with two World Series rings.
The Cubs head home from a winning road swing west, their 14-game division lead intact as they open a seven-game homestand Monday against the Pirates.
But the mood was dampened by a series loss to the Dodgers that was a Kenley Janson blown save Friday from being a Dodger sweep. The second series loss in the three stops was at least a reminder that for all the fun of dress-up trips and late-summer days at the beach during this downhill ride into October, the road could turn treacherous and turn quickly in the fall.
“Look, it’s the 10th day on the road, two day games in a row,” said manager Joe Maddon, after a throwing error by pitcher Trevor Cahill and a mental mistake by Javy Baez led to Sunday’s lone run. “I’m not going to beat my guys up. I’m pleased with our effort. We had a winning road trip. And anytime you are upset with a winning road trip, then you’re really losing sight.
“They were tough losses, but I promise we’ll show up tomorrow. And even for our team [pajama] picture. And it’s still Onesies Night, so don’t miss that.”
But then Dodgers security acted swiftly in a hallway crackdown outside the clubhouse, banning media from taking photos or video — then throwing them out of the hallway altogether after only a few glimpses of players and staff trudging toward the bus, dressed for a party that few seemed eager to attend.
What about at least the playoff-like atmosphere of the series? What about the value to a team that might coast through September in getting a late-season face smack from a team in a tight race for a playoff spot?
“The majority of the guys in here have been in the playoffs,” said Lester, who was lifted for a pinch hitter with two out in the seventh. “It’s not anything new to guys. I don’t think that really matters.
“It’s kind of like we don’t really have to prep for anything anymore. These are situations now that guys are used to and just go play.”
The Cubs lost Sunday after young infielder Javy Baez “completely forgot” it was slow-running Adrian Gonzalez batting when he fielded a grounder at third with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth. He instinctively threw to second, where Ben Zobrist was playing too deep on a shift to beat the runner to the bag.
All involved chalked it up to a lesson learned.
Zobrist took responsibility, saying as the veteran player he should have made a point to communicate before the play.
Maddon said Baez “just misread the moment” and said: “This kid has as much instinct for the game as any player I’ve been around.”
Said Baez: “Obviously, you can’t do anything about it [afterward]. You just learn from it, and the next time just communicate better and get the out.”
Those kind of learning moments could be important in five or six weeks to less experienced Cubs such as Baez – and reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who entered with one out and the bases loaded and did his job (getting a pair of strikeouts around the would-be inning-ender).
What’s certain is that the Cubs have lost the only series they’ve played this season against the Giants, who come to town this week in wild-card playoff position. They’re 6-7 against another possible first-round playoff opponent in the Cardinals.
And if the Cubs face the Dodgers again this year, it’ll be in October when it counts. Against a veteran team with a vivid memory of beating the team with the best record in baseball in back-to-back one-run games after an extra-inning series opener. And it’ll likely be against a Dodger team that has just activated the best pitcher on the planet from the disabled list in three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
“If those guys get healthy, they’re going to be really tough to beat down the stretch,” Zobrist said.