MILWAUKEE -- Just how good was Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis over seven days, ending Thursday?
“Amazing,” one Cubs player said.
“So good, but I’m not sure he broke a sweat,” another one chimed in with a smile.
Davis is shooting for perfection, as he’s the only closer in the game who hasn’t blown a save, but this last week added another layer to his great season. Davis pitched in five of six games, throwing a combined six innings while giving up two hits and a walk to go along with 10 strikeouts. Not one runner crossed the plate on him while he earned three saves plus a win. And the best news was his ability to pitch in more than one inning. It’s the first time he has been called upon to attempt it. One time, he entered the game in the eighth, and another time in the ninth, and all he did the next inning was set down the opposition in order each time.
“He’s got guts,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Friday afternoon. “It’s been fun to watch him pitch. He’s pitching better and better every time out.”
Those guts Rizzo is referring to were on display in the ninth inning Thursday when Davis entered a tie game with a runner on first and one out against the Milwaukee Brewers. He was supposed to come into the game with two outs, but manager Joe Maddon asked him to hurry up in order to face Ryan Braun.
“They made the phone call [to the bullpen], so I said, ‘Sure,’” Davis calmly recalled. “Probably wasn’t ready.”
Davis hit Braun then gave up a hard hit single to Travis Shaw, loading the bases with the winning run 90 feet away. There was no margin for error. What happened next got everyone’s attention.
“I was more nervous than he was,” pitcher Rob Zastryzny said as he watched from the bullpen.
Reliever Justin Grimm added: “I put my head down, but this is a guy with a plan, always with a plan.”
Davis struck out Domingo Santana on a high fastball then got behind Orlando Arcia 3-1 in the count before getting him to bounce one back to him on a 89 mph cutter on a 3-2 pitch. The drama-filled sequence was a thing of beauty.
“I got lucky Shaw’s hit didn’t score the run,” the always understated Davis said. “It allowed me to take a deep breath. That 3-1 pitch to Santana was huge because he didn’t swing at it. I threw it right down the middle. I took a chance. Then, he had seen enough straight fastballs, so I went to a cutter.”
As for the multi-inning saves, Davis is all for it. He hasn’t been overused, and besides, there’s always Red Bull and hot sauce for his arm to keep his adrenaline going between innings. And coffee.
“I think I’ve been drinking too much caffeine,” he said with a smile. “Self-induced jitters.”
On one hand, it’s easy for his teammates to describe Davis, but those that know him best couldn’t find the exact words because he doesn’t fit one mold. He doesn’t say much; that much everyone agrees on, but there’s something always going on inside him.
“He’s quiet, but he’s involved,” Ben Zobrist said. “He listens. You can tell he knows what’s going on. It’s like he’s analyzing things all the time. I don’t think he takes breaks. He may not be the center of attention, but he knows exactly where his place is and what he wants to say.”
When told Davis is kind of the pitching version of himself, Zobrist smiled: “No, I’m not that composed.”
Zobrist has played with Davis on two different teams and sees the same person, just in a different role. His days as a starter are in the past, but he has never given up on that mentality. He pitches with a purpose. Thursday was a great example.
“I couldn’t believe he threw a 3-2 cutter,” Grimm said shaking his head. “Watching him, you just know he has a plan and he’s going with it. ... He just has it figured out. He’s always in control.”
Davis is most certainly a lead-by-example type of guy. His process to get ready to pitch is an inspiration to his younger teammates.
“He’s taught me more in the span that I’ve been here than I learned from a lot of my coaches growing up,” Zastryzny said. “He goes out there with a purpose. It’s not a fluke he’s doing his job so well. He knows what he needs to do and how to get there. That’s what I’m learning from him. Every now and then I’m walking around here trying to find something [to do]. He knows what he needs to do all the time.”
Teammate after teammate spoke of the plan Davis follows. Told what they think of him, the 32-year-old free agent-to-be shrugged it off.
“If they want to believe that stuff, it’s good,” Davis said. “But I’m just doing my job.”
Will he continue to do his job for the Cubs next season? It’s not a topic which has come up much considering the Cubs have bigger things on their mind, but a closer who’s 32-for-32 in save opportunities is sure to get a look from other teams.
“I love it here,” Davis said. “It’s great. The front office is great, so are the fans, but I’m anxious to get to the postseason, then anxious to get home and hunting. I’m not worried about next year as much as I am winning the World Series then shooting a big deer.”
Some of Davis’ hunting stories are legendary, and perhaps some of his pitching antics will be, as well. He had a good one Thursday, shutting the door on the Brewers when all looked lost. He has done the same a few times during the past week, earning a rare night off Friday. He won’t get many nights off down the stretch as he could be this year’s version of Aroldis Chapman for the Cubs -- a closer who is used a lot. Considering the way he’s been pitching lately, it’s not a bad strategy. He does most of his talking on the mound anyway.
“He doesn’t say too much,” Kris Bryant said. “He’s all business, all the time. I guess that’s what a closer is. You need a completely different mindset to do that. ... I’d love to see him back here. Would be cool.”
Zastryzny added: “It’s one of the most impressive things in the world. To see a guy do what we’re all trying to do [be perfect], but he’s out there doing it. It’s amazing.”