A letdown after the Cubs’ monthlong climb from last place to first, culminating in an emotional sweep of the rival Cardinals that moved them into the National League Central lead?
‘‘Absolutely it can happen, and I’ve seen it happen,’’ manager Joe Maddon said even before a surreal ending and 6-5 loss Monday to the woebegone Marlins. ‘‘But I want to believe that right now, mentally, we’re ahead of that.’’
The rest of this four-game series might offer a more complete answer.
For now, an inexplicable loss that featured two blown leads and an inexplicable ninth-inning gaffe snapped the Cubs’ seven-game winning streak and dropped them back into second place in the NL Central.
‘‘Look how it happened,’’ said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose 200th career home run gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. ‘‘We got up 3-0 in the first inning, so any sign of a letdown was out the door right away.
‘‘We’re obviously aware that the Marlins aren’t great, but they’ve also been playing competitively. Tip your hat. They beat our closer. It’s not like we came out and laid an egg and played sloppy baseball.’’
As much anything, the Cubs’ first loss since April 26 might have served as a reminder on a 44-degree night of how much time remains in the long season — even for an October-tested team looking for a fifth playoff appearance in a row.
‘‘To do what we’ve done in the first place is not easy, and it’s almost equally tough to stay there,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘But the fact that you’ve been there before and you know the equation, the ingredients, it matters. It matters a lot.
‘‘You don’t all of a sudden make a comeback like we have and take that for granted and think it’s just going to stick because we did that. We know it’s going to require daily work.’’
The Cubs led 4-3 before Pedro Strop failed to retire a batter in the ninth, walking two before surrendering a single and a bases-loaded walk to force in the tying run.
That’s when left-hander Kyle Ryan took over. He quickly allowed the go-ahead run to score on a grounder, then got Martin Prado to chop a ball nearly over the mound for what should have been an easy out at the plate.
Ryan gloved the ball with a leap and immediately looked toward the plate, where baserunner Neil Walker was hung up more than halfway down the third-base line.
‘‘I checked him, seen him, and it ran through my mind and froze,’’ said Ryan, who then turned and threw to first.
Rizzo then threw to third for the final out of the inning, but not before Walker scored what proved to be the decisive run after Kris Bryant homered in the bottom of the inning.
Ryan said he was ‘‘a little upset’’ as he walked off the field.
‘‘Actually, I was very upset,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s going to take a little while [to digest].’’
It was the strangest moment of a strange game against the only team in the majors that entered play Monday with fewer than 10 victories.
The Cubs drew 10 walks but only one scored, thanks in large part to four sharply hit balls up the middle that were turned into double plays by the Marlins’ middle infield.
Even the personal milestone for Rizzo left him shaking his head.
‘‘It feels crazy,’’ said Rizzo, whose 200th homer was his 199th with the Cubs, putting him in sole possession of ninth place on the team’s all-time list. (Next up is ‘‘Swish’’ Nicholson with 205.)
‘‘Just a lot of healthy years that I pride myself in. I just want to keep playing at a high level for a long time.’’