TELANDER: Cubs have Wrigley Field rocking again
Up went the ‘‘W’’ flag in center field. The fans at Wrigley Field stayed to watch it fly and to sing ‘‘Go, Cubs, Go’’ with Steve Goodman.
The tension in the park was thick all through the Cubs’ dramatic 2-1 comeback victory Monday against the Nationals. Everybody in the packed house knew that whoever won this game would be up 2-1 in the National League Division Series, needing only one more victory to move on to the NL Championship Series.
The Cubs can finish it with a victory Tuesday in Game 4 at Wrigley. The Nationals have to win Tuesday, then again Thursday in a possible Game 5 in Washington.
This was the kind of emotional victory that could propel the Cubs forward like a rocket booster. In its complex mix of defiant hope and latent fear, it recalled Game 5 of the World Series last season against the Indians at Wrigley.
The Cubs were down three games to one, and Games 6 and 7, if needed, would be in Cleveland. The fear, longing and fever of a fan base denied a championship for 108 years was palpable that night. Cubs fans were visibly crazed. I never had seen them like that, except perhaps during Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS — before the Bartman/Alou affair.
But this game was something. It was a masterpiece of pitching by Nationals starter Max Scherzer, but it didn’t matter. Neither did poor Kyle Schwarber’s two errors on Daniel Murphy’s tailing fly ball to left in the sixth inning, which led to the Nationals’ only run.
Even manager Joe Maddon’s decision to replace Cubs starter Jose Quintana with reliever Pedro Strop right after Schwarber’s bumble didn’t ruin things. I mean, what did Quintana have to do with the errors?
Quintana still was sailing. He struck out Bryce Harper and got Anthony Rendon to ground to third just before Schwarber’s Three Stooges routine.
But such is Maddon, always messing around, putting his finger in the pudding — and almost always coming out luckier than a five-leaf clover.
Strop immediately gave up an RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman, and we were left to wonder how Quintana could have done worse.
OK, forget the debates because this was a moment of tension relieved, of pure joy. Let’s get happier here.
Maddon’s decision to put in reliever Carl Edwards Jr. in the eighth — against almost the same lineup that lit him up in Game 2 on Saturday in Washington — was danger turned to genius. Edwards retired the side in order, even fanning Harper.
‘‘Bully for him,’’ Maddon said.
Shortstop Addison Russell was feeling good, too. His all-out dive for Michael Taylor’s hard grounder in the seventh and his laser-like throw to first was a thing of rare beauty and confidence.
‘‘I’ve been on the DL for a little bit this year, so I was incapable of making plays like that,’’ Russell said. ‘‘It feels good to know that I can just kind of go [all]-out on one play and make it.’’
And then Maddon called on seldom-used Leonys Martin to pinch-run for pinch hitter Tommy La Stella, who had walked, in the eighth. The move worked because Martin flew around third like a flung boomerang on Anthony Rizzo’s single and crossed the plate in a blur with the tiebreaking run.
‘‘They told me, ‘You go run for him,’ ’’ Martin said, smiling sheepishly. ‘‘I went to do my best. I tried to score, and it happened.’’
Mojo from Game 5 of the World Series last season?
‘‘I don’t think many games can compare to that moment,’’ Russell said. ‘‘But this one’s right up there.’’
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.