The sharp grounder to first might have been a double-play ball the day before. Or even the inning before. Or a foul ball on another day.
But this time it banged off the bag and caromed down the right-field line, and Kyle Schwarber rumbled all the way to third for a three-run triple.
“We needed to have that one break,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We needed something like that to get us rolling in the right direction.”
Just like that, a 24-inning scoreless streak ended with a flurry of seventh-inning runs, and the Cubs were on their way to a 5-1 victory Monday over the Mariners — on their way to the kind of victory that’s sure to propel them on some kind of late-season rush of success.
Or nothing close to that.
Big win? Big loss.
That’s not how baseball usually works, and it’s definitely not how this team works this season. No matter what many fans on Twitter or media working the clubhouse seem to believe after every big comeback against the Giants, or late-inning win against the Athletics, or every walk-off basket shot by Schwarber against the Reds.
“I’m not going to proclaim anything,” Maddon said.
If the Cubs have learned anything after 137 games, it’s at least that much. The predictive value of any big emotional victory — or crushing loss, for that matter — is approximately zero.
They beat a very bad team after failing to score for six innings against a struggling rookie making his fourth career start and a reliever with a career 5.06 ERA — after his scoreless sixth.
Even after scoring five runs in the seventh, the Cubs have scored in just one inning since Friday.
Until the seventh, the highlight figured to be painful, as in Anthony Rizzo getting hit twice by pitches — the first one, his 138th HBP, breaking Frank Chance’s century-old record.
Cubs starting pitchers the last three games have a 2.30 ERA, allowing no more than two runs in those games, and are 0-2.
“I’m definitely not worried about [pitching wins], especially this time of the year,” said Kyle Hendricks, who gave up only three hits Monday, lowered his home ERA to 1.77 but was lifted in the sixth for a pinch hitter because of the need for offense with the Cubs trailing 1-0.
Maddon was asked before the game whether at this point in the season “what you see is what you get.” And he responded by saying yet again that he believes the team’s success will be found in better work at the plate.
The offense might get a boost with Ben Zobrist back in the lineup Tuesday and with the imminent return of All-Star catcher Willson Contreras from a hamstring injury. Also, Javy Baez was out Monday because of a jammed thumb.
But the Cubs seem to know they’re best served by ignoring the noise around their so-called “turnaround” wins and highlights.
With 25 games left, it’s hard to imagine they’re much more than “what you see.” And that might be good enough in a league fraught with parity and a division full of flawed teams.
The Cubs trail the Cardinals by three games in the National League Central and the Nationals by 3½ games for the top wild-card spot. They have a 2½-game lead over the Phillies for the second wild card.
Mostly, it doesn’t matter what the Cubs are. Or how they win. It’s how often they can avoid losses.
“We’re at a high today, but we’re facing Felix Hernandez tomorrow,” said Rizzo, who also seems to have evolved since he told teammates a crazy comeback win against the Giants was “season defining” less than two weeks ago.
“You [keep your head] down long enough, and hopefully when you look up, it’s a nice little streak.”