MONTCLAIR, N.J. — A Cubs fan approached Joe Maddon as he posed for photos during an appearance Friday night at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.
“You almost killed me when you put Chapman in the game,” the fan said, referring to the closer’s entrance in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the World Series with the Cubs leading, 7-2.
Without missing a beat, Maddon replied, “I promise you, you’re happy I did.”
Another fan told Maddon, “You guys killed us. It was so scary.”
Again, Maddon didn’t flinch.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to happen,” he said.
Later, during the formal part of the program, I sat down with Maddon and conducted a lengthy question-and-answer session for those attending the event.
Maddon answered every question I had about his strategic choices in Games 6 and 7, choices that remain a topic of conversation even in the afterglow of the Cubs’ first World Series triumph since 1908.
Audience members also asked questions, and Maddon’s answers to two of them provided greater insight into his thinking; I included them in this story.
We started with a softball, then got into the good stuff.
Q: What have the last few weeks been like since winning the World Series?
A: Pretty simple, actually. I’ve been hiding.
First of all, the parade. You all saw the parade. OK, we’re going to have a parade. Of course, that was necessary. They wanted to do it on Monday. We said, “No, no, no, it’s got to be Friday. We’ve got to get it out of town.”
They set it up on Friday — two days after we won. You go out to Wrigley, and our buses are lined up. Then the buses pull out, and they make that turn off of Clark onto Addison, and it was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I’ve never seen so many people in my life.
We go down Addison, then get on Lake Shore to head downtown and eventually end up in Grant Park. I’m up on stage talking and out on the horizon there were people. I called it, “Cub-stock 2016.” I really thought before I got up there that that’s what Richie Havens saw at Woodstock back in the day. It was wall-to-wall people.
That was the first salvo. That’s when it hit you that these people are exactly what they had said. They were thirsty for this moment. You go down Michigan, and even the perpendicular streets, Chestnut or whatever, people were lined up way back on those streets just to catch a quick glance.
It began with that. We didn’t go out in Chicago after that. We just stayed in our apartment. President Obama gave me a phone call, talked about wanting us to go the White House. We (Maddon and his wife Jaye) got in our RV, drove all the way back to Tampa. We’ve been hiding out.
We went to the Lafayette-Lehigh football game about 10 days ago (Maddon is a 1976 graduate of Lafayette). We had a great time up there. That was pretty much our first exposure to people responding to the championship. And now we’re here. This is actually the second event we’ve done since the end of the season.
We’ve been hiding a bit. It was a pretty crazy year. We had very little down time. I don’t need to be fed by going to talk shows or giving speeches. I prefer trying to re-gather my momentum. This is just one year. For me, for us, it’s about next year and the years after that. I know if I take care of myself this offseason I’ll have a much better chance of doing a better job next year.
Q: Let’s talk about Games 6 and 7. Let’s start with Chapman, Game 6, 7-2 lead, seventh inning. Why did you bring him in?
A: They had two guys on and I did not like who was coming up to hit. I just wanted to make sure that we got through that with that same kind of lead. If you don’t – if I had brought someone else in and the lead diminished at all — I thought the number of pitches he would have had to throw later in the game would have been even more impactful against him.
There was no Game 8. There was no Game 7 at that point. It’s different, just a different situation compared to anything you would do in the regular season. We couldn’t afford to lose any more games.
And in the bullpen, some of our guys had been hurt at the end of the year, Stropey (Pedro Strop) with the bad knee and (Hector) Rondon with a bad triceps. Of course, there was C.J. (Edwards) and (Mike) Montgomery to utilize also. But we could not lose any more games. I thought by keeping the game in tow right there, if we were to add on, I could get (Chapman) out on the backside, try to do a reverse kind of thing.
I thought the moment was right. It was a meaty part of their batting order. (No. 3 hitter Francisco) Lindor hit the groundball to first base (to end the inning). And the next inning, I think the guy who really bothered me was (Jose) Ramirez. Ramirez, to me, is a really good player.
It was really a bad part of the batting order right there. I didn’t know and trust anybody else. I thought if we could at least hold serve there and move the needle in our favor that I would be more comfortable going with the other guys in the latter part of the game.
