WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Maybe all it took was a trip back to their childhoods. It's as good an explanation as any for the Chicago Cubs' finally winning a road series on Sunday with a 7-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Little League Classic. After a day and evening of being reminded what the game is all about, the Cubs finally, mercifully, won their first road series in exactly three months by taking two of three from the Pirates.
"I would imagine every major league team would like to do this," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of coming to Williamsport. "It is exciting. It is pure. It is what it's supposed to look like."
It could be just what the Cubs needed. The pressure of yet another pennant race doesn't apply to the Pirates, who have fallen far out of the hunt since the All-Star break. They've played at Williamsport before and probably will again, given their proximity. But for the Cubs, it was a one-day respite. Yes, they had to take the game at night seriously -- but not the entire day.
"I'm really a tough routine guy," winning pitcher Jose Quintana said. "I always do the same thing before the game. But today was really special. I said hello to the kids. It was different."
The Cubs needed something different in their road life, as it has been the grind of all grinds away from home. With Sunday's win, Chicago improved to just 25-39 on the road this season. But on Sunday, there was no one reminding them of that record -- only of what the game is all about.
Baez enjoying time at LLWS
Javier Baez talks about the joy he has playing baseball and how he wants kids to enjoy the game while they're playing.
"It was really special," Javy Baez said. "I came to the Little League World Series when I was young. We didn't have this experience. We didn't have major league players around. It was cool for them and for us too.
"It kind of brought us together. In the dugout, out of the dugout. Being around the kids, it was pretty cool."
You could tell by the interactions that went on throughout the afternoon that this wasn't going to be a night when the Cubs would play tight. They could have lost the game just the same, but perhaps it's no coincidence that they ended a 90-day road series drought on the same day they were sliding down a hill on cardboard boxes and letting Little Leaguers hold their bats while in the on-deck circle.
Team president Theo Epstein was asked what this day could mean for his team moving forward.
"It can't hurt," he said before the win. "Everyone had fun today. The routine can get a little monotonous. Breaking it up and doing it in a way that makes everyone happy and reminds everyone how fortunate we are to still be playing this game, it's pretty cool."
Wouldn't it be something if getting back to their 12-year-old selves was the key to unlocking what has held the Cubs back, especially on the road? Despite a trip that included back-to-back heartbreaking ninth-inning blown leads, the Cubs return home on a high note -- not just from the series win against the last-place Pirates, but because they had fun. Isn't that what the Little League World Series is all about?
Rizzo and Maddon go sledding at LLWS
Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon take part in the Little League World Series tradition of sliding down the hill on a piece of cardboard.
"For our team, it was a blessing in disguise to play and get out of our routine on the road," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "To win this road series means a lot."
Like Baez, Rizzo is known as a big kid at heart. Surviving cancer will do that to you. As he watched others sled down the hill on cardboard boxes behind the main LLWS stadium, he couldn't resist joining in. There was no resisting anything on this day. Quintana's regimented routine was thrown out the window, as was everything about a typical major league game.
And the Cubs loved it. Just as important, they needed it.
"We do well when we're relaxed," Rizzo said. "Today was a fun day."
Epstein added: "It put a smile on everybody's faces. Hopefully that carries over. Whether it helps us or not, it was worth doing."
No one can argue with that.