CHICAGO – Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked to speak in boxing terms Monday about why his team hasn’t been able to knock out the Milwaukee Brewers.
Maddon, an aficionado of the sweet science, jabbed back.
“Because they’re good,” he said, before the Brewers topped the Cubs, 3-2, at Wrigley Field to pull within one game of the Cubs in the National League Central. “When (Sonny) Liston fought (Muhammad) Ali, it wasn’t just a walk in the park for Ali. The Brewers are good, and they’ve made themselves better. I was thinking about that walking in. They’ve put a lot of professionals in their dugout, in their clubhouse.
“It’s not any walk in the park or a dance around the ring when you’re playing these guys. They’re very good. They’ve got really good arms. The guy tonight presents a lot of problems, (Wade) Miley. It’s no surprise. They’re better.”
The Cubs (83-60) had a chance to KO the Brewers (83-62) last week in Milwaukee, but the Brewers won two of three.
The Brewers took the lead against Cubs ace Jon Lester in the sixth inning, but the greater cause for concern was that Lester had to leave the game with two outs in the sixth with low-back tightness.
Lester has been the rock of the Cubs’ starting rotation this season. Maddon called the injury “kind of a spasm,” and Lester didn’t seem to think it was serious.
“It’s not anything painful,” he said after seeing his record fall to 15-6. “Just a kind of uncomfortable. After I got out of the game and got back up here, it felt a lot better. Hopefully tomorrow will be the same.”
The teams traded first-inning runs before Orlando Arcia gave the Brewers a 2-1 lead in the second with an RBI single. The Cubs tied it in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Kris Bryant.
Lester got two quick outs in the sixth before Mike Moustakas singled and Erik Kratz doubled. The Cubs’ athletic trainer had been out once already in the sixth to look at Lester, and a second visit brought Carl Edwards Jr. in from the bullpen. Edwards uncorked a wild pitch to score Moustakas and make it 3-2.
“We need to get Carl straightened out,” Maddon said. “The symmetry of the bullpen is different without him out there. His skill set is really important to us. We’ve got to get him right.”
The game was the Cubs’ first one back from a four-city 5-5 road trip that featured nearly 11 hours of rain delays in Washington over the weekend.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” team president Theo Epstein said. “They hung in there as best they could. Beyond this weekend, you’ve got to look at the stretch as a whole. We’re just about at the end of a stretch of 23 days in a row with a game, four-city road trip. This time is the ultimate dog days. Our guys have been handling it really well overall.
“But I think our guys are pretty resilient. They handled it well. You look up and you’ve got 20 games left … You’re playing the team that’s chasing you. This is something you would definitely sign up for. It’s fun. It gets the blood pumping.”