As it turned out, that’s how it’s played. But it was one of those moments, I thought to myself to tell ‘Bos’ (pitching coach Chris Bosio) to get somebody ready in case we were to score a couple of runs. All of a sudden, Rizz (Anthony Rizzo) hits the (two-out, two-run) homer (in the ninth) and we’re scrambling to get Stropey ready. It was one hitter too late for me.
But otherwise, honestly, I really believe, and I think everybody who is a Cubs fan should be very happy that I brought Aroldis in at that moment and not save him.
Q: That was a question I was going to ask, too. With a 9-2 lead in the ninth, what happened there? It was just a scramble? You guys just weren’t prepared?
A: It happened so quickly. If it was a five-point lead, I was still considering leaving him in the game right there … The negligent part there was not having someone warm up in case we did add on. We did. And then we got him out after four pitches.
Q: OK, you win Game 6. Now it’s Game 7. What was the pitching plan going in?
A: Hendricks to Jonny (Lester) to Aroldis. That was it. I didn’t want to use anybody but those three guys. That was it. I talked to everyone before the game. I told (catcher) David Ross actually the day before. I called him into the office and told David, “Listen, this is what I’m going to do tomorrow. I want you to be aware of it in advance. And I want you to be the guy who goes down and warms Jonny up in the bullpen and brings him right into the game.”
Kyle had kind of a tough third inning, kind of an awkward third inning (facing six hitters, allowing one run). I didn’t know where he was quite frankly in that game that night. Kyle was so valuable for us. But he’s the kind of guy, it goes very quickly. You have to be prepared. Again, there is no Game 8. It’s just a different set of circumstances.
If the game is played in May or June, you can let it fly a little bit more. If it gets away and you lose that game, that’s OK. But you can’t lose this game. Because he had a tough third, we started Jonny’s clock. I didn’t want to get it going that early, but we did. Then Kyle has a nice fourth, and we get into the fifth. I know that I can’t keep Lester on the shelf too much longer. Otherwise, we would lose his ability to pitch in that game.
When a guy is coming out of the bullpen, you just can’t keep warming him up, warming him up, warming him up and then expect him to be good out there. I talked to David and said, “How does he look?” David said, “He looks fabulous. He’s really sharp.” That was his comment to me.
I was looking for Kyle to get out of the fifth. He had Santana up (with two outs, none out). He gets him to two strikes and all of a sudden it’s ball four.
Q: Bad call . . . (Hendricks had appeared to strike out Santana with a well-placed pitch in the lower third of the strike zone, but plate umpire Sam Holbrook called the pitch a ball).
A: I heard about that. I didn’t know that from the side. But then here comes (Jason) Kipnis, which I did not like at all. All of a sudden, it can go from 5-1 to 5-3, which it eventually did do, anyway. But I wanted Lester on Kipnis. And I wanted Lindor (a switch-hitter) hitting right-handed. If you watch Lindor play, you would much prefer him hitting right-handed over left-handed.
So, why wait? There’s no reason to wait. Jonny is ready. He’s very sharp. Here comes Kipnis. He had already done so much against Jake Arrieta (double, two-run homer) the day before. So to me, it was just the right time to do it. He gets the dribbler in front of the plate — that was beautiful (Ross made a throwing error, advancing the runners to second and third). And the wild pitch was unbelievable. It hits David in the mask. There is nothing you can do about that.
But for me, it was all about timing. It all worked out really well – until the point when (Rajai) Davis hit the home run.
Q: Before the game, you had said at the press conference that Jonny was only coming in at the start of an inning. You reportedly had told Theo (Epstein), “Don’t worry about it, start of an inning.” Obviously, the game starts, things happen …
A: I said I didn’t want to bring him into a dirty inning. What happened was, we had a four-run lead and Santana was on first base. To me, that’s as clean as it gets. There is no threat for him to run. He’s not going to run right there. When Jonny came in, I said, “That guy does not even exist. Just work on the hitter.”
With two outs and him on first and a four-point lead, I thought there was no issue. I felt really comfortable about Jonny coming in.
Q: Chapman in the eighth. One on, two outs, 6-3 lead. (Brandon) Guyer hits the (RBI) double, Davis the home run, ties the game. When that ball left the yard, were you thinking, “Uh-oh?”
