CHICAGO – In the span of about 17 hours, all the beauty of baseball was on full display at Wrigley Field.
One afternoon after outslugging the San Francisco Giants, 12-11, the Cubs came back on a refreshing Thursday afternoon and did just enough to beat the Giants, 1-0, for a three-game series sweep and a five-game winning streak overall.
“We should have known that, right, before the game began?” asked Cubs manager Joe Maddon about the opposite ends of the baseball spectrum. “It was the wind blowing in. It was tough on popups. You couldn’t see fly balls. Two different ballparks completely.”
Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks outdueled former Cub Jeff Samardzija as each worked seven strong innings.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo drove in the only run with a line-drive single to center field in the fourth to score Jason Heyward from third right after the Giants had turned a double play. Heyward opened the inning with the first hit against Samardzija, a fly-ball single that dropped into center field as the Giants’ Kevin Pillar had trouble with the bright sun.
So here is where the Cubs stand as they await a tough home weekend series with the Washington Nationals:
• Thursday’s victory moved them back to their high-water mark of 11 games over .500 at 69-58. They’ve been there three previous times, twice in May and then not again until Aug. 8.
• They have a home record of 44-19 compared with 25-39 on the road.
• They’ve done this well with numerous injuries and periods of ineffectiveness in nearly every aspect of the game.
So, given all that, has the season felt like a slog to this point?
“Oh, yeah,” Maddon said with a chuckle. “It has been underwater, throwing rights and lefts. Absolutely it’s a slog. It’s been unusual. We seem to be getting there and over the top because you want to go five, 10, 15, 20 etc., over (.500). And we’ve just been unable to sustain it.
“The road’s gotten in our way, literally. Actually, it has. We have to continue this good play, and then we’re going to play a really tough team (the Mets) on the road next week. But I think our guys mentally are in a good place right now. We’ve got to keep doing it, increments by five. That’s what you’ve got to get done to really get to where you want to be.”
Rizzo, who has seen just about everything during his Cubs career, echoed his manager’s sentiments.
“We’re a week away from September,” said Rizzo, who had one of the Cubs’ two hits. “A couple weeks away from Thanksgiving, Christmas. So it’s flown by. Hopefully we’ll continue to play well. There has been ups and downs outside, but inside, we try to keep it as even as we can.”
Hendricks (9-9) gave up three hits and no walks while striking out seven over his seven innings, while Samardzija (9-10) gave up both Cubs hits while walking one and striking out four. The Cubs got solid relief from Brandon Kintzler, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick, who earned his second save.
Wrigley Field has been good to Hendricks. He has a 3.20 ERA overall, but at home, he is 5-2 with a 1.79 ERA in
11 starts, including 10 straight quality starts.
He lets the pitcher-friendly elements work for him.
“That’s the plan no matter what, but I think especially when you go out and see that (the conditions), trying to really establish your fastball,” Hendricks said. “You can be more aggressive and get after ’em. There we’re maybe a few too many 3-ball counts, but overall, they fouled off some good pitches and had a good plan. But (catcher Victor) Caratini and I worked really well together today, and [the defense] made all the plays behind me, which was huge.”
Like the others on the team, Hendricks knows the Cubs will have to slog onward to maintain their first-place standing in the National League Central.
“We’ve been grinding for a while, and it’s been the same focus,” he said. “I think things are starting to come together now. We see where we’re at in the season, but still day by day. It’s the same mantra, the same routine. We’re going to come in tomorrow and try to win tomorrow.”