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NLCS Game 1: Nothing routine about Cubs' travel day to Los Angeles

Tim Brown
·MLB columnist
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LOS ANGELES – There’s an element of the job, somewhere between the minimum required and the whole damned job, in which a fellow is asked to show up healthy and rested and in a reasonable frame of mind. Any job, really. This one in particular. They’d call it the process. The routine. They cling to it – or it to them – until their knuckles are white and neck veins bulge. Every day.

That way nothing is overlooked, and they can’t go oh-for-four and hate themselves for it. The three or four hours you see is the part where they accept failure, the part they can live with, unfair as it may be. As long as the other 20 or 21 hours were strictly – at least reasonably – attended to.

Which brings us to dawn Friday, a piece of tarmac at an Albuquerque airport and an airplane carrying the defending World Series champions, an airplane that was supposed to deliver them to Los Angeles and the NLCS and instead had an undetermined amount of food, no engine activity and, for that matter, no pilot.

The road back to the World Series, as they say, is littered with regret and tiny pretzel wrappers.

A third of the way through the postseason they hope ends in a second consecutive championship, the Chicago Cubs were grounded two-thirds of the way across the country. A member of their traveling party – a relative of one of the players, according to the club – became ill. A source described the ailment as an apparent panic attack. Diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the plane landed, the passenger was tended to, and then the plane sat while the airline switched out pilots.

The Cubs beat the Washington Nationals, 9-8, Thursday night, a game that required of them 191 pitches, 44 by closer Wade Davis, and four hours, 37 minutes. They celebrated. They bused to the airport. They loaded everyone on an airplane, headed for LA and the NLCS, set down in New Mexico for five hours, left there with a couple fresh pilots and landed at Los Angeles International Airport at about noon. They also landed without knowing for sure the identity of their starting pitcher for Game 1 (could be Jose Quintana, could be John Lackey), or any of the games for that matter, and they just finished a series in which they were outpitched, out-hit, out-defended, and won three times anyway, then scrapped any plans they had for a Friday evening workout at Dodger Stadium.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon arrives for a press conference, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Los Angeles in preparation for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. (AP)
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon arrives for a press conference, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Los Angeles in preparation for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. (AP)

So much for routine. And while routine is a luxury in October, it is one thing to be out of routine, perhaps, and another to have your starting rotation akilter, and to have pushed through a brutal five-game series, and to have sat on an airplane for half-a-day, and to roll in against a team – the Dodgers – that’s been taking batting practice and tanning for three days.

Nah, said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. No, no, no. It’s all part of it, and besides the Cubs have survived it so far, and settled into the noise, and slow-played it all, including the rotation, into a parade last year.

He arrived late Friday afternoon in a faded jean jacket, sunglasses with blue lenses and hair the approximate color of infield dirt. Traffic had held him up getting to the ballpark. Then there was some sort of confusion entering the stadium, a man at a door somewhere whose general rule of thumb may have been “No aging hippies claiming to be the Cubs manager.” Anyway, he walked around the corner, smiled and admitted it’d been a heck of a day but better than the alternative, which was a direct flight back to Chicago.

The routine now is winning the series, then inhaling and moving on to the next one, sorting that out when the first pitch comes.

“Biggest concern was that there might not be enough food for everybody,” Maddon said. “But, big 767, plenty of room. We all settled in.

“So, in spite of the inconvenience, and it was, and in today’s world, with all the events that are thundering down upon us, I thought it was kind of a bunt, so I thought we handled it well.”

The Dodgers are rested. Their pitching is lined up, starting with Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night, followed by Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood. The shortstop, Corey Seager, is ailing with a back issue, what manager Dave Roberts called “a little muscular thing,” but also said he expected Seager to play in Game 1. You know, probably. The Dodgers in the first round had been handed the somewhat diluted Arizona Diamondbacks, as the Diamondbacks’ two best starters were spent in the wild-card game, and won three games in four days. Now, too, they get a Cubs team that had to extend itself, and pitch in unfamiliar spots (Quintana threw 12 pitches in relief in Game 5, Jon Lester threw 55 in relief in Game 4), and sometimes that matters and sometimes it doesn’t, we’ll know more in 10 days.

First, though, Maddon had a meeting to attend, the one that would choose a Game 1 starter. And then, probably, some sleep to chase.

“So, a couple less hours of sleep,” Maddon said, “the fact it’s so exhilarating to win the way we just did, I think that will supply the energy, hopefully, for the next two days.

“The guys are going to show up.”

They have to, of course. Because that’s the routine. Every day.