Hot like summer? Feels like fall. For the Cubs, it’s that time again
MILWAUKEE — Man, what a scorcher it was here Friday — hot enough to pull into a parking lot at Miller Park, dump a bag of brats directly onto the pavement and grill up a good time. No, it sure didn’t feel like the first day of fall.
I repeat: the first day of fall. How about that? If you’re anything like me, you hear those words every year and almost instantly are struck by the realization that the World Series is nigh. No matter how summer-like the weather is, the arrival of autumn — trumpeting the onset of the baseball postseason — must give ballplayers chills.
Wouldn’t you think?
“No, it doesn’t,” Cubs veteran Jason Heyward said. “The only thing it makes me feel is that it’s our last road trip. I love that. Otherwise, it’s just a date on the calendar.”
Well, that’s a rather uninspired way to look at it.
“No, no, it doesn’t,” two-time World Series winner Ben Zobrist echoed. “The weather makes me feel like it’s fall, when it starts to get cold. It has nothing to do with the actual date.”
Sheesh. That attitude sure isn’t going to write my column for me.
The first day of fall! It’s right where a tense game belongs — like Friday’s 5-4 victory over the Brewers in 10 innings. It’s the front door to the thrilling conclusions of pennant races and four blessed weeks of stressed-to-the-max playoff baseball. Players bring out the long sleeves, fans in the stands begin to see their breath, and there’s just nothing like the gravity of it all. Thursday was a fine day, but Friday was full of all that first-day-of-fall promise. A baseball lifer surely would agree.
“There’s a map on WeatherBug that indicates where the fall colors are showing up prominently,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And I think our area has been kind of fooled by the weather recently — [the leaves] aren’t turning. Pennsylvania is.”
There goes that conversation down the Joe-being-Joe rabbit hole.
Maybe the Cubs just aren’t as sentimental about this time of year as I am.
“It’s the first day of fall?” Albert Almora Jr. said. “I wouldn’t have had any idea if you hadn’t told me. That’s kind of cool.”
It is, isn’t it?
“I mean, not really from a baseball standpoint,” he said. “It’s just another day. The seasons don’t mean that much to me anyway. The winter is my summer.”
I don’t know what that even means. OK, I give up.
But the calendar has turned, and in this case I mean that metaphorically. In so many ways, as the first-place Cubs took on the second-place Brewers, it was visible that fall baseball had arrived. Cubs fall baseball, to be more precise.
It was visible in the way Javy Baez jumped over the dugout railing and played third-base coach, waving his right arm in a furious circle as Jon Jay scored on a third-inning bloop single by Kris Bryant.
And in the way second baseman Zobrist — a couple hours after admitting he’s playing hurt — chased a bloop off the bat of Domingo Santana 30 feet into the outfield grass to make a run-saving, over-the-shoulder catch, the 36-year-old’s best defensive play of the season.
“There’s no time for [injuries] right now,” Zobrist said. “It’s time to play these meaningful games and do what you can to help the team win. I’m ready to do that, whatever it means.”
After the play, it felt a lot like October, when Heyward, Jay, Baez, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber all mobbed Zobrist with congratulations before he got anywhere near the dugout.
In the fifth inning, after Zobrist’s single up the middle scored two runs, teammates in the dugout took turns imitating his one-of-a-kind stance and swing. They were all revved up and having a blast. It was a scene right out of last year’s division series against the Giants.
And you’d better believe it felt like fall Cubs baseball when Maddon walked to the mound and yanked starting pitcher John Lackey after four-plus innings and only 75 pitches. Too soon to go to Aroldis Chapman? Oh, that’s right, he isn’t around anymore.
But it’s that time again.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.