By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – A lot of the credit for being a miracle maker in the Cubs’ climb to a long-awaited World Series has been heaped on team architect Theo Epstein, but Chicago’s team president praised manager Joe Maddon.
“Unbelievable job by Joe ever since he got here. He changed the culture at the major league level,” Epstein said about Maddon, who joined the Cubs in 2015 after a stint with the Tampa Bay Rays, who he led to their first World Series in 2008.
“We loved everything that was bubbling up from our minor leagues, but to finish it off at the big league level, Joe is the best in the business, getting guys to relax, be themselves, focus and embrace the target this year.”
The target of the Cubs, who in 2012 lost 101 games, was to reach the World Series for the first time in 71 years.
Mission accomplished, and the Cubbies travel to Cleveland to start the best-of-seven series for Major League Baseball’s championship on Tuesday.
“His leadership has been everything, allowed our young guys to settle in and play as well as we did tonight,” Epstein said at the trophy presentation after Chicago’s 5-0 National League pennant-clinching win on Saturday over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“That happens when guys can be themselves and embrace the moment and that starts with Joe and his coaching staff.”
Maddon said staying consistent was the key.
“The thing that I preached from the opening day in spring training is I want us to play the same game regardless of the date on the calendar,” Maddon said.
“You should not change what you’re doing regardless of the time of the year. You want to come out in the middle of October and play the same game we’ve been playing all summer.”
Across the diamond, Maddon’s counterpart in the Indians dugout will be another manager closely attuned to the pulse of his team in Terry Francona.
Francona is a longtime American League adversary of Maddon’s from previous years in the dugout managing Boston, where he worked for Theo Epstein and steered the Red Sox to World Series sweeps in 2004 and 2007, the club’s first triumphs since 1918.
After being dismissed following the 2011 season, Francona landed the skipper’s job in Cleveland, where his father, Tito, played most of his professional career.
Francona, like Maddon, is known as a players’ manager, and proved his skill with the way he manipulated his pitchers during the playoffs to overcome injuries to his starting rotation.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, another alumnus of Epstein’s Boston regime, had high praise for Francona and how he used his one-two bullpen punch of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to compensate.
“(Francona) is aggressive and I thought he set the tone for the whole postseason in Game One against Boston,” Hoyer said about bringing Miller in early in order to preserve a win. “He’s trying to win that night’s game. Players respect that.
“How do you not want to play for a manager like that?”
And now those managers will push the buttons across the diamond from each other with Major League Baseball’s biggest prize at stake.
(Editing by Andrew Both)