LOS ANGELES — This wasn’t the plan.
Or, if the plan was to have the Cubs’ flight diverted because the wife of the next day’s starting pitcher needed medical attention, forcing the plane to sit on the tarmac for five hours in Albuquerque and the pitcher to stay with his wife in New Mexico before flying that night to Los Angeles, then it needs to go on the permanent record of whoever planned this for Jose Quintana.
So, no, conditions were not optimal for the Cubs left-hander as he stepped on the rubber for the first time Saturday evening at Dodgers Stadium.
Did we mention that manager Joe Maddon had called on Quintana in relief Thursday night in the Cubs’ Game 5 victory over the Nationals in their first-round series? It was only 12 pitches in the seventh inning, but still. Not optimal at all.
Worry. Possible fatigue. Anything else on the guy’s plate? Well, because you’re asking, his name was misspelled on the press-box score sheet for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. For the record, it’s not “Qunitana.’’
Despite all of that, he pitched well enough Saturday night. He gave up two runs and two hits in five innings in the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to the Dodgers. Although it won’t go down in franchise lore, it should be remembered for the focus Quintana was able to summon up in the face of unsettling circumstances.
The Cubs had been celebrating their National League Division Series victory over the Nationals, and the early Friday morning plane ride, Maddon said, was “raucous.’’ At some point during the flight, Quintana’s wife, Michelle, had a medical emergency, which he later said was “nerves, a little panic.’’ He went with her to an Albuquerque hospital, and they flew together to Los Angeles on Friday night, arriving at 10 p.m. It was 22 hours after the Cubs had left Nationals Park.
“She was having [heart palpitations],’’ he said. “She felt really bad. We tried to control the situation, but she said she felt so bad. So we stopped. She’s good now.’’
Much of what players do on a daily basis is determined by rigid routine. They’re creatures of habit, and change isn’t their friend. But when it was time to play Saturday, Quintana looked straight at the catcher’s mitt and didn’t see anything else. Locating that kind of focus isn’t easy.
He was brilliant through four innings, giving up just one hit. He also got a hit, a single to right, in his first at-bat. Some good fortune went his way, too, and you could say he was due. A fly ball to the farthest part of the park by Chris Taylor in the fourth was hauled in at the wall by Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr.
Trouble arrived in the fifth when Quintana walked consecutive batters. With a crowd of 54,289 roaring, Yasiel Puig ripped an RBI double to left center. Charlie Culberson followed with a sacrifice fly to left that brought in a run, tying the game 2-2.
And Quintana was done for the night. He said he wasn’t tired. Maddon said he was. Only one vote counted.
“I thought he had [had] it,’’ Maddon said. “Emotionally, he was pretty well drained at that point. The couple walks were indicators of that.’’
Weariness was a distinct possibility for all involved. The team finally landed at noon Los Angeles time Friday, after leaving Nationals Park at 2:30 a.m. Eastern time.
“Nobody complained,’’ Maddon said. “It was an empathic moment. Everybody understood what’s going on. As a human being, you’re concerned for other human beings.
“So I thought our guys were wonderful the way we handled the entire situation. . . . Q got his rest. We contacted him [Saturday]. He felt good about pitching.
“It was a human moment. We’re playing a game. When you’re dealing with human beings, human beings — people — take priority, I think. So I was really pleased with the way our group handled the situation.’’
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before Game 1 that there was “gamesmanship going on,’’ referring to the Cubs’ decision to wait until Saturday to name Quintana their starter. But Maddon said he wanted to hear from Quintana first that day before he made it official.
In Game 3 of the NLDS, Quintana gave up only two hits and no earned runs in 5 ‰ innings, striking out seven. That start was his postseason debut, and any questions about his readiness for a bigger stage seemed to be answered. It would have been nice to see him pitch longer.
He was more than game Saturday, pitching in a pressure-filled situation and somehow doing it with single-mindedness. Not easy at all.
“I can’t imagine how that went for him,’’ left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. “I’m glad everyone’s OK there. For him to come out and do what he did there, it was pretty big.’’
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