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SportsMondayTuesday: Respecting The Streak

Now the bullpen isn't just good, it's perfect? Is there any limit to how well this Cubs team can play after Sunday's 2-0 victory over the Dodgers that featured starter Jason Hammel and four relievers combining to retire the last 25 batters in a row to up their record to an audacious 35-14?

It looked like the team might face some actual adversity at the start of the third inning when Hammel reported cramping in his hamstring. He has had similar issues with muscles in his legs before but usually not until later in seasons. So Hammel was out and the squad had to scramble and get Travis Wood off the clubhouse couch to pitch. Because he was replacing an injured teammate, Wood had unlimited time to warm up but still, the long reliever had been kicking back on the clubhouse couch before receiving the call.

So you thought perhaps it would take Wood a little while to get acclimated. And Joe Maddon thought he'd have Wood pitch for a maximum of two innings. And then all Wood did was throw 35 strikes in 43 total pitches over four innings of spotless relief. That's so ridiculous that our favorite word here at Beachwood Sports isn't ridiculous enough to describe it.

My favorite stat from Sunday's broadcast was the fact that in all of a season and a couple months with Maddon at the helm, the Cubs have now put together seven win streaks of six or more games. Crash Davis said it most memorably in Bull Durham: "Respect the streak." Oh by the way, I just went through a list of the memorable quotes from that film again and all I can say is that writer Ron Shelton is an absolute genius and Bull Durham is the greatest sports movie of all time by as much as the Cubs lead the Central.

I was watching another baseball game over the weekend (I will not be including specifics in order to protect the participants) and the pitcher for the team leading 3-0 was rolling. The game was going into the seventh inning and after struggling in the second inning, he had settled in to retire 12 straight.

But instead of allowing the pitcher's streak to simply continue unencumbered (i.e., not change anything), the manager of the leading team decided to hold a big meeting in front of the dugout before the seventh started. I guess he felt like he had to fire up the troops or something. Brutal.

And sure enough, the team with the lead failed to add to it in the top of the seventh and in the bottom, the pitcher got into trouble. With one out, the bases loaded and a run in, the hitter lofted a deep fly to center. The wind was blowing out so not only was the ball carrying but it was also dancing (pilots will tell you that the worst turbulence happens when the wind is right behind an airplane in flight).

The center fielder turned one way, then the other, then simply backpedaled furiously. And at the last instant he reached up and made the catch. The runner tagged and scored from third but the other two had to return to their bases. And the next hitter grounded out to end the game. But for that very fortuitous catch, the game would have been over with the other team on top, and all because the manager failed to respect the streak.

Of course it wasn't that simple but let's be clear about one thing: Joe Maddon would have never in a million years called that meeting. He would have allowed the game to continue without interruption, just like he allowed Travis Wood to pitch on well past what he had thought his limit would be.

The Cubs respect the streaks in all the ways that matter most. At least the manager does. There is always the chance that someone in upper management will screw things up but that seems awfully remote.

And so the team rolls on, winning with defense one day, pitching the next and having the offense come up big (like in the 9-8 victory in the decider against the Cardinals a week ago) when need be. The ride (the greatest sort of streak of all), continues.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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