MIAMI — It figured to be little more than a few hours of fresh fall air and a scenic view from a perch high in a tree in the woods of -Ontario, Canada.
Six-foot-5 Wade Davis and 6-9 Rays teammate Jeff Niemann weren’t even wearing camouflage that afternoon a few years ago.
“We’re like, ‘This is way too -obvious; we’re not going to see anything,’ ” Davis said.
Then they heard the snap of a stick.
“And I was like, ‘Oh, boy,’ ’’ Davis said. “ ‘I didn’t think this was really going to happen.’ ”
The rush of adrenaline was so sudden when the 350-pound black bear came into view that Davis noticed the video camera shaking when he focused it on the bear.
Also rushing back to him: Stories the locals had told the players about bears in this area climbing trees to go after hunters, knocking down tree stands.
“We only had two arrows,” Davis said. “And a camera.”
It took Davis one arrow.
And when his manager with the Rays heard the story the next day and saw the video, it was the last time the manager ever wondered if Davis could handle a hot late-inning jam in a baseball game.
“I took a lot of comfort in knowing that he could go eye to eye with a black bear in Toronto,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, reunited with Davis five years after turning him into a relief pitcher in Tampa Bay.
Davis, an All-Star closer for an underachieving Cubs team, doesn’t see that day in the woods having any relevant connection to anything he does in the ninth the way Maddon does.
“If he sees it as that, so be it,” said Davis, who nonetheless exudes a tough-guy swagger that makes for a serious intimidation factor when mixed with high-90s heat and command of two breaking pitches.
“He has kind of the John Smoltz mentality,” said Cubs teammate Jason Heyward, a former teammate of the hard-throwing Smoltz, who won a Cy Young Award as a starter and later became an All-Star closer.
“He knows what it takes to be a starter, and he knows how to use his pitches in certain situations, and he attacks the strike zone,” Heyward said. “It just gives him another -calming sense.”
With all due respect to Kenley Jansen, Davis might be the best closer in the National League, 16-for-16 in save chances with a 1.80 ERA.
Even more conspicuous is that he’s the only Cubs All-Star, 12 months after they had seven and eight months after they won the World Series — underscoring how bad the Cubs’ season has been.
The only reason the Cubs acquired him for the final year of his contract was to provide October-quality impact in the ninth for a team headed for another deep playoff run.
He certainly has done his part.
He said he’s not frustrated. In fact, no emotion of any kind is evident in his approach to the game.
“Baseball’s hard,” he said of the team’s struggles “We’ve just got to focus on one pitch at a time, whatever it is.”
It’s hard to imagine where this 43-45 team would be without Davis anchoring a bullpen that ranks among the best in baseball.
“The thing, too, that I’ve noticed a lot is he’s really smart,” said Mike Montgomery, who spent much of the season in the bullpen with Davis. “I talk to him about pitching. He has great stuff, but that’s really never the topic of conversation. It’s always how to use whatever you have, whether it’s your best stuff that day or just your average stuff. How to read hitters, and those kinds of conversations, which is more important than raw stuff.”
Davis downplays that role. “I always tell them I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said. “That’s what I lead with.”
He also didn’t know anything about bear hunting.
Maybe there’s something to the way Maddon sees the bear story as a parable.
“I always feel like you should be training your mind to be able to do different things, so nothing surprises you,” Davis said. “Like, there’s some ways to handle pressure situations.
“I’m trying to do that with everything.”
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