WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- It took a trip back to their childhoods, a trip back to the days when games ended with ice cream whether the result was a win or a loss. It took a trip to Williamsport, the home of the Little League World Series, for the Cubs to
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- It took a trip back to their childhoods, a trip back to the days when games ended with ice cream whether the result was a win or a loss. It took a trip to Williamsport, the home of the Little League World Series, for the Cubs to forget their road woes and play like kids.
• Box score
Maybe Sunday night's 7-1 win over the Pirates at Historic Bowman Field will simply wind up being a one-day celebration of baseball in a pure form. Given the extent of Chicago's troubles away from Wrigley Field, though, this trip to an old ballpark with no second deck and a crowd full of big league dreams was a welcomed detour during the Little League Classic presented by GEICO.
"We always want to play hard," Cubs shortstop Javier Baez said. "No matter how many games we lose or how many games we are down, we're always going to compete and play hard. But yeah, I think it kind of brought us together in the dugout, out of the dugout. Being around the kids and with the whole team, it was pretty cool."
Anthony Rizzo homered off the scoreboard in left-center -- one of three homers for the Cubs in the game -- and then had Yu Darvish deliver the ball to one of Japan's Little Leaguers. Jose Quintana spun seven shutout innings with "Cubbies" across his chest. Baez gave fist bumps to kids in the front row, and then lived up to his "El Mago" moniker with some flashy defense and a couple hits.
When the final pitch was thrown, the Cubs had collected their first road series win of the season against a National League Central opponent, and the first series victory away from home of any kind since May 17-19. Chicago went 0-10-2 in its previous dozen road trips, severely limiting any forward progress in the Cubs' quest to capture a division crown.
Now, the Cubs will head back to Chicago, where they will have an off-day Monday to cling to the experiences gained during their stay in this quaint town that steals the baseball spotlight for 10 days each year.
• Cubs rides boxes down hill at LL Classic
"It feels good, right?" Rizzo said. "Every game is meaningful and to win the two in a row on the road, which has been a struggle for us, especially at night, is nice."
Rizzo's shot came in the third inning against reliever Chris Stratton, and put the final touches on Mitch Keller's pitching line for the Pirates. In his 4 1/3 innings, Keller also surrendered solo blasts to Nicholas Castellanos and Jason Heyward. Kris Bryant (RBI double) and Kyle Schwarber (two-run single) also delivered for the Cubs.
Quintana struck out seven, scattered five hits and finished with no walks. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle raved about the left-hander's arsenal and said it was the best version of Quintana that Pittsburgh has seen to date.
"Today was really special," said Quintana, who is from Colombia. "I remember when I was a kid, trying to one day be here in Williamsport.”
It was the kind of overwhelming offensive showing and pristine starting pitching performance that the Cubs have been accustomed to receiving at home, where they boast a 41-19 record. Chicago's road performance has contributed to the clustered top of the National League Central. The Cubs and Cardinals are in a virtual tie for first, while the Brewers are two games back.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said even just stepping into the small stadium -- built in 1926 -- was a chance for the team to forget all about the recent issues.
"Getting to this facility, for me, it's kind of cool, because it's Minor League," Maddon said. "And I pretty much am a Minor Leaguer in and out. So, the ballpark, the clubhouse, everything about it is very familiar to me, and I loved it. And I think a lot of the players get that opportunity to take a trip down memory lane just a bit. It's good. It's all good stuff."
It was the kind of day that easily could have added to the players' stress.
The Cubs flew in the morning, which is not typical for a road trip. Their routines -- especially the strict five-day schedule that Quintana likes to keep -- were disrupted. It was hot. It was crowded with people. There were media requests coming at the players from multiple directions. And all the usual creature comforts were out the window.
"But it was worth it," Baez said. "We finally got a win. We won the series. It was worth it. It was really fun for us."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.