It’s here. It’s now.
The Cubs are on the clock to start the second half of the season, needing to heat up in a hurry before president of baseball operations Theo Epstein’s hammer comes down and busts up this lukewarm 2019 party. Time and the July 31 trade deadline wait for no man.
And right on cue comes the perfect foe: the Pirates. You remember the Pirates, don’t you? They embarrassed the Cubs in Pittsburgh just last week, taking three of four games. And they drew a line in the sand by repeatedly throwing inside at Cubs hitters.
A nine-game homestand begins Friday, with three against the team Joe Maddon has put on notice.
“If they keep pitching like that,” Maddon said at PNC Park, “a lot of [their hitters] are not going to like their pitching staff.”
Translation: Payback is a son of a gun.
It’s up. It’s in.
“I can’t wait,” Maddon said. “I cannot wait. I cannot wait.”
One almost gets the feeling he cannot wait.
Are Cubs pitchers — Yu Darvish starts Friday — about to go up-and-in to win? Pirates All-Star Josh Bell pondered the question in Cleveland, site of the Midsummer Classic.
“Yeah, probably so,” Bell said. “I feel like things have been tense with us and the Cubs since I got called up [in 2016]. It’s one of those rivalries that’s probably going to last for a long time.
“A series of, I’d say, unfortunate events unfolded last week, but nothing was intentional on our side. We’ll see what happens at their place. If we get hit, I guess we’ll cross that road whenever we get there.”
And if Maddon comes flying out of the dugout again, eager to get a piece of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle?
“Maddon was definitely animated,” Bell said with a laugh, “but I’m not even going to go there.”
A bigger question: Are Maddon’s players ready to kick tail and take names, too? Spilling out of the dugout for another round of tough-talking nonsense is one thing. Sweeping a pesky pseudo-rival is another.
Oh, and after the Pirates come the last-place Reds. You remember the Reds, don’t you? All they’ve done this season is win three straight series against the Cubs. And their herculean right fielder, Yasiel Puig, might have another bone to pick this time.
Not two weeks ago in Cincinnati, Cubs reliever Pedro Strop called Puig “stupid.” That may not have gone over too well with the big fella.
It’s nasty. It’s intense.
It’s starting Friday, ready or not.
White Sox fans, here’s a little taste of what Harold Baines’ speech might sound like at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony next Sunday in Cooperstown, New York.
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Baines, who turned 60 in March — where does the time go? — was asked whom he looked up to early in his career.
“Several guys,” he said. “Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk, Jerry Koosman. I’m a guy that looks to see what you do. If it works for me, then I’m going to try to mimic it. I’d say Carlton Fisk is probably one of the hardest-working baseball players I’ve seen wear a uniform, working before the game and after the game.’’
Also: “In the 22 years I played, I never had a teammate that I didn’t like.”
Not sure I buy that last line, but, hey, I’m in the newspaper business. We don’t go 22 minutes without wanting to strangle one another.
† A tip of the cap to the Sox for being so proactive with extending the protective netting at Guaranteed Rate Field that it’ll be ready to go — all the way to the foul poles — in time for their next home game July 22.
And to all the “what is this world coming to?” tough guys out there who are having trouble dealing with this development: Relax. Have a cream soda. Besides, the news isn’t all bad — now you can daydream in the stands about your high school baseball glory days without having to worry about getting knocked upside the noggin.
† The worst thing about Stan Bowman playing hot potato with so many first-round draft picks over the years? They were traded before we even got to find out if they could kick for the Bears.
† Bulls second-round pick Daniel Gafford sure looked good in Las Vegas, didn’t he? Two words, though, give me pause: “Summer League.” Actually, three words say it better: “Doug McDermott, 2014.”