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Pregame nap helps Szczur awaken Cubs

NEW YORK -- "Do you believe in magic?" That was the question blasting from manager Joe Maddon's office speakers -- in the form of The Lovin' Spoonful's 1965 hit -- after the Cubs needed just one trick to snap out of their recent offensive slumber enough to record a 1-0 win over the Mets on Tuesday at Citi Field.

"Whatever it takes," Maddon said, referencing the magician he hired to loosen up his players pregame. "We were definitely engaged the entire game."

The Las Vegas-based illusionist Simon Winthrop impressed Maddon's clubhouse early in the day. And Maddon's latest hijinks did coincide with the nighttime ending of two dubious Chicago streaks. The win snapped a five-game losing streak and came courtesy of the Cubs' first hit with runners in scoring position in their last 20 tries.

"I was more relaxed going into the game," said outfielder Matt Szczur, whose sixth-inning RBI double accounted for the game's only run. It was also Chicago's first hit with runners in scoring position in more than 21 innings, and fourth in its last 43 at-bats. "I just felt more comfortable."

Even Cubs players who personally aren't fans of magic understand that Maddon's tactics help bring teammates together. Szczur is one of those. He admitted that professional tricksters make him nervous, saying: "I don't want them to take my wallet or take my phone or something."

Instead, Szczur calmed himself down pregame in a more traditional, yet still unorthodox, way.

With teammates all around and rap music bumping at full tilt, Szczur could be spotted napping on the clubhouse floor before Tuesday's game, in full view of empty couches. The New Jersey native couldn't get to sleep Monday night after spending time with his family during an off-day in the middle of the team's recently hectic travel schedule.

After getting to the ballpark for early batting practice Tuesday, Szczur was spent. So he threw on a sleep mask and closed his eyes, appearing very comfortable in what looked like an extremely uncomfortable way. Szczur lay face-up on the floor with his feet elevated on a chair. Think the opposite of hanging.

"I got so tired I didn't care what position I was in," Szczur said. "I could have fallen asleep standing up."

Then in the sixth inning, Szczur's double temporarily awoke the Cubs' offense. Szczur rocketed an elevated Jon Niese curveball to the wall in left field, scoring Kris Bryant.

"I was just trying to put a good at-bat together," Szczur said. "He left a curveball up. He doesn't really do that too much."

Szczur naps that way more than you might think. But the outfielder has his reasons. When he played college football for Villanova, Szczur tried not to bother the (much bigger) offensive lineman that often occupied the clubhouse couches. Eventually, the floor got comfortable.

"It was kind of like a ritual," he said.

The yo-yo nature of his season has only increased Szczur's ability to find sleep on the fly. The outfielder is already in his fourth stint in the Majors this year, and trips to and from Triple-A are becoming second nature. On Tuesday, he witnessed a very unique Major League experience and then proved the difference in a win.

"Whatever it takes," Maddon said.

Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for
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