Fireworks; red meat; baked Alaska; Bacardi 151. And after Thursday, we can add the Chicago Cubs to the list of things that are better with fire. All the talk heading into the series finale in Pittsburgh was about how listless the Cubs had looked over the past several games, or longer. With a few exceptions, they were playing like a boring, generic version of themselves.
Joe Maddon had to answer questions about his job security. Theo Epstein said changes were coming if the poor play continued. Addison Russell had to see a cosmetic gastroenterologist in order to have a glass belly installed so he could see where he was going after sticking his head up his backside Wednesday night.
And through it all, the Cubs were getting pissed. Like, viscerally angry about the way things were going. So when Pirates starter Jordan Lyles made like Maverick and buzzed the tower on Javy Báez, Maddon had had enough.
The normally chill Cubs skipper went off like a nuclear bottle rocket, pointing fingers and firing expletives at the opposing bench to the point that home plate ump Joe West had to physically restrain him. Kris Bryant did the same, though it was with the all the effort of a parent holding back a young child. It even appeared as though KB was stifling a grin.
SPIN MOVE!!!! pic.twitter.com/8dHg2lS8C1
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) July 4, 2019
Maddon’s antics were clearly brought on by Javy being dusted, but some measure of it may have been just as calculated as the lineups he’s been setting up a series at a time. Which is to say that sometimes just talking about things doesn’t help and you’ve got to employ more incendiary tactics to get things going.
It appears to have worked, as the Cubs blew up — in a good way — following Maddon’s ejection. Seven of their 11 runs were scored in the two subsequent innings and José Quintana didn’t allow another run from that point forward.
“When I see Joe pushing hard for us, that gives me extra energy,” Quintana said.
Even before Maddon went ballistic, the Cubs had racked up seven extra base hits and seemed on the verge of going off. They had only three runs to show for it, though, all of which had come on home runs by Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras.
There was also a shot in the arm from Robel Garcia, who became the third member of the current roster to triple for his first MLB hit. He would later homer as part of the Cubs’ explosion, but they were just following their manager’s example. In a metaphorical sense, that is.
“We took his fire,” Contreras said after the game. “Seeing Joe doing that, that means a lot to us. This is the first time that I’ve seen Joe that mad. I just told him, ‘Hey, we have your back and we’re going to win this game.’”
That bit about having never seen Maddon that mad is telling because it indicates that the dynamic may have finally shifted for a man and a team known for preaching relaxation and that every little thing is gonna be alright. That’s been reflected in the Cubs’ play of late, a knock-off brand of uninspired baseball manufactured by IDGAF Corp.
The Cubs obviously do give a flip, they have just been incapable of lighting that internal furnace and keeping it stoked with enough fuel to produce consistent results. So will this change things? Not in an of itself, but it’s not inconceivable that Maddon showing he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore could have more of an impact than Theo Epstein talking about reckoning and changes and whatnot.
Maddon can’t just go apeshit every night, nor will every other opposing team be managed by a redassed arbiter of old-school baseball justice, so now it’s a matter of keeping this going sans major flashpoint. Can the Cubs do that or will they fade back into nonchalance? It’ll take time to know for certain, but we may get a look this weekend.
And given their opponent in these final two games of the first half, maybe Maddon channeling Ozzie Guillen is just what the the Cubs needed.