Even before the naked guy ran onto the field in the fifth inning Wednesday night, providing comic relief – and maybe the exhale some clenched-effort players needed – the simple change of scenery from cold, bitter Cincinnati to balmy, breezy South Beach might have come at just the right time.
Both manager Mike Quade and assistant GM Randy Bush talked about guys trying too hard and pressing to prop up the team’s wilting season as one of the Cubs’ biggest problems right now – both emphasizing the need for some of the veterans to “relax” and play like they’ve done in the past.
“This is a relaxed atmosphere,” said catcher Koyie Hill, who delivered three hits in a game for the first time since last August. “The beach, the palm trees, the good weather – just the whole atmosphere. It seems like it’s just a slower pace, seems like your mind slows down a little bit, and you kind of remember to live your life.”
Of course, the naked guy might have been the key on this night.
“Definitely the naked guy,” said Reed Johnson, whose two-run, pinch home run with two out in the sixth tied the game.
If nothing else, the opener of this week’s two-game series in Florida – against a team that trailed NL East-leading Philadelphia by a half-game entering play – offered the Cubs a welcome chance to laugh for the first time in since last week.
“The more fun you have, the better you’re going to play, and when you don’t play well, the easier it is to turn the page and move on to the next day,” Hill said. “I think it’s just as important, to remain calm – you see it in good teams. Even when they get behind, they don’t panic. They have a lot of confidence, their heads are up. If they don’t do the job, they’re going to get it done next time. But you’re giving your best effort. You give your best effort, you go home and can look yourself in the mirror.”
The Cubs are a long way from being that kind of team that is going to remind anyone of the Yankees or Phillies. They haven’t even put together three straight wins and they’re more than a quarter through the season.
And because they’re not a very good fielding team overall, they need relentless concentration, and they need to be able to beat teams with other areas of their game.
That’s a breeding ground for inconsistency, but if they can take advantage of mistakes like they did tonight and pitch well when they have their best pitchers on the mound, they have a chance to be fairly competitive into the summer months.
To that end, the new guy, little-known rookie Tony Campana, already has put a charge into things in two games off the bench. Tonight he pinch-ran for Alfonso Soriano and stole second on the first pitch, allowing Hill to then bunt him to third, which, in turn, gave him a chance to score on a slow bouncer to third.
“He’s energizing,” starter Ryan Dempster said.
“This is the way I see using him right now,” Quade said. “That’s the perfect situation. If we get Soriano on late in the game, why waste a bunt if we can steal a base. Then we can bunt him to third. He’s a real nice player. And more than just a fast runner – he can play.”