CINCINNATI -- Something looked off inside the visitors' clubhouse at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon. The scene was typical for pregame -- some players grabbing something to eat, others heading to the batting tunnel or lounging at their locker -- but the room was not right.
It was the bursts of white at each player's stall. An unidentified prankster decided to have a little fun, hanging the Cubs' home white jerseys with blue pinstripes in every locker. It was a way to break up the strain of the team's road record with a bit of levity. Maybe the Cubs would take the field in Cincinnati with images of Wrigley Field in their mind's eye.
"I love it. If we could wear them on the field, I would totally promote it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said prior to his team's 12-5 rout over the Reds. "We've got to do something. And I like the fact that we're taking it seriously, in the sense that maybe we're poking fun at that a little bit, but it definitely brings to our attention, 'Let's go. Let's go, boys.'"
The Cubs' lineup then made itself at home in the Queen City.
Nicholas Castellanos led the way with a three-hit night that included a pair of home runs. Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez chipped in an RBI double apiece. Ian Happ had four RBIs -- two via homer and another pair via single -- while new Cubs catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Kris Bryant also knocked in two each. It was an all-around offensive outpouring that easily overcame a rough, three-inning outing from lefty Cole Hamels.
It was not a pretty victory, but a win's a win, and the National League Central-leading Cubs have found them hard to come by away from the Friendly Confines. Chicago entered this four-game set with Cincinnati with an 0-9-1 record in their past 10 road series, and walked out of the ballpark with a 22-33 road ledger.
Maddon said he was thrilled with the way the players were acting in the dugout, and how they took that energy with them onto the diamond.
“That's the way we're supposed to look,” said the manager. “I just mean the energy before the game, the dugout was alive, they went up there and there were a few more smiles and kind of more of a refreshing kind of an attitude. That's what we have to be. You never do anything well if you're uptight. Just go play. Just go play. We're good.”
The Cubs have not won a road series since May 17-19 in Washington. So, yes, the presence of the home whites on Thursday generated some smiles under the circumstances.
"Do we know who's behind it?" Rizzo asked.
The Cubs first baseman guessed that it was reliever Brandon Kintzler. Another theory was Kyle Schwarber, who made a quip about bringing the jerseys to Cincinnati during a recent postgame interview at home. Bob Tewskbury, a mental skills coordinator for the Cubs, is all about visualization, but he claimed innocence, too. Even with his long track record for clubhouse hijinks, Maddon insisted he was not behind this one, either.
Hamels said he knew the mastermind, but the pitcher would not tip his hand.
“I do, but you can ask somebody else,” Hamels said with a smirk.
No matter who thought it up, the prank was well received.
"It's funny," Rizzo said. "It's no secret we've got to play better on the road, so let's try to pretend we're at home."
At Wrigley Field, the Cubs have rattled off 41 wins in 60 games, averaging more than five runs per game with a staff ERA of 3.35 in a packed, raucous environment. Offensively, Chicago has an .807 OPS at home, compared to .760 on the road (entering Thursday). The biggest discrepancy has been with the team's ERA, which was 4.73 on the road going into Thursday.
It is worth noting, though, that the Cubs' roster has taken on a much different look in recent weeks. Among the current 25 players, there have been eight additions (four via trade, three called up from Triple-A and one signing) dating back to July 22. Some of it has been out of necessity due to injuries. Some of the change has been to shore up areas of need.
All of the roster maneuvering has been in the name of getting more out of this Cubs team -- whether it is at home or on the road -- in a NL Central race that may come down to the wire.
"They're bringing in everything they can to help our team," Rizzo said. "There's a lot of new faces, which you don't normally see as much as this, but it's been, guys come in, and we do our best, the guys that have been here, to make them feel comfortable as fast as we can."
The Cubs certainly feel comfortable in the home whites.
“I got here and I was like, 'Whoa, we're wearing these?'” Baez said with a laugh. “It was cool.”
Hamels said it was a way to take the focus off the road record.
“In baseball, you have to have fun with things,” he said. “You have to keep things light-hearted. I think this is just something fun for us to kind of check ourself at the door, because it is, this game is very humbling. And especially for us, because we're all very numbers driven.
“We know what's going on. And I think just to kind of have fun with it takes our minds off it at the same time. And for what we were able to do -- put up that many runs -- that's pretty good.”