Rozner: Cubs hang on, stay alive in NLCS

  • Cubs second baseman Javier Baez comes out for a curtain call after his home run in the fifth inning during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Oct, 18 2017, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Cubs survived a thriller in Game 4, hanging on to force a Game 5 at Wrigley Field Thursday night.

    Cubs second baseman Javier Baez comes out for a curtain call after his home run in the fifth inning during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Oct, 18 2017, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Cubs survived a thriller in Game 4, hanging on to force a Game 5 at Wrigley Field Thursday night. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/19/2017 12:35 AM

At least for a night, the Cubs looked like the Cubs again.

Willson Contreras blasted a monstrous home run that nearly cleared the videoboard in left to get them started and Javy Baez crushed a pair, while Jake Arrieta said his farewell with a strong performance as the Cubs stayed alive with their first victory of the NLCS.

 

The odds against them winning the next three are overwhelming at best, but they gave the Wrigley faithful a reason to cheer, and that they did, sending the Cubs off into the night with a reminder of what it feels like to play a good baseball game.

There haven't been many of those this postseason.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon wisely allowed Arrieta to go deep, throwing 111 pitches in 6⅔ innings before eventually going to closer Wade Davis, who survived somehow 2 innings and 48 pitches in the final 2 innings.

Davis is done for at least a few days, and the Cubs will have to patch something together in the bullpen if they're going to send the series back to Los Angeles.

Maddon was ejected for the second time in four games and Wrigley Field was never louder these past two games than when the umpires were booed in the top of the eighth.

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The 3-2 victory was far from easy, but then again, nothing about this season has been easy for the defending champs.

Not that anyone expected it to be.

There are many reasons baseball hasn't had a team go back-to-back in nearly two decades, not the least of which is the physical and mental fatigue that strikes every World Series champion.

It has made for a long 2017 campaign for the North Siders.

"You're always trying to define things," Maddon said. "It's easy to say something like World Series hangover. I finally thought about what that meant.

"It's that the adrenaline present to you in April and May is not the same adrenaline that's present to you in the latter part of the year, especially when you've come off something spectacular like our guys did the last two years.

"Prior to the all-star break, I could sense it. You can smell it. You can feel it. It's true. OK, so what's that mean? It means that our guys are somewhat fatigued from the end of last season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When you watch them, it's not familiar because they're not playing with that same mental energy that you're used to seeing. That's my definition."

Maddon sounded a little surprised, which is understandable after seeing nothing but energy from a young team the last two years.

It was also to be expected. History provides us with the evidence.

"When you come off something that wonderful, the adrenaline that you need to really be in the moment isn't as plentiful," Maddon said. "You have to create it somehow.

"You've got to stay in the running. You've got to stay in the race. So here's the all-star break. We're still behind Milwaukee significantly. And then post break, we catch some rest, and we play like we can.

"We start smelling it. You go to Milwaukee in September, and this really became familiar again. How we go about our business, the adrenaline rush, the mental energy, the focus, all that stuff came back to us.

"Whether you agree with that or not, it doesn't matter. Maybe my calculations are off, but this is what I think."

While Maddon may not be the best in-game strategist in baseball history, his strength is in managing a season, and he gave the players all the time they needed to find their rhythm, never needing to step on anyone to make it happen.

"So finally we got back to that point where these good baseball players, these young, good baseball players, are starting to really smell it, feel it, see it again," Maddon said. "All of a sudden you (look) more familiar."

In Game 4, it all looked very familiar.

brozner@dailyherald.com

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

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