CHICAGO – Albert Almora Jr. was a run-saver Thursday for the Cubs in their 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
Almora twice robbed the Dodgers’ Corey Seager, leaping at the center-field wall in the first inning to make a catch and then running back toward the wall and catching Seager’s drive to end the third and leave a runner stranded at second base.
“The thing that I talk to our guys (about), and I think I’ve said it before, it’s the only game where the defense has the baseball, so we need to dictate the action,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You need to make the routine plays, absolutely, but whenever you can make the little bit better than routine, when you can catch line drives because of positioning or just athleticism, it totally deflates the other side.
“That’s almost like hitting a home run or getting a bases-loaded double regarding the energy that’s created in your dugout. We feed off our defense. We absolutely do. When we make a good play, the whole bench goes nuts. Guys come off the bench.”
Almora’s defense always has been a part of his game, even back to when the Cubs took him in the first round of the 2012 draft.
“I think of it like this: If we made a T-shirt for [defense] it’s pretty big,” Almora said.
One of the shirts made up by Maddon reads “D-peat,” meaning that if the Cubs are going to repeat as world champions, the defense will get it done.
“We make T-shirts, and we say things that are really valuable to our team, and I think defense is one of them,” Almora said. “And we take pride in that.”
The defense made a winner of starting pitcher Brett Anderson, who labored through five innings to get his first win as a Cub against no losses.
“I think I owe Almora my paycheck for the day,” said Anderson, who called his outing a “grind” because he didn’t have his best stuff. “He made two web gems. … Today was one of those days where it was a grind from Pitch 1, but I was pleased with the way I battled.”
On a day when the wind was blowing in off Lake Michigan, the Cubs got a couple of big blasts. Anthony Rizzo hit his first home run of the season in the first inning, a drive to right-center. Addison Russell also hit his first, a booming drive to left onto Waveland Avenue in the fourth. The Cubs added two more runs in the fifth, and relievers Carl Edwards Jr. (two innings), Koji Uehara and Wade Davis finished.
But the defense never rested – second baseman Javy Baez turned a lineout double play in the seventh – nor did Maddon rest in talking about it.
“We played the heck out of defense,” said Maddon, whose team is 6-3, having won two of three in each of its first three series of the season. “Albert was fantastic. The outfielders really had a big part in the game. (Left fielder Kyle) Schwarber almost had a circus catch, also, but give the defense credit.”
“There was a lot of little nuance in that game today, but without that defense, it doesn’t look anything like that.”