A: Yeah. Of course. Whenever you’re working a game as a manager, you always have these preconceived thoughts of how it’s going to work. When it doesn’t, it kind of blows up for a minute. You’re anticipating a positive result. I felt really good about it. Then all of a sudden it goes the other way.
The first thing I asked (bench coach) Davey Martinez was, “Who do we have coming up?” I had to focus on the next inning immediately. It’s definitely a shot to the chin, man. It staggers you a bit, no question. Anybody who says otherwise is not telling the truth.
It definitely is a blow. But you gather yourself as quickly as you can. For me, that was, “What are we doing next offensively?” It was awkward. It was unusual. It was one of those things you did not expect to see. But it happened. It just put us back a little bit.
I hate team meetings. I think it’s a regurgitation of the same bullcrap … But I had three meetings during the course of the season – a meeting before the season, a meeting after the All-Star break, a meeting before the first playoff game. Going into the first playoff game, the one thing I wanted them to understand and know was that something bad is going to happen. And when something bad happens, we have to keep our wits about us.
My experience has been that in playoff games, when you’re in the dugout, watching the other team, you can see it in their eyes when you’ve got ‘em. You can see it in their eyes. You can see how they look at the dirt, how they’re not focusing, how they’ve lost the energy. I didn’t want us to ever be that group. I wanted them to understand that. Before the playoffs began, I said, “We cannot be that group of people. You have to expect something bad is going to happen. And how we react to that is going to set us apart.”
We talked about all that. And eventually Jason Heyward calls a team meeting after the home run. I wasn’t even involved, which I absolutely love. Jason gets them together after that awful moment. I guess it was probably the most (important) 15-minute rain delay in the history of baseball.
(Crew chief) Joe West told me it shouldn’t be long. I’m thinking to myself, that’s fine. But you just see how it permitted us to regroup, not only individually, but as a group. To have an opportunity to have one of your guys call a meeting and re-focus them in that particular moment – that’s really unusual. It probably never happened, I would imagine.
That was the perfect storm, I guess.
Q: Chapman, in an underrated part of the game, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. He ends up throwing 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7. Do you think he wore down?
A: Honestly, I don’t. In Game 5, he threw (42), then he had his day off. And then it was 20 in Game 6. We really tried to limit the number of pitches he threw prior to that.
At the end of the season, you remember we played it like spring training the last 15 days. He did not throw that much. We tried to keep him on an every-third-day schedule to throw. And even before that, I didn’t use him one-plus. I tried it early on, but it didn’t work out really well, so I got away from that, kept him at one inning, did a lot of 15-to-20 pitch gigs. And at the end he was on a really structured program.
In the playoffs, he wasn’t overwhelmed, either. We thought by the time we got to the end, that’s what he was there for, man. He was there to be that horse. He’d come in and have conversations all the time in my office. We’d talk through this before every game. What are you capable of? What can you do? What can you not do? The conversation was pretty much going on throughout the entire playoffs.
Q (from the audience): Why was Aroldis throwing fastballs to Rajai Davis?
A: Here’s part of that whole deal, too. The game started with Willson Contreras catching. One of my concerns with the whole setup was that once I brought David (Ross) in, Willie was out. Then when Aroldis came in, it was going to be David.
I like catching Willson with Aroldis. David Ross is fabulous. But I think a lot of it was the fact that David had not caught Aroldis as much as Willson had, or even Miggy. You saw when Aroldis went out to pitch the ninth inning (after Montero replaced Ross), he threw a lot more sliders that inning. It wasn’t because he wasn’t feeling his fastball. It was just a different philosophy with the catcher.
It’s just the way it works. When everything is going on, and everything is spinning very quickly, sometimes the pitcher is just going to go solely with what the catcher says and not shake him off to do something else. If Willy was catching, you would have seen more sliders right there.
Q (from the audience): Do you call Chapman’s pitches for him?
A: No. I’m just saying before the game began, we did talk a lot about throwing sliders and more breaking pitches, not just right there, but in general. I think he threw 14 or 15 straight fastballs with David back there in that moment. If he had just thrown one or two sliders, it’s different.
