Rick Renteria returned to Wrigley Field last season to face the team that gave him his first managerial job and then a gut-punch 11 months later.
Beating the Cubs on July 24 was extra special for Renteria. It was also obvious to his players.
“Yeah, Ricky was pretty pumped up when we beat them,’’ said right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who pitched 7⅓ innings of one-run ball in the 3-1 victory. “He came to me and gave me a big hug. He was happy we beat the Cubs that day.’’
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It’s not in Renteria’s nature to be spiteful, and his reaction to being let go in favor of Joe Maddon after a 73-win season in 2014 as Cubs manager — a year of work that received high praise from team president Theo Epstein — has been a demonstration in class. His reaction to winning that day, as demonstrative as it might have been behind close doors, remains guarded.
“If I showed emotion that day … it’s more the natural rivalry between the White Sox and Cubs,’’ Renteria said Wednesday. “It’s fun. Everybody has one rival — the Mets and Yankees, Dodgers and Giants, and it’s the White Sox and Cubs. It’s a crosstown rivalry that gives the whole city a lot of energy.’’
Renteria sure sounds sincere when he says he harbors no ill feelings.
“I do not,’’ he said. “I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a kick to the gut. But that’s a natural response of a human being reacting to something you didn’t anticipate. I kept quiet, and it was appropriate to stay quiet because you control the things you can control. You have to let that go as quickly as possible because like life, you have to move on. It serves me no purpose to harbor ill will or animosity. None. And it’s wasted energy.’’
That win against the Cubs snapped a nine-game losing streak, but the Sox would lose five straight after that, including three to the Cubs.
The rebuilding Sox visit the North Siders this weekend under similar circumstances with a horrible 9-25 record after a 6-5 loss Wednesday to the Pirates in which closer Nate Jones blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning. Talk about a kick to the gut.
Worse yet, the Sox face the Cubs at less than full strength, with second baseman Yoan Moncada, All-Star right fielder Avisail Garcia, Gonzalez and Carlos Rodon on the disabled list and left fielder and recent cleanup hitter Nicky Delmonico day-to-day with a sore quad.
Maddon’s Cubs, who have played in three National League Championship Series and won a World Series since Renteria left, appear to be warming up after a sluggish start. Cubs fans are thinking three-game sweep, while Sox fans are probably bracing for the worst.
“We know the fans expect us to go out and give it our best shot and come out with a victory,’’ Renteria said.
Renteria is a hard worker who will get to the park early Friday, as he always does, and try to find a way to win. But not just because it’s the Cubs, to whom he remains grateful.
“That was the beginning of my managing career,’’ Renteria said of 2014. “You cannot thank them enough for the opportunity, and it led to another one. They’ve always been very gracious. They sent flowers for my mom [who passed away recently]. I don’t know what doors would have opened or hadn’t opened because of them.’’