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Adbert Alzolay induced a game-ending lineout to finish off a 5-3 Cubs win over the Reds on Thursday, and the Wrigley Field crowd roared.
The win gave them victories in three of the four games in this series against Cincinnati. It brought their record to 56-53 and got them to within 2 1/2 games of first place in the National League Central (the Brewers retook the division lead Thursday) and two games back of the last NL Wild Card spot.
Wait a minute, these Cubs are fighting for a shot at the postseason in August? The same Cubs who battled inconsistency pretty much all season? Who fell to 10 games below .500 on June 8? Who were seemingly on the verge of a third straight trade deadline sell-off only a couple of weeks ago?
Yes, these Cubs have been on a roll that’s got them closing in on a playoff spot. Their hot stretch (which now has them 14-6 since the All-Star break) confirmed to president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer that keeping the group together and making a playoff push was the right call.
“It is nice to be supported by the front office,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “This team has done that, gone out and won when it mattered. When it was kind of do-or-die, they did a good job of doing that and turning this thing around.”
The Cubs are now three games over .500 for the first time since April 28 (14-11), and they’ve got a whole two months of meaningful baseball ahead of them. And with meaningful baseball on the North Side of Chicago, of course, comes raucous crowds at Wrigley Field.
“Cubs fans love meaningful baseball at the end of the year,” said Alzolay, who earned his 13th save in 14 opportunities Thursday. “I feel the way we’ve been playing lately, it just keeps the fans coming to the field and bringing that energy. That energy is huge for us. I feel that anytime we get in a big situation out there and we feel Wrigley Field standing, every one gets a chill. We’re down there in the bullpen, and we’re clapping and clapping, because we know something good can happen, and it’s been showing off lately.”
None of the four games versus the Reds were sellouts — it’s a tough thing to do for weeknight games, anyway — but you absolutely could feel the energy from the fans.
During the 6-5 loss Monday, it felt like the fans were hanging on to every pitch during the near-comeback. The next two nights combined, the Cubs scored 36 runs in a two-game span for the third time in franchise history and hit their most homers (12) in a two-game span since at least 1901. The blasts came in bunches and the crowd was loud, to the point that Cubs manager David Ross said he kept on singing “Whoomp! (There It Is)” — the home run celebration song — on the drive home. And even Thursday, when the pitching staff led the way to victory, the 35,615 fans in attendance still kept the energy going.
“The fans were electric,” said Jameson Taillon, who got the ‘W’ to improve to 6-6 on the year. “It was packed. I don’t think I’ve seen night games here this electric, so all in all, just a really good series.”
Maybe the stands are jumping these days because fans haven’t been able to watch a competitive Cubs team this late in the season in years.
The 2019 Cubs were within reach of a playoff spot into mid-September. But since then, fans have suffered through the fan-less 2020 season and then two trade deadline sell-offs that saw the Cubs wave the proverbial white flag with two months left in the season.
Ian Happ, one of the few players around for each of those seasons, was quick to point out that Cubs fans still showed their support at Wrigley the last two years, like Cubs fans are known to do. But giving them a reason to fill the ballpark makes these moments feel sweeter.
“To be able to be in this position with this momentum for the crowd in August, that’s the exciting part,” Happ said.
The Cubs will attempt to continue giving their fans a reason to show up to park.
Their fight isn’t done. They’ve clawed their way back near the top of the standings, but if the season ended Thursday, they’d still be left out of the postseason. With 53 games remaining in the regular season, they’ve got work to do.
“It’s enjoyable to be in the race, for sure,” Ross said. “My manager brain wants to go, ‘We’ve got a long way to go.’ I’ve said that a bunch times. We’ve got a lot of games still left to play. We haven’t done anything up to this point.”
Still, as long as the Cubs keep up their end of the bargain, the fans will continue to make games at Wrigley Field feel like a party.
Said Ross: “This place, when it starts to rock, you can’t ignore it.”
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