MESA, Ariz. — The record-setting parade had been over for months and team president Theo Epstein’s record bender at least for weeks, and the Cubs’ championship trophy already had traveled enough miles on its victory tour to circle the globe.
But as right-hander Kyle Hendricks warmed up for a spring-training start just a few days ago, it was clear the fans weren’t ready to let it go.
‘‘Why’d they take you out?’’ they yelled at Hendricks, echoing a refrain he said he has heard every time somebody new has seen him since he was lifted with two outs in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, which the Cubs led 5-1 before having to sweat out extra innings in Cleveland.
‘‘It shouldn’t be ‘they’; it should be, ‘Why did ‘he’ take you out?’ ’’ said manager Joe Maddon, who isn’t sure the questions about and criticisms of his pitching moves in the final two games of the World Series (both victories) ever will go away completely.
‘‘It’s all good,’’ he said. ‘‘Ten years from now, 20, when that documentary is put together or that film, how fabulous will that be? I’ll be 82 years old, sitting in some futuristic IMAX. That’ll be awesome to see that, me walking out to the mound, played by some younger actor.’’
And they still will be booing, one Cubs beat reporter joked.
‘‘It’s great,’’ Maddon said, chuckling.
It certainly could be worse. If the result had gone the other way after the Indians’ Rajai Davis tied the score with his home run against closer Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning, then Steve Bartman, Leon Durham and the black cat might have had company.
Even as the Cubs were the feel-good story of the winter meetings in December, more than one official from rival teams said they winced for the likable Maddon when they saw his moves backfire.
Soon after, Chapman — who was gassed by Game 7 — criticized Maddon for wearing him out. And it took all of 20 minutes into spring training for Maddon to be asked again about all the heat he was taking for the pitching moves, despite the fact the Cubs won a World Series for the first time in 108 years.
Even Epstein admitted during an HBO ‘‘Real Sports’’ interview that aired two weeks ago that he questioned Maddon’s use of Chapman with a big lead in Game 6 in terms of what it might mean in Game 7.
‘‘In every cell of my body,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘But not every manager’s gonna get everything right. But you better have a reason for it. And Joe always has a good reason for it.’’
Of course, it’s easy to forget the overarching role Maddon played in the championship. It might not have happened at all without him because the Cubs might not have had the opportunity without him.
‘‘I think just the impact he’s had on me and this team, it’s very clear to see he obviously is at the top of his game, the top of his profession as a manager in this game,’’ said Hendricks, who admitted being chapped at the moment he was taken out of that game but came to understand more of the reasoning in the ensuing weeks and months.
‘‘There’s no one that can sit in that dugout and make the decisions in real time like he does. You’re never going to have someone that’s perfect; we all make mistakes. I leave pitches up in the zone, give up home runs. There’s always wiggle room. But for him, night in and night out, with the decisions that he makes, he puts his players in the best position possible to succeed, and that’s all we could ask for.’’
Love his dress-up trips and zoo-animal methods or hate them, Maddon is consistent and genuine. He also is obsessed with winning and is fearless. He installed Javy Baez as the starting second baseman for every postseason game last fall and benched $184 million right fielder Jason Heyward for lack of production.
As Epstein told HBO: ‘‘I didn’t agree with everything he did during the World Series, but I agreed with him as being the absolute right person to see us through all these ups and downs and get us to the end. And that’s what he did: He got us to the end.’’
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