After a meltdown in September last season, change was on the horizon for the Cubs.
They fired Joe Maddon and hired David Ross, and amid an offseason of speculation regarding the roster, they hoped the change in direction was the shock to the system the team needed.
No one could have foreseen when Ross took the job that he would not only have to guide his new club after two disappointing finishes, but also through a global pandemic in an odd, shortened regular season.
There will be no September disappointment this season as the Cubs clinched a postseason berth, despite their 3-2 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday, with the Phillies’ loss to the Nationals.
“I’m thankful for the group,” Ross said. “I’m thankful for the support of my coaches, the front office. It’s very rewarding for that group in there that’s put in the hard work in a unique atmosphere and with the challenges that have arisen this season. It makes me really proud of those guys.”
It looked like the Cubs would have to wait till Wednesday to get their ticket to October punched as Pirates starter Steven Brault baffled the offense all night, tossing seven scoreless innings on two hits before giving way to the bullpen with a 2-0 lead.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo tied the score in the eighth inning as he took a 2-0 slider that was out of the strike zone and hooked it down the right-field line for a two-run homer to tie the game at 2.
The Pirates would come back to win on Jacob Stallings’ walk-off home run off Andrew Chafin in the ninth inning.
“It feels great, it feels good. And when you get to playoff baseball, and you get to October, it’s a whole different beast,” Rizzo said. “It’s a different game. It’s a different vibe.
“We’ll see how it is this year. We’ve been to the playoffs. A lot of these guys, our group has been to the playoffs. And we’ve gone deep and obviously we won one, but we’ve gone to that [National League Championship Series] three times. And, you know, it takes everyone to win in the playoffs.”
The Cubs got a boost from left-hander Jose Quintana, who made his first start of the season. And while his outing was brief, he was able to throw 34 pitches before giving way to Adbert Alzolay.
Quintana allowed one earned run and two hits in his two innings.
Alzolay had electric stuff in relief of Quintana. The young right-hander struck out seven in four innings with the help of his slider, which he developed at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend. He also allowed one run and two hits.
Alzolay and Quintana could be postseason weapons for the Cubs out of the bullpen or in a tandem-start capacity.
“Whatever role I can help this team win a World Series, I’m down for that,” Alzolay said.
Ross became the seventh Cubs skipper since 1903 to take the team to the postseason in his first year as manager, but he didn’t want the credit for what his club has accomplished in 2020. He had plenty of people to thank for the team’s success in a wild, unprecedented season.
“I wouldn’t . . . we wouldn’t be here without those guys on my coaching staff,’’ Ross said. ‘‘I don’t think those guys get enough love. There’s a lot of people helping me out and overcoming my mistakes and my shortcomings in my first year as a manager. . . . I definitely have played my part, as well, but it’s an organizational effort.”