The closer Bryce Harper and his dog Wrigley got to free agency in recent years, the warmer the reception the star outfielder seemed to get every time he came to town.
That lasted well into the winter on social media, with fans clamoring for spending on their perfect-fit hitter while a slow-moving market kept Harper unsigned into March — and while the Cubs kept saying they had no money for big upgrades.
“They were really nice last year because they wanted me,” Harper told a couple of Phillies beat reporters before the Cubs’ 8-4 victory over the Phillies on Wednesday night. “You know?
“They were nice to me, but now they’re back to not.”
Like they don’t need him anymore. Like they’ve got all the Bryants and Baezes, -Rizzos and Almoras and Contrerases they need.
Almost like team president Theo Epstein overreacted when he called the Cubs’ lineup “broken” last October?
“We’re just growing, as we expected,” said Javy Baez, who hit one of three homers in the battle between division-leading contenders. “And we’re learning from each other.”
So who needs Harper?
Cubs manager Joe Maddon won’t go that far. “It’s always good to have depth,” he said.
But if anything, it was relief pitching the Cubs needed during all that Harper love and clamoring for hitter spending.
What’s certain is that they didn’t need another slugger on this night, with Anthony Rizzo’s three-run homer in the third, -Albert Almora Jr.’s first career grand slam in the fifth and Baez’s solo shot in the seventh putting another quarter-mile of combined -distance on all those faded dreams of new hitters.
Bemoan the travails of the late-inning pitching and the recent struggles hitting with men in scoring position.
But with the victory, the Cubs are averaging a league-leading 5.4 runs per game.
And as they showed on this first summer-like night at Wrigley Field this year, they have enough firepower to outhit pitching problems — which might not be a recipe for long-term, consistent success (the bullpen still needs trade-deadline work).
But whatever extra juice has gotten into major-league baseballs — with MLB well on the way to setting another home-run record — this lineup might be built for the moment.
“This lineup’s always been a tremendous, tough lineup, and they always put up numbers,” said Cole Hamels, the beneficiary of the slugging when he struggled to get through four innings.
“It was just a matter of not having a healthy Kris Bryant [last year]. I mean, that guy’s an MVP player. If you’re looking at the big-time player that you want and need, he was already on the team.
“And you’ve got Javy that’s finally coming into his own and putting up MVP numbers. So you’ve got two guys that have that sort of caliber.”
Hamels went on to rattle off the names of almost every other player in the lineup
“They have the pieces,” he said.
And not just the power hitters.
Bryant, for instance, blooped a single to center just ahead of Rizzo’s mammoth blast to the top of the right-field video board to tie the score. Bryant has a team-leading 31 walks and a .404 on-base percentage.
Rizzo (.378 OBP) and Willson Contreras (.419) both drew walks ahead of Almora’s two-out line shot to center that knocked rookie Cole Irvin out of the game.
“We’re hitting homers,” Maddon said. “But the winning RBI [by Baez on Tuesday] night is a line drive oppo right down the right-field line. I love that part of it, also.”
The other beneficiary of all that production Wednesday was Tyler Chatwood (3-0), who took over for Hamels to start the fifth and pitched into the ninth, allowing only a walk, two singles and a solo homer by Andrew McCutchen.