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Magic gives way to preparation as Jonathan Herrera keys Cubs' win

Jonathan Herrera accounted for three of the Cubs' runs as Chicago's bats came to life against the Mets. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- Everything that could go right went right for the Chicago Cubs in their trip to the Big Apple this week. Even their bats reappeared in Thursday's finale against the New York Mets -- maybe Simon the magician had something to do with that -- as the Cubs swept a season series of more than six games for the first time since 1885.

Thursday's magic came in the form of backup Jonathan Herrera -- starting in place of Kris Bryant who got his first big league breather after striking out three times in Wednesday's game. Herrera brought home the first run on a perfect safety squeeze then later homered to ensure the outcome of the game some more.

"He stays ready," manager Joe Maddon said after the 6-1 victory. "Every day on the field watch what he does with the young guys. Outstanding job helping our infielders and also the Latin guys on the team."

There may not be a role player Maddon likes more than Herrera, calling him the "best bunter I've had in a long time." Every team needs those kinds of professionals coming off the bench. It's one of the harder jobs in baseball and it's why managers don't rely on young players for the most part no matter how skilled they are.

"He understands what his role is and how it works," Maddon said. "And he gets prepared at every position, every day."

As much as we've liked the "magic" narrative this week it was Maddon himself who stated a team creates its own magic -- and not by the wave of a wand (or bat). Herrera is just the latest example of the Cubs employing the right people for the right job. Is he more skilled than others? Not nearly. But he can do his job better than most, that includes some heavier bats sitting in the minors.

"Sometimes they ask me ‘are you playing?'" he says of his teammates," because they see me with the guys stretching. I say ‘no, I'm not playing' but I want to be ready and feel like I'm playing."

The Cubs bench is better than most people give it credit for. There's a reason 30 year-old Herrera, Mike Baxter and David Ross are in the majors instead of Arismendy Alcantara or other young players. They know how to handle the once-a-week role.

So the Cubs made up the three games they lost in St. Louis with a little magic on the mound, on the base paths and in the clubhouse. Herrera performed the tricks on the Mets pitching staff in the finale on Thursday helping his team back to seven games over .500. For the third day in a row Maddon had "Do You Believe In Magic?" playing in his office but not before playing a few bars of "Johnny B. Goode."

Because he was.

"He's just a solid, solid guy to have around," Maddon said.