ST. LOUIS – Joe Maddon had thoughts on a couple of subjects Saturday.
The first was the young lineup he trotted out for what turned out to be a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The game was played before 47,882 fans, the largest gathering in the ballpark’s history.
The Cubs’ lineup included rookie Ian Happ, making his major-league debut, and another rookie, Jeimer Candelario, who was subbing at third base for the reigning MVP, Kris Bryant.
Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras also gave this lineup an element of youth and inexperience as the Cubs fell back to .500 at 18-18 while the first-place Cardinals improved to 20-15.
“That’s what I’m saying, and this is a World Series team, right?” Maddon said. “That’s my point: Please be patient. Guys are still getting better. They’re inexperienced. They’re going look bad sometimes. We’re going to ‘hit young.’ You’ve seen it already with really young at-bats. Chasing pitches over our head, in the dirt. But that’s going to go away. I love it. I actually love it because these guys are good. They’re going to keep getting better, and it really speaks well for the future.”
Maddon likened the excitement of playing these kids to the feeling he had in 2015, when a young Cubs team came of age in many ways and advanced to the National League championship series a year before winning it all.
Each of the young players in Saturday’s game had moments good and bad, with Happ’s first major-league hit being a two-run homer in the seventh inning, a blast to right field that brought the Cubs from 5-1 down to 5-3.
“It was a changeup, got barrel on it, and watching it go, it had a little bit of legs to it,” said Happ, who got the ball back from the fan who caught it.
Happ also was involved in another play that had everybody in the Cubs clubhouse talking, and in not-so-nice ways.
In the fifth inning with the Cubs down 3-1, Happ was on first base with one out when Anthony Rizzo grounded back to pitcher Carlos Martinez, who threw to second base to force Happ. However, the play was called a double play because Happ slid past the second-base bag. By rule put in place before last season, ostensibly to protect middle infielders from injury, the runner is called out and a double play is awarded if the baserunner slides past the bag, no matter by how little.
If the call had not been made – and upheld on replay – the Cubs would have had a run because Kyle Schwarber would have come home from third base.
“I’m over it,” said Cubs starting and losing pitcher Jon Lester (1-2), who worked 5 1⁄3 innings and gave up 6 hits and 4 runs, 3 earned. “There was nothing malicious about that slide. He slid three inches past the bag, and we got a double play. I’m over the rule. The rule was meant to be for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There’s nothing wrong with that slide – whatsoever.
“This game was meant to be played a certain way. There was nothing wrong with that Happ did. I told him in the dugout. I said, ‘Next time, you do the exact same thing.’ That’s baseball, man. We’re out there playing with a bunch of pansies right now.”
Happ explained his side of it.
“I went in, just a baseball play, aggressive play,” he said. “Slid a little bit too far past the bag. I guess that’s the rules. If you can’t hold onto the bag, that’s interference. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happened.”
Maddon gave his thoughts on this subject, as well, and he didn’t hold back.
“If there’s not a fabricated method to prevent a run from being scored based on interoffice politics, then the game would have been a one-run game,” he said. “That’s where I’m hung up, man. I’ve talked about this before, and I have no idea why these rules are a part of our game. That had a tremendous impact on today’s game. Outs are awarded based on a fabricated rule.
“It is created under the umbrella of safety, which I totally disagree that was a nonsafe play that Happer made. When you slide directly over the bag and you’re called out where there’s no chance for the runner to be thrown out at first base, there was nothing egregiously dangerous on the part of our runner. Don’t give me hyperbole and office-created rules because I’m not into those things as you guys well know, about reaching the bag.”
“When you’re sliding on dirt, and you have momentum, you keep going. I’m sorry, you just keep going.”
And there was no malicious intent there whatsoever. I don’t think it breaks the intent of injury. It has nothing to do with injury. The rule does not belong in the game. And I’m not blaming the umpires. The umpires to a great job … But I cannot disagree more with the spirit of this rule under the umbrella preventing injury.”