After trailing 4-0 in first, Cubs storm back, thrash Pirates 17-8
Maybe it takes a day like Friday to put the boss in a better mood and to have the ballplayers loosen up a little bit.
But, of course, none if it came easy for the Cubs.
Team president Theo Epstein admitted he might have gotten up on the wrong side of bed Thursday morning, when he went on the flagship radio station and uttered some pointed words that had the city buzzing about everything from the future of manager Joe Maddon to the leadoff hitter to the makeup of the roster.
The Cubs then went out and fell behind the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in the first inning, setting off restless murmurs through the crowd of 39,080 at Wrigley Field.
But they stormed back with 5 runs in the bottom of the first, five in the third and six in the fifth on the way to a 17-8 victory.
Epstein came out to talk with reporters on the field before the game. He said he wasn't being harsh in his comments and nor was he putting anybody on the spot.
"No, it was none of that," he said. "This time of year. We just played a pretty bad game (Wednesday at San Diego) and lost five out of six against teams we feel we should beat. West Coast trip, staying up late, getting up early for the first week back in school and having to do those stinking radio interviews (laughing).
"No, look, I think everyone around the team is frustrated because we're not doing what we need to do. I think we all feel like this is a team that should be winning. The players aren't happy with we're playing. Joe, the coaches, the front office, management, we all have different ways of expressing. But I don't believe in hiding the ball and saying everything is great when things aren't. I still believe in this group. I still think, most importantly, that we have a chance to write our own story here. Sometimes it's better late than never."
This has been a perplexing Cubs season to say the least. On paper, the team appears to have the best talent in the National League Central, but it trails the St. Louis Cardinals by 4 games in the division. The Cards throttled the Brewers 10-0 on Friday so the Cubs moved a game ahead of Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot.
Maddon also noted that the players looked "tight" and "uptight" during this week's disappointing four-game split at San Diego.
"I didn't like it (Thursday)," Maddon said. "You're playing in San Diego, which could have been the theater.
"You have to create your own energy. So I'm looking at all this, and I didn't like it. I felt uprightness from the entire group more than anything. To think people don't care or are not playing hard, I don't question that."
During his 15-minute session with reporters, Epstein said more than once that he is accountable for the state of the team, especially in the leadoff spot, where the Cubs have used 11 different players to start.
"You look up and it's an unacceptable level of performance out of the leadoff spot," he said. "That's on me, not anybody else. I'm just expressing that's not what we're all about. I'm not happy with it. It's something we certainly look to rectify.
"I have not seen any quit by any of the individual players. I don't see guys (saying), 'We can't get it done.' I see a team that can certainly play well down the stretch and change the script of the season. That's what we intend to do."
In Friday's game, the Cubs got home runs from Nicholas Castellanos, Willson Contreras and rookie Nico Hoerner in the first inning. It was Hoerner's Wrigley Field debut and his first major-league homer since he was called up from Class AA Tennessee earlier this week.
Anthony Rizzo, the current leadoff hitter, hit a grand slam in the third, well after Contreras led off with his second homer of the game.
The Pirates gave the Cubs a scare with 3 runs in top of the fifth, but the Cubs put it away with seven in the bottom half.
Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (13-10) lasted 5 innings, giving up 11 hits and 7 runs (4 earned), with the Cubs making 3 errors while he was on the mound.
"I think we're all trying too hard sometimes," Lester said. "Sometimes I'm guilty of it. I think everybody in that clubhouse is guilty of it. You want to win the game before the game is even played. That's part of the grind of playing 162 games. You get into those funks sometimes. I think a game like today can help guys loosen up a little bit."