MILWAUKEE -- The Chicago Cubs are prepping for the postseason and using the second-place team in their division as a sparring partner. Or at least the Milwaukee Brewers were in second place before the Cubs won their second consecutive extra-inning road affair over them, 5-4, in 10 innings on Friday.
"We get behind, everything is going their way, but not one guy felt down about it," manager Joe Maddon said of the Cubs' early 3-0 deficit. "It was wonderful to watch all that."
Maddon loves extra-inning road victories because he feels as if they bring a team together, but when they happen in September and he uses nearly the entire roster to get the job done, they feel even better. Over the course of two nights, the Cubs' manager has stretched his bullpen to the limits while employing position players in every manner possible, from double switches to pinch hitters.
On Friday, Tommy La Stella was the hero when he drew a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning from Brewers closer Corey Knebel. It was a classic La Stella at-bat, as he refuses to swing outside the strike zone despite not playing much. There's no anxiousness to his game.
"He has not played in a bit and he goes out there, not too eager," Maddon said. "Slowed everything down. Accepted his walk. Young players today, many are not willing to accept their walk."
La Stella is one of those cheerleaders in the dugout who's into every pitch of every game. His teammates believe that's one reason he can be so ready with an at-bat like Friday's. His .383 on-base percentage speaks to his patience at the plate.
"It 100 percent helps that he's into it," Jason Heyward said. "If you're not doing that, it's much harder. It's already hard, but if you're into the game it helps.
"He's always going to give that same at-bat. He's always into every pitch doing what he has to to prepare."
La Stella's at-bat was just one of many little moments over the past two days to help propel the Cubs closer to the NL Central title. There was the throw by Willson Contreras and the tag by Addison Russell in the bottom of the 10th that killed any thought of a Brewers rally. Russell held the tag on Eric Sogard as he came off the bag while trying to advance to second on a ball that skipped away from Contreras.
"There's so many little things," Maddon said, acknowledging that play.
And how about Jon Jay's 15-pitch at-bat to lead off the fifth inning that included 11 foul balls before he got on base with a single to right. He's only the third player this year to foul off 11 pitches in one plate appearance. It helped cook Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, who gave up a two-run single to Ben Zobrist later in the inning.
"That hurt their pitcher," Maddon said. "No question. This guy [Jay] lives for these moments, I believe."
We haven't even gotten to the bullpen yet. Maddon pulled John Lackey after a leadoff hit in the fifth, which meant he would need six innings of relief without the use of closer Wade Davis, who pitched more than an inning the night before. Up stepped Brian Duensing, Hector Rondon, Mike Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr.. Two of them had pitched the night before, Rondon was throwing in his first game since early in the month and Montgomery started Tuesday's contest, throwing 81 pitches. But there he was, pitching 1 ⅓ innings of scoreless baseball Friday.
Edwards was the closer for the night, going the final 1 ⅔ innings. It reminded him of another late-inning performance last season after the closer was out of the game.
"It actually felt like last year's World Series when I came in the 10th inning," Edwards said with a smile. "This time I got out of it."
On Friday, Edwards relieved Montgomery. Montgomery had came in for Edwards in Game 7. It worked out then, as it did here. And so two total team efforts in two nights have put the Cubs on the brink of another trip to the playoffs.
"It's going to take everyone," Heyward said. "It doesn't get easier from here. It's commendable in this room, what they've done the last two nights. Finding a way to get it done."
That's a reminder of last year's postseason as well. And maybe it's a little foreshadowing because the Cubs are displaying their team-first mantra once again.