Sometimes all it takes to succeed at baseball is to remember that it’s a game and to enjoy it. That appeared to be Edwin Jackson's panacea on Sunday afternoon as he delivered his best outing in a Cubs uniform.
“Today I just told myself come out and have fun,” Jackson said. “Whatever happens, let it happen. Have fun, stay relaxed, stay loose and just play the game. Sometimes we take the game too serious and we get confined in a bubble. Today I was able to come out of that bubble and have some fun out there.”
Jackson said his previous struggles weren’t a matter of him not having fun on the mound, but rather an issue of taking the game too seriously. He decided to enjoy today’s outing and the positive results finally showed up.
Jackson tossed seven innings of one-run ball, giving up only four hits, while striking out eight and walking only one. His strong performance, which helped net the Cubs a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, dropped Jackson’s ERA by more than a half point to 5.76.
Prior to the game, manager Dale Sveum discussed how many of Jackson’s peripheral stats were in his favor, but due to what Sveum called bad luck, Jackson just wasn’t getting good results.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good in a lot starts I’ve pitched in, but (the) results haven’t been there,” Jackson said. “But probably today is the first day -- I’ve had a couple times where I’ve come out and been relaxed -- I just let it go. Just have fun and play the game.”
The offensive star of the day for the Cubs was Cody Ransom. Ransom drove a three-run home run just into the left field bleachers in the seventh inning that gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead.
Ransom was asked if Jackson’s bounce back start was an indication of the media guide not lying, a phrase Sveum is fond of using.
“I hope it lies a little bit,” the career .221 hitter said while pointing to himself. “I mean, he’s a great pitcher. He’s got a pretty good track record, he’s got great stuff. I’ve faced him on the other side a few times and he’s not fun to face. He’ll be all right.”
An inning prior to his heroics with the bat, Ransom made a brilliant base-running move.
After leading off the sixth with a walk, Ransom broke for second on Anthony Rizzo's ground ball to second. With the Pirates shifting for Rizzo, Ransom noticed that no one was covering third and didn’t hesitate in rounding second and taking the extra base. Ransom would eventually go on to score the Cubs’ first run on Scott Hairston's sacrifice fly.
The Cubs are a team that often employs the shift, so their players -- especially the infielders -- are well aware of what’s supposed to happen in that situation.
“You talk about it a lot when Rizzo or somebody is being shifted,” Sveum said. “There’s a chance on certain ground balls guys will fall asleep on, or even when you steal a base, guys will fall asleep because they’ll get caught watching the play. So it’s there to keep an eye on, it might be there if somebody falls asleep.”
Ransom almost ended up being the goat on the day when he was picked off second with two outs and two men on in the third.
“Just got picked off,” Ransom said. “I was watching (Pirates’ starter Jeff Locke's) grip, he was gripping a knuckle-curve and I didn’t know he could pick off on that and I got a little greedy ... and I got picked off. It was awful, not a very good play, but it worked out later in the game I guess.”
Last season, at the age of 36, Ransom had over 100 plate appearances for the first time in his career while splitting time with Arizona and Milwaukee. Ransom credited taking meaningful batting practice and sticking with a consistent pregame routine for his success coming off the bench. He added that knowing that Sveum would likely put him in the lineup when facing a lefty starter helped him prepare for the week ahead.
“He’s got almost an .800 OPS playing against left-handers and he’s done a great job defensively,” Sveum said. “He’s done everything and more than we’ve expected when we picked him up.”