CHICAGO -- The drive from Wrigley Field to Ozinga Field takes under one hour. When Tommy Nance was pitching for the Windy City ThunderBolts in the independent Frontier League six years ago, the big leagues felt a lot farther away.
"It's right there, so it's almost a tease," Nance said on Tuesday. "It definitely feels far away, but that never stopped me from wanting to keep going."
In the ninth inning of Monday's 7-3 victory over the Nationals, the 30-year-old Nance's incredible road from indy ball ended, and his Major League career began. He struck out the first batter he faced, worked a clean inning and earned a postgame hug from catcher Willson Contreras.
Before the game, Nance sat in the dugout with Cubs manager David Ross, discussing the moment at hand. The pitcher showed Ross the section of seats behind home plate where he and some Windy City teammates sat in 2015, when they took in a Cubs game against, naturally, the Nationals.
"We're staring out at Wrigley Field," Ross said, "with the ivy all green and fans starting to flow in, and I asked him, 'Is it what you imagined?'"
Nance's answer on Tuesday?
"It was everything I imagined and more," he said. "Going through those doors, and it's just lights on me. I can hear the fans behind me calling my name, and I'm jogging out to the mound. It was just an unbelievable experience and atmosphere."
Nance dealt with a stress fracture in his lower back in high school and then underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm after his senior season at Santa Clara University. He went undrafted, did not pitch in 2014 and signed with Windy City (located in Crestwood, Ill.) after a tryout.
That led to a deal with the Cubs, but a nerve injury in his pitching shoulder had him at a career crossroads again in 2017. The pitcher decided to keep pushing forward and continued his climb up the organizational ladder once healthy.
"It's been my dream since I was a little kid. It's really that simple," Nance said. "I've always wanted to be a big leaguer. For me, I don't have kids right now, but when I have kids one day and they ask, 'Why did you stop?' I didn't want to not have a good answer for them."
In his MLB debut, Nance featured a 97-98 mph sinker and showed off a sharp slider and breaking ball. After his strikeout of Josh Harrison, the righty reliever induced a pair of groundouts to put the finishing touch on the win for the Cubs.
"His story is one of those you fall in love with," Ross said. "The hard worker that never gives up and continues to push and fight."
Hoerner's play a 'game saver'
The emotional returns of Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber on Monday night dominated the storylines at Wrigley Field. On another night, the highlight-reel play Nico Hoerner turned in may have been the story of the day.
"I hope the camera wasn't on me," Ross said. "Because I turned into a fan. I was going crazy in that moment."
With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, Ross let lefty Andrew Chafin face Starlin Castro. The Nationals veteran sent a sharp grounder to the right side of the infield, where it looked destined to find right field.
Manning second, Hoerner hustled to his left and made a lunging, sliding snag before getting a quick throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Chafin pumped a fist and let out a howl after the impressive out that halted Washington's momentum.
"That was a game saver," Contreras said. "That could've started a huge rally for them, but we all know that Nico's really good defensively. He has a lot of range. I love seeing him play at second base."
• Ross said outfielder Jake Marisnick (10-day injured list, right hamstring) continues to make progress in his rehab, which has included light running.
• Right-handers Trevor Megill (10-day IL, right forearm) and Alec Mills (10-day IL, back) are scheduled to throw off a mound on Thursday, according to Ross.
• The Cubs announced Tuesday that veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin has been traded to the Mets in exchange for cash considerations. Maybin had been with Triple-A Iowa.
Did you know?
With Monday's win, Ross has compiled a 54-46 record in his first 100 regular-season games as manager of the Cubs. Per historian Ed Hartig, that represents the most wins for a Cubs manager in his first 100 games since Jim Frey began his tenure with 57 in 1984.
"You really have a lot of confidence -- if they hit it anywhere in his vicinity, he's going to make a play. Thay was one of the better plays I've seen in a long time. I told him on the way in, I can't wait to watch that on the highlights." -- Ross, on Hoerner's defensive gem in Monday's win