Anybody looking for a Cub to offer deep thoughts on his team’s season before the “big boy games” start in the fall probably should talk to somebody besides John Lackey.
The greater meaning of the Cubs’ strong start to the second half? The fair expectations for this team after a 7-1 homestand, with 55 games left on the schedule?
“Fair expectations?” Lackey said incredulously. “We’re trying to win a World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut.”
Lackey’s personal grooming schedule notwithstanding, the Cubs’ second-half resurgence is starting to take on a look of that 25-6 start to the season – if not the 45-18 finish to last season.
When an unlikely ninth-inning comeback Wednesday culminated in a wild pitch that sent home the winning run in a 5-4 victory over the Miami Marlins, the Cubs had their second walk-off win in four days, a series sweep of a potential playoff opponent and a 9 1/2 –game lead in the division, pending the Cardinals’ night game.
It was just the third walk-off win of the season for the Cubs, who improved to 15-16 in one-run games with their third during this four-game win streak.
“It’s a good way to finish the homestand,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was intentionally walked in the ninth to load the bases just ahead of Ben Zobrist’s game-tying walk with two out against Marlins closer A.J. Ramos. “We haven’t really done this much all year. We did it a lot last year but not this year.
“I hope this is a sign of things to come.”
If it is, it could look a lot like what came during last year’s big finish, which started at the same point in the season as this 7-1 surge did.
“It’s August and we know that we only have pretty much a sprint left instead of the marathon to get to the playoffs,” said Rizzo, whose club finished July by coming back from a 6-0 deficit Sunday to score three in the ninth to tie the game – that run scoring on a wild pitch – then win in the 12th on a walk-off bunt by pinch-hitting pitcher Jon Lester.
“Those kind of crazy games can roll over into some positive energy,” said Lackey, who allowed three runs in seven innings Wednesday – just one run until former teammate Jeff Mathis’ two-run, go-ahead homer in the seventh.
Miguel Montero, who has shown recent signs of stirring from his struggles this season, opened the ninth with a double, followed by a Javy Baez single and walk by pinch-hitter Matt Szczur to load the bases.
Dexter Fowler made it a one-run game with a sacrifice fly – both runners moving up as right fielder Giancarlo Stanton dropped the ball after the catch. After Kris Bryant was called out on 3-2 pitch that looked suspiciously like a ball, Rizzo was intentionally walked to set the stage for Zobrist’s walk and Ramos’ wild outside pitch to rookie Willson Contreras.
“All good teams have to believe that when they’re down late in the game they can come back and win games,” said Zobrist, whose ill-advised sacrifice bunt with two on and nobody out in the eighth (trailing 4-2) wound up lost in the celebration of the ninth-inning finish. “And this series was huge for us to be able to believe that for ourselves and see it play out a little bit. “
Especially when the Cubs failed to add on to the run they scored in the eighth after Zobrist’s bunt on a 3-2 pitch, which he said he felt more comfortable doing than taking his chances on hitting a Fernando Rodney changeup he had trouble seeing. Contreras struck out, and Jason Heyward grounded out to end that threat.
Not that it mattered by the time the Cubs boarded their charter Wednesday night for this weekend’s series in Oakland – with nobody in apparent need of a haircut.
“I came here for jewelry,” Lackey said.