Cubs are riding the wave — and ready to surge to postseason glory
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CINCINNATI — In the top of the eighth inning Sunday, the many thousands of Cubs fans in attendance at Great American Ballpark banded together in sudden, undulating glory.
Like a blast from the past — say, 1984 or 1989 — they did the wave.
Not a bad little metaphor.
A Cubs team that had been just kind of drifting through the final days of the regular season came to life. Willson Contreras homered in the eighth to cut the Reds’ lead to 4-3. Then, a two-out rally in the ninth swelled with Matt Szczur’s two-run single and Miguel Montero’s towering two-run homer.
Whether or not the Cubs win the World Series, few will remember their 7-4 comeback victory in the regular-season finale. Yet there was something telling in that wave. Something meaningful.
Maybe it’s as simple as this: Everyone involved with the 2016 Cubs — loyal, long-suffering, daring-to-believe fans included — is ready to surge forward.
“We’re all together,” Montero said. “We all are one big family.”
The Cubs could get the Giants in the divisional round, beginning Friday at Wrigley Field. As poorly as San Francisco has played since the All-Star break — 29-42 — it’s still the organization that claimed the 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series titles. That’s an even-year trend that perhaps makes the Giants seem more dangerous than they actually are.
Or, the Cubs will dance again with the Mets. We all remember how the teams matched up in last season’s NLCS. Nothing wrong with a shot at payback.
Either opponent will do just fine.
“Yeah, we’re ready,” Anthony Rizzo said. “We’re ready to get going. … Especially at Wrigley, with the home-field advantage we have. It’s different playing at Wrigley. We’re going to enjoy it and we’ll be ready.”
Manager Joe Maddon will gather his players Tuesday in Chicago and deliver his message for the postseason. This one won’t be about embracing “targets” or not “sucking” or anything else that’s likely to turn into a silly t-shirt slogan. Come to think of it, forget that last part — Maddon turns everything into a silly t-shirt slogan.
Nevertheless: Maddon doesn’t have much left to tell his battle-tested, tough-willed, highly confident team.
“It’s not going to be a long meeting,” he said. “It’s primarily [that in] playoff baseball, things are going to go wrong — and how do you deal with it when things go wrong? I just want to remind them to be able to maintain our focus, maintain our methods, even if something goes awry.”
A few things have gone awry down the home stretch for the Cubs where their greatest strength — starting pitching — is concerned. First, Jake Arrieta’s final regular-season start went all wrong. Then Jon Lester whiffed badly on his chance at a 20th victory.
Sunday was Kyle Hendricks’ opportunity to finish with a flourish. Alas, though he entered the game with a 1.99 ERA — attempting to become the sixth major league starting pitcher in 20 years to go sub-2.00 for a season — he exited it having allowed more than three earned runs for the first time since May.
A meaningless game? Maybe. But then that wave came, and a comeback for victory No. 103.
“That’s what this team is all about — it’s a new [hero] every day,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to rely on that for our next 11 wins, hopefully.”
The wave carried into the visitors’ clubhouse, where players stormed Maddon’s office and doused him with water bottles. Champagne? Oh, no, not yet. Still, a lot of fun.
“They put cold water all over me,” Maddon said, the evidence under his feet, splashed across his desk, dripping down the wall behind him. “God dang, that’s cold.”
Cold. Wet. Delightful.
And ready to surge.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.