CHICAGO – As Cubs manager Joe Maddon often says, “they can’t all be oil paintings.”
That was certainly true Monday, as the Cubs fumbled and stumbled their way through Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field.
But the way things have been going lately for the defending world champions, even their finger paintings look like Rembrandts.
Such was the case on this summerlike late afternoon at the Friendly Confines, as the Cubs put across single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to come from behind and beat the Washington Nationals, 2-1, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
With a victory Tuesday, the Cubs will earn their third straight trip to the NL Championship Series.
Lesser teams than the Cubs might not have pulled this one out. They were being no-hit by Nats ace Max Scherzer into the seventh inning and their fielders were busy committing four errors.
Ben Zobrist made one of those errors but got the Cubs’ first hit: a one-out double to chase Scherzer in the seventh. Pinch hitter Albert Almora Jr. tied the game with a single to left center off Sammy Solis.
In the eighth, Anthony Rizzo blooped a single to left to score Leonys Martin, a pinch runner for Tommy La Stella, who walked to open the inning. Jon Jay bunted Martin to second.
After Kris Bryant struck out, Nats manager Dusty Baker chose to pitch to Rizzo with first base open, and after Rizzo got his base hit, he was caught yelling, “Respect me.”
“Yeah, that’s the mentality I take always with the base open,” he said. “I want to make guys pay. I hit where I hit in the order. I drive in runs, and that’s the mentality that I always take in. Usually I keep that [emotional] stuff behind the scenes and say that stuff, but just my emotions got me right there.
“But that’s the mentality. I believe I’m a really good hitter I believe I’m one of the best hitters in the game, and you have to believe that.”
For the second time in this series, the Cubs found themselves being dominated by the Nationals’ starter. In Game 1 at Washington, it was Stephen Strasburg handcuffing the Cubs before an error doomed the Nats.
On Monday, it was Scherzer showing no ill effects from a hamstring “tweak” that pushed him back to the third game.
Even as poorly as the Cubs’ played – the Nationals scored in the sixth after a double-error by left fielder Kyle Schwarber – they again found a way.
That’s what championship teams do.
“You’ve just got to stay in the moment,” Rizzo said. “These games, it doesn’t matter what you did the last at-bat – if you got a hit, if you got a home run. It’s all about that pitch and that next pitch, and you’ve got to be ready for that pitch.
“We know we’re good. We know someone is going to come through, and it’s just a matter of time before someone does.”
Let’s not forget the Cubs’ starting pitching. In the first three games, the starters have an ERA of 0.48, with Kyle Hendricks working seven shutout innings in the Game 1 victory, Jon Lester giving up one in six innings in Game 2 and Jose Quintana giving up one unearned run over 51/3 innings Monday.
Quintana was making the first postseason start of his career. He was lifted for Pedro Strop after Schwarber’s double-error in the sixth, when Schwarber dropped Daniel Murphy’s fly ball and then let it get away from him. Strop gave up an RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman.
“I just tried to do my job,” Quintana said. “It was the first time for me in the postseason, it was a different feeling for sure, different because you can’t make mistakes. But you just focus on throwing the ball well. We know we’re going to have a close game.”
As for how the Cubs won, it’s just a matter of course for this bunch now.