Column: Maddon makes a couple of jittery moves in Game 6 win
Hard to argue with Joe Maddon.
He's guided the Chicago Cubs to Game 7 of the World Series, with a chance to claim their first championship in 108 years.
But a couple of jittery managerial moves Tuesday night might've summoned the Curse of the Billy Goat one more time.
We'll know in about 24 hours.
To begin with, Maddon hastily yanked starter Jake Arrieta, a guy who's won 40 games over the last two regular seasons, with two outs in the sixth inning and the Cubs holding a five-run lead on the Cleveland Indians.
''I would've loved to get through at least seven,'' Arrieta said.
In the seventh, with Arrieta gone but the Cubs still comfortably ahead 7-2, Maddon looked downright panicky when he brought in lights-out closer Aroldis Chapman to get out of a jam that didn't feel all that threatening.
For the second game in a row, Chapman pitched in three different innings to help ensure a Cubs win.
This one seemed totally unnecessary.
Even after Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer in the ninth, pushing the Cubs to a 9-2 lead and giving the home crowd a chance to start heading for home with the clock still shy of midnight, Chapman went back to the mound in the bottom of the ninth. Turns out, Chicago didn't have anyone warming up in the bullpen, so there wasn't enough time to get someone else ready to take over at the start of the inning.
Chapman had to go back out to face one more hitter.
He issued a walk, and Maddon hustled out of the dugout to finally make a change that seemed long overdue, a rare miscalculation for a manager who has made all the right moves .
At this point, Chapman has thrown 62 pitches over the last two games. Even taking into account a day off between appearances, what will he have left for the final game of the season - especially after he appeared to tweak his right knee covering first base?
The Indians, on the other hand, have their Bullpen Big Three - Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw - all ready to go in the deciding game.
None were needed in Game 6, which quickly got out of hand when the Indians surrendered three runs in the first - two of them scoring on a botched fly ball that should've been the third out - and four more in the third on Addison Russell's grand slam.
A big advantage, really.
Maddon defended his moves after the 9-3 victory. And, to a degree, one could certainly understand his rationale. If the Cubs had somehow blown this lead - as improbable as that was - there wouldn't have been a Game 7. He decided to go all-in, no doubt mindful of all the heartache this franchise has gone through over the past century-plus. No need to toy with those demons.
''The middle of the batting order was coming up,'' Maddon said, looking back on the seventh. ''I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.''
The Cubs will have Kyle Hendricks going in Game 7, which is certainly encouraging for the folks in ChiTown, and they could possibly turn to two other starters - Jon Lester and John Lackey - to bolster the bullpen. That's a risky move, using pitchers in roles they're not accustomed to, but Maddon probably doesn't have much choice since it's obvious he has no faith in any of his relievers beyond Chapman and Mike Montgomery.
Even Arrieta said he would be ready to go, despite throwing 102 pitches on Tuesday.
''I'll definitely be available if outs are needed,'' he said. ''Last game of the year, Game 7 of the World Series, everybody's available.''
But Chapman is the guy the Cubs really want to send out in the finale.
That, undoubtedly, would mean a championship is on the line.
''He's a very strong young man,'' Maddon said. ''I think he'll be fine, honestly.''
Chapman threw 42 pitches in Game 5 , but that made total sense with Chicago down 3-1 in the Series and clinging to a one-run lead. The hard-throwing left-hander - whose fastball is almost always measured in three numbers - got the final eight outs for the save that sent the Series back to Cleveland.
Now, after two grueling appearances, at least by closer standards, Chapman might have to do it one more time.
Somehow, it seems like too much to ask.
Especially for a franchise that has endured everything from a Billy Goat to Bartman.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .