The Cubs are going to need some more hair after burning the heck out of what they had in a 17-8 victory Friday against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
‘‘I don’t want overpreparation, I don’t want more swing, I don’t want more information, I don’t want more audio, video, whatever,’’ manager Joe Maddon said heading into a 10-game homestand, the Cubs’ final and most important one of the season. ‘‘Just go play baseball. That’s all our guys need to do. Play hard.
‘‘Before you walk out there, set your hair on fire and see what happens.’’
With their playoff hopes on the line, their individual reputations at stake and their manager twisting in the wind with regard to his employment beyond 2019, the Cubs began a can’t-screw-up stretch against the Pirates, Reds and National League Central-leading Cardinals.
Especially in the aftermath of critical comments made Thursday by president Theo Epstein on 670-AM — he called the team’s play ‘‘uninspired’’ and ‘‘unacceptable’’ — the Cubs’ every move would be subject to scrutiny.
Epstein met with the media before the game and didn’t say anything that rose to the level of his earlier charge.
‘‘I have not seen any quit by any individual players,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t see guys who think we can’t get it done. I see a team that can certainly play really well down the stretch and change the script of the season.’’
After a gaffe-filled top of the first inning, however, it looked as though maybe this never-ending Cubs drama show should be canceled.
After starting the game with a single against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester, Kevin Newman was off with a 3-2 pitch to Bryan Reynolds that was called ball four. Catcher Willson Contreras fired to second anyway. It was well off the mark, allowing Newman to advance to third. Inexplicably, center fielder Albert Almora then made a wild throw back through the right side of the infield. With Contreras chasing the throw and no one covering home, Newman scored.
By the time the Pirates were done knocking Lester around some more, they led 4-0. But the Cubs answered mightily in the first, getting home runs from Nick Castellanos, Contreras and Nico Hoerner for a 5-4 lead.
After Contreras’ second homer and a grand slam by Anthony Rizzo, the score was 10-4 — in only the third inning. And the Cubs’ most explosive inning, a seven-run fifth, had yet to roll around. They finished the game with 16 hits. The 17 runs were a season high.
‘‘You know how hair smells when it’s on fire?’’ Maddon said. ‘‘That place stunk today. It was great.’’
Lester scrapped enough to make it through five innings for his 13th victory.
‘‘No matter how it looks, whatever the box score says, it doesn’t matter if a ‘W’ is next to the Cubbies’ name,’’ Lester said. ‘‘That’s all that matters, especially right now.’’
Maddon disagreed with Epstein’s assessment of the Cubs’ inspiration level, chalking up a disappointing 3-5 road trip to Milwaukee and San Diego to a team playing ‘‘tight.’’ He also brushed aside the topic of his future beyond the final year of his contract.
‘‘I feel so good about the body of work that we’ve done here that I can’t lament anything,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s nothing for me to worry about, be upset about, anything about. I think we’ve done pretty well.’’
They did well — and then some — in Game 1 of 10 on this homestand. It’ll take a lot more where that came from.