'We took his fire': Maddon ejected, Cubs romp
Skipper sticks up for club, which is back in 1st after emotional series
PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs were frustrated. They’d lost five of their last six games within a larger stretch of 8-15 baseball, and they were in danger of being swept by the Pirates over four games before returning to Chicago.
The game was back and forth early, just like the crushing walk-off loss they’d sustained on Wednesday. The Cubs needed a spark, and they got a big one -- not at the plate or on the mound, but from the dugout.
When Javier Báez took a pitch high and tight in the fourth inning of Thursday’s 11-3 win at PNC Park, the emotions that spilled over led to a statement win for the road team and an exhale after days of speculation and pressure.
Baez drew a 3-2 count against Pirates starter Jordan Lyles, and his sixth offering in the at-bat went right at Baez’s hands and was ruled a foul ball off the knob of the bat. That set manager Joe Maddon off -- not the ruling, but what appeared to be the location.
Home-plate umpire Joe West ejected an irate Maddon, who then ran out of the dugout, but not to confront West. His words and finger-pointing were directed toward the Pirates' dugout, and he had to be restrained by Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and West.
Earlier in the at-bat, Baez drew Maddon and the Cubs' training staff from the dugout when he appeared to tweak his left knee avoiding another up-and-in pitch. Four of the seven pitches Baez saw ended up elevated and inside.
"They have their pitching philosophy,” Maddon said of the Pirates throwing tight to batters, “which again, I appreciate inside. I don't appreciate up and in, and neither do the rest of us. They just need to be careful.
“I love their players. It's a good team. It's a real good team. And they're good guys. I like the guys on this team, but if they keep pitching like that, a lot of these guys are not going to like their pitching staff."
Baez struck out that at-bat, but he contributed a two-run single that broke the game open as the Cubs’ energy carried over into a five-run fifth inning. David Bote was hit by a pitch on the helmet that inning, which drove in a run, but also led to warnings being issued.
In-game drama aside, the entirety of the win was a culmination of what the Cubs, the front office and fans have all been waiting for -- a show of heart and a sign of something clicking.
Bryant (4-for-5) and Contreras each finished a triple shy of the cycle, while Robel Garcia -- who was called up Wednesday and was making his first Major League start -- fell a double shy of the cycle in a game that included his first Major League home run. He tripled in the third inning for his first MLB hit.
Though things picked up after the ejection, Maddon didn’t want to say it was meant to be a wake-up call for his team. Nevertheless, they felt fired up in the moment, including José Quintana, who settled in to retire his final 11 batters in a seven-inning, three-run performance.
“When I see Joe pushing hard for us, that gives me extra energy,” Quintana said.
“We took his fire,” Contreras said of Maddon. “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.’”
The 11 runs scored by the Cubs were the most since May 17, when they totaled 14 against the Nationals. Though their recent skid has prompted Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to consider “a ton of changes,” the club regained its spot in first place in the National League Central, tied with the Brewers.
The emotion in Thursday’s game also reflects the intensity the Cubs know they’ll see in a division separated by just 3 1/2 games. There were flashes of it this weekend against the Reds, when Yasiel Puig exchanged heated words with Pedro Strop after a hit by pitch on Saturday.
“I think from now on, everybody marches,” said Contreras, who hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the third. “This division’s getting tough. It is tough, and every win matters.”
When the Cubs return from the break, they’ll be thrust right back into the stacked division, including a three-game series at Wrigley Field with the Pirates. Maybe things will boil over from Thursday’s ejection. Maybe they won’t. But what’s certain is that every game will feel like the biggest game of the year so far.
"Can't wait,” Maddon said. “I cannot wait.”