I go back to that two-week period when we had clinched and Aroldis was pitching every third day just to get ready for the playoffs, he threw tons of sliders really well, and effectively. You’re right. It’s pitch selection and location, not just pounding fastballs. A slider might have been a better pitch right there. But when you switch catchers up like that, that can be part of the issue.
Q: The Baez bunt. 3-2 pitch, one out, Heyward on third with the score tied in the ninth. What was your thinking there? (Baez struck out after fouling off the bunt attempt).
A: Javy strikes out over 80 percent of the time on a full count. He’s going to chase. (Bryan Shaw) could have thrown him anything. Jason Heyward is one of our best base-runners. If Javy puts that ball down anywhere … there were two things I thought he had a chance of doing. Making contact on a bunt and getting a ball he might actually take.
He normally swings on a full count. That’s just his M.O. The ball has to practically almost him for him not to swing. When he hit that home run off (Johnny) Cueto (in Game 1 of the Division Series), it was a full count. But for the most part when he gets to a full count, it’s not normally good. And Cleveland’s good at scouting. They know all this stuff. They’re very bright. And Javy is probably our best bunter in that situation.
Those were the reasons. I thought there was a better chance of him moving the baseball right there (with a bunt), as opposed to swing away.
(Baez actually struck out 18 times in 41 at-bats on 3-2 counts during the regular season, 43.9 percent. He had not struck out in his five previous postseason at-bats on 3-2, going 3-for-5 with the home run off Cueto).
Q: You mentioned the meeting with Heyward. When it was going on, were you aware of it?
A: Yes. All the guys were peeling off into the weight room. Davey said the guys were having a meeting. I said, “Good. Go for it.” They go down there, have their meeting. I go upstairs, I’m talking to (GM) Jed (Hoyer). The umpires had called, telling us how long it was going to take.
I’m up there, looking at my iPad, checking out the weather map. And that’s when I grabbed my dad’s hat. My dad passed away in 2002. He wore an Angels hat, the one with the big wing on it – I think it was the 1999 version. I have that hat with me everywhere I go. I took the hat out of my backpack, put it in the back of my pants. I had my hoodie on.
The rain delay permitted me to get my dad’s hat. I went back in the dugout, it was kind of a comforting, reassuring feeling knowing he was back there. I had my dad behind me there when Schwarber gets the knock (leading off the 10th), tags up, Zorilla (Ben Zobrist) with the ball down the line (for the go-ahead double). And who even talks about Miggy? (Miguel Montero). That was a big knock there by Miggy (to make it 8-6), a huge knock.
Q: None of us knows exactly what was said in the meeting, other than the players themselves.
A: I didn’t even know myself.
Q: Do you think they were upset with you?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Q: Because of all that happened …
A: What happened was that Davis hit a home run. That’s all that happened. For me, it’s kind of interesting. Andrew Miller had (dominated) all the rest of the world, and we beat him up on that particular day.
It’s an easy narrative to say Aroldis was tired, and that’s why he got hit. He got hit because he threw a fastball down and in to Davis where he could get to it. If the fastball is located away or elevated at all, that play could not have happened.
It’s not unlike David (Ross) hitting a home run to dead center against Andrew Miller (in the sixth). It’s so unlikely that would happen also. It wasn’t an issue of velocity for Chapman. It was just where the pitch was thrown.
Q: Last question. Do you have a favorite memory from the whole experience?
A: Game 4 against the Giants (in the Division Series). I really believe if we don’t win that game, we don’t do what we did.
I thought Cueto had a really good chance of shutting us down back at Wrigley. Game 4, all the manipulations that permitted us to win the game, Javy’s knock, (Willson) Contreras’ knock, that’s what stands out to me as being the biggest part of the postseason. Beating San Francisco there in that game. If it goes to Game 5, we might not be celebrating.
That was it for me. I’m sitting in the dugout, all I could think about was Cueto the whole game. Cueto against us at home, we beat him 1-0 on a homer. But if you look at our numbers against him … it’s awful. We just don’t hit this guy. I know we had Jonny Lester to pitch, absolutely that’s cool. But coming back at home with Cueto pitching, I don’t know if we could have advanced.