Things are looking up for Chicago Cubs
ST. LOUIS -- The longer the Chicago Cubs go in the playoffs, the more fun it should be, if for no other reason than to see what manager Joe Maddon pulls out of the arsenal.
On Saturday, it was the old safety squeeze.
Know this: Maddon is no fan of bunting. For the most part, the only bunting he wants to see is the red, white and blue stuff draped over the walls for the postseason.
But it was a pair of deftly placed safety squeezes -- along with some poor defense by the St. Louis Cardinals -- that enabled the Cubs to come away from Busch Stadium with a 6-3 victory to tie this best-of-five National League division series at one game apiece.
Game 3 is Monday at Wrigley Field, and the Cubs will have ace starter Jake Arrieta on the mound.
Now about that bunting. Maddon is one to eschew the sacrifice.
"I love that word, by the way," he said after I tossed it up to him.
But in the second inning, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks laid down a safety squeeze to score Austin Jackson. Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia threw the ball away for an error, allowing baserunner Miguel Montero to take third.
Lo and behold, No. 9 hitter Addison Russell bunted Montero home. The inning continued with Dexter Fowler hitting an RBI single and Jorge Soler crushing a 2-run homer to center.
"Yeah, there's some different things we've been working on," Maddon said. "It was set up perfectly. It was the pitcher, and then here comes Addy, who has done really a lot of good work, extra work, in regards to making that play happen for us.
"So the situation has to present itself before you can take advantage of it. It was there, and we took advantage of it."
The Cubs began working in earnest on their squeeze plays over the final weekend of the regular season in Milwaukee.
"I've got to be ready to bunt, and I've got to get those down," Hendricks said. "I haven't gotten some down this year. It's been a struggle for me, but I put in some work lately and luckily we got that down and forced them to make a mistake.
"In the postseason, like I've been saying, it's the details, the small things, getting bunts down, what have you, holding runners. We've been preparing. We know where we're going to be. Luckily we executed. We like to beat them with the bat and pitching and defense.
"That's the typical way we do it, but getting those bunts down, that's a big thing in the playoffs."
Even as the Cubs grew their lead to 6-1 in the third inning -- they chased Garcia after 2, with the Cardinals saying he left with a stomach virus -- Hendricks could not stay around long enough to qualify for the victory.
He gave up back-to-back home runs to Kelton Wong and pinch hitter Randal Grichuk in the fifth. Maddon brought in Travis Wood, who got the victory, with Trevor Cahill holding it and Hector Rondon getting the save.
"There were some nerves in the beginning, of course," said Hendricks, who fell behind 1-0 in the first inning on Matt Carpenter's leadoff homer. "If there's not nerves in this kind of situation, just a little bit, you're not playing for anything. You're no human.
"I was able to get ahead of Carpenter, which is what I was trying to do. I was trying to come out and attack, which I was happy with. I left that pitch up to him. After that I just said, 'You've got to get the ball down.' Get the ball down and make good pitches, and you can live with yourself."
The Cubs have won two of the three postseason games they've played, the wild-card victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Saturday's game.
They've done it without big guns Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting. Bryant is 0-for-8 with 3 strikeouts in the NLDS after going 0-for-3 with a walk against the Pirates. Rizzo is 0-for-6 with a walk against the Cardinals after he was 0-for-4 at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
"They haven't gotten a hit yet, but I know they're totally engaged in the game," Maddon said. "I thought KB had a great game tonight. The defense was spectacular. That play to his left, I think it was (against Jhonny) Peralta, when he kind of stumbled and got (Jason) Heyward at second, Heyward is a tremendous baserunner.
"So he was able to get the force play at second base. That was really big.
"I know they (Bryant and Rizzo) are going to hit. The thing is to keep this rolling long enough to get them back in the groove a little bit, but I have all the faith in the world in both of those guys. So honestly, I'm not concerned."
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