Rozner: Maddon's power play sent Cubs skyrocketing

  • With three games left in the season, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has led his team to 94 wins and a spot in the playoffs.

    With three games left in the season, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has led his team to 94 wins and a spot in the playoffs. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/1/2015 7:24 PM

Joe Maddon raised a lot of eyebrows when he pulled Jason Hammel in the fifth inning of a game against the Giants on Aug. 6.

This was, after all, a veteran pitcher he was yanking with his starter on the verge of picking up a win. This was a guy Maddon knew from his time in Tampa. And it was a game in early August.

 

But Maddon wanted this particular game. The Cubs had walked out to an early 5-0 lead in the first game of what would be a crucial series between two teams fighting for a wild-card berth, and San Francisco entered the night with a half-game lead.

"I felt like I'd earned the right to kind of get out of that situation," Hammel said after the game. "It is what it is. He leveled with me. We're on the same page.

"I understand the magnitude of the situation and I don't want to make a big deal of it, but as a competitor I want to be out there and clean up my own mess."

Hammel handled it well, considering the circumstances, and considering what a lot of veteran starters might have done in that situation.

There are probably two dozen big league managers who would have been shown up by their pitchers on the mound that night, or at the very least after the game with postgame comments.

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Joe Maddon is not one of those managers.

On his side is his credibility, but as much as anything it's that he just began a five-year contract worth $25 million.

And that's the big difference.

Real power is having it and yet not having to use it, and Maddon doesn't have to throw his weight around and stare down a player on the mound or in the clubhouse.

Where do you think management would side if Maddon told those above him to get Hammel out of the clubhouse?

See, that's where the power is. In 90 percent of these situations, Maddon would have had to deal not just with that pitcher, but also with what that veteran pitcher would say to other pitchers and players in the dugout and in the clubhouse.

This isn't to suggest Hammel is one of those guys. Not at all. But this goes on every day in locker rooms around baseball. It's a distraction and an aggravation for those managers who don't have the power.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Maddon, on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about it. So he managed that game -- with two months left in the season -- as if it were the last week of September, never fearing the consequences.

"I didn't want to let them back into the game right there," Maddon said of yanking Hammel early. "I thought it was really important.

"It's been my experience that when you get to the playoffs, there's some really great work done in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings by relievers who don't get any credit for it."

You can treat early-August games like playoff games when you have the hammer, and Maddon did precisely that.

"You get off to such a quick lead," Maddon said. "To relinquish that and lose that game would've been a very difficult loss. We did not want to let it slip away tonight."

The Cubs won the game 5-4, moved ahead of the Giants, swept the four-game series, went on a nine-game win streak and never looked back.

Maddon decided the season was on the line in that inning that day. He sensed a potential turning point -- and he was right.

"That was really the moment I think that these guys understood how good they were and that we could really make the playoffs this year," Maddon said last weekend after the Cubs clinched a postseason berth. "We kind of stepped on the gas there and never let up after that."

It began on a night when so many managers would not have had the capital to spend on a single game, when so many managers would not have risked losing veteran pitchers with such a bold move.

But he wanted that game and had no fears of taking a stand, regardless of what his pitcher -- or catcher -- thought.

"I think Jason was still doing a good job," said catcher Kyle Schwarber. "I felt they were putting some good swings on some balls. The home run they hit wasn't a bad pitch. It was a good piece of hitting."

But Hammel quickly defused any hint of a problem.

"I would've liked to have worked through it," Hammel said. "I was able to talk to Joe and we're on the same page. Bottom line is we won the ballgame."

And won the series and cruised from there. It was a huge moment in what has become a remarkable season, but it's not a move a manager without control dares to make with a veteran pitcher and a young clubhouse not sure yet what to make of a big league confrontation.

Maddon can do it because he has full backing of the front office and the players know it.

He has that authority and doesn't even have to play the card.

That's real power.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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