Expect history: Cubs plan on doing something special
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ST. LOUIS – If the back-to-back squeeze bunts and Jorge Soler’s big home run didn’t deliver enough of a message early in the Cubs’ 6-3 playoff victory over the Cardinals on Saturday night, first baseman Anthony Rizzo delivered another after the Game 2 win.
“We don’t plan on coming back here,” he said after the Cubs got five unearned runs in the second and enough pitching from Kyle Hendricks and the bullpen to even the best-of-five series 1-1.
“We want to do this now.”
The victory meant the Cubs stole home-field advantage as the series heads to Wrigley Field for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday – with the hottest pitcher on the planet, Jake Arrieta, starting Game 3 for the Cubs.
It also means this: If Rizzo is right, this would be the first Cubs team in history to clinch a postseason series at home – which would be the only postseason clincher in Chicago baseball history since the White Sox beat the Cubs at South Side Park to win the 1906 World Series.
“Well,” said Rizzo without flinching, “there’s never been a [Cubs] team like this before, with the way things have shifted.
“With all due respect to all the other teams – there’s been some real good ones – but we have something here that’s just something special.”
If the last two games are any indication, maybe Rizzo’s right. It wouldn’t be the first time for the first-baseman, who assured the public in January that the Cubs would win the NL Central this year (he gets half-credit for the 97-win season that would have won any of the five other divisions and was just three games behind the Cardinals).
After losing with their $155 million franchise game changer (Jon Lester) on the mound Friday, the Cubs scored three in the second on Saturday before getting the ball out of the infield twice in the inning – then capped the five-run inning with Jorge Soler’s two-run homer.
That’s the same Soler who hadn’t been in a starting lineup in the previous six games – who doubled, homered and walked twice from the No. 2 hole to make manager Joe Maddon look like a genius after ticking off much of the fan base by sitting Kyle Schwarber in favor of Soler.
“I was most impressed [Friday] with him running first to third on that base hit [in the ninth],” Maddon said, “and that kind of indicated to me he was ready to go.”
Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia’s upset stomach – and second-inning walk, throwing error and gopher ball – didn’t hurt the Cubs’ cause.
Neither did 4 1/3 scoreless innings from relievers Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill and Hector Rondon, to close out the Cubs’ seventh victory in their last 11 meetings against a team that beat the rookie-heavy Cubs eight of the first 10 this year.
“Maybe we were a little timid, a little scared coming in here early this year,” said Hendricks, who got knocked around here in May 5 loss – but who retired 14 of 15 after Matt Carpenter’s homer leading off the first.
“We’ve gelled so much as a team though,” Hendricks said. “We have so much confidence in our guys. We know we’re better than the teams we’re playing, and we need to go out there and show that, and beat them.”
To wit: rookie shortstop Addison Russell, who laid down the second safety squeeze for the go-ahead run in the second, then made the defensive play of the night with a diving snare of a short hop in the hole and quick leap and release to get Jhonny Peralta at first.
“The hype is up,” he said of this stage. “And I think we play into that. I think we like the intensity.”
And if nobody thinks they can do what other Cubs have not?
“The biggest thing for us is we don’t have to prove anyone wrong,” Rizzo said. “All we really need to do is prove ourselves right.”