CHICAGO -- At least Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon will wash his socks now.
Maddon had been wearing the same ones to and from the ballpark during his team’s nine-game winning streak, but Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale took care of that superstition as he shut down the Cubs over seven innings while striking out 15 in the Cubs' 3-1 loss on Sunday.
“The best thing we did was get his pitch count up enough to get him out before the ninth inning,” Maddon said, half-smiling, after the game. “He’s really tough for us.”
Maddon also said Sale is tough for everyone but “especially us” as the Cubs do have a penchant to strike out, leading the majors in that category. Could that come back to haunt them in the playoffs? Perhaps. But that’s still six weeks away -- and they won’t be facing Sale then. Right now the Cubs can savor the fact they lost a game and it’s barely a blip on the radar. They’ve won 15 of 17.
“I knew I would have to be close to perfect,” Cubs starter Dan Haren said. “Obviously I wasn’t.”
Haren drew the short straw in having to face Sale on a hot and humid day. Balls were more likely to leave the yard than not with the Cubs righty on the mound as he leads the National League in homers given up after allowing three solo shots Sunday. But on just about any other given day over the past few weeks, three runs would not have been enough to beat the Cubs.
“Hats off to him [Sale],” Anthony Rizzo said. “He made us look silly. ... He’s fun to face because he’s the best.”
That last sentiment might be as important as anything. The Cubs have bigger goals than the crosstown cup, and if they’re going to lose, why not learn something from one of the best pitchers in the game. The whole weekend rivalry was filled with intense moments, including a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the sixth Sunday with Jorge Soler at the plate and Sale on the mound.
“That moment where Soler struck out had a playoff moment attached,” Maddon said. “All those moments are going to contribute to our guys doing really well when it gets into September and eventually in October. So I was pleased with all that.”
Soler struck out looking on an outside corner pitch Maddon said he “heard was a ball.” It was the only real rally the Cubs had against the Sox lefty, who was “lights out,” as Cubs shortstop Addison Russell put it.
“No use dwelling on it anymore,” Haren added. “Team is doing great.”
And that’s the effortless part these days about a loss leading into a day off after a nine-game winning streak -- it’s easily forgotten. The Cubs have moved into a different neighborhood when it comes to their status in the baseball world. A loss is a blip, while a bad day at the plate isn’t given a second notion anymore. Getting shut down as they did Sunday is the exception to the rule, whereas a short time ago it was the other way around.
“We do need this day [off],” Maddon said.
After Monday’s day off the Cubs play 16 in a row, including a West Coast trip and a red-eye return home to play a night game at Wrigley Field on Aug. 31. That’s when the real fun will begin, as scoreboard watching will become a nightly routine. Actually, the fun will start the night before, when the Cubs return from Los Angeles wearing pajamas and/or onesies so ordered by their manager.
But first things first. The Cubs need a new streak. Sunday hardly knocked them off their perch. In fact, maybe they received another break considering their No. 5 pitcher faced Sale. Why not use the top-of-the-rotation guys for their next series since no one was beating the Sox pitcher on Sunday anyway? The logic makes sense, if you want it to.
“We try to win series,” Dexter Fowler said. “That’s all you can do.”
The Cubs have won five series and split one since being swept and no-hit by the Philadelphia Phillies. No wonder they’re in a good mood.
“Just going to recharge the batteries and get ready for a long stretch we’re about to endure,” Rizzo said.
At least they can do it with clean socks now.