CHICAGO — In addition to making his way across Wrigley Field on Tuesday to hug and say hello to many of the Rays players, coaches and staff he worked with in nine seasons in Tampa Bay, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the driving feeling about his first meeting with his old team was seeing how they now played.
"Just curious," Maddon said.
The Rays had quite a bit to show him in the thrilling and entertaining 6-5 holiday matinee win, with some dazzling pitching — and a big hit — by Chris Archer, key defensive plays and Alex Colome's 38-pitch tightrope walk through the ninth.
But most of all, a key play in the fourth inning when on a play suggested by manager Kevin Cash — who insisted all week he wasn't smart enough to match wits with Maddon — they outfoxed the old master.
Tim Beckham's homer had the Rays up 3-1, with two on and no outs and the chance to build the lead up to Archer, who was hitless in his first 23 big-league at-bats.
Archer bunted foul twice, with the Cubs playing Maddon's very aggressive bunt defense, where first baseman Anthony Rizzo comes in excessively close and second baseman Ben Zobrist, the ex-Ray, slides way over toward first.
On 2-and-2, Cash wanted Archer swinging away, preferring even a strikeout over losing the lead runner. As Archer got the sign, he remembered something Cash told him before the game.
"He said, look, if Rizzo is in your face and you feel comfortable with a fake bunt/slash, do it," Archer said. "The opportunity presented itself, I got fortunate they had that super shift on and the ball trickled through."
Archer showed bunt then pulled back the Alex Cobb model bat and slapped the ball right through where Zobrist would otherwise have been playing.
That scored one and set the Rays up for two more, on a Steven Souza Jr. double re-directed by the pitcher, while leaving Maddon to explain what went wrong.
"They beat our bunt defense," Maddon said. "That's the first time that's happened all year."
Cash deflected the credit to Archer, saying "it was a heads-up play on his part." Archer said it was all Cash's idea.
Either way, they needed that run and every other.
Archer's most impressive work came in the sixth, when he put the first two on and was nearing 100 pitches. Cash had relievers ready but opted to leave Archer in, and he got them out, without a ball in play, on three straight strikeouts.
"A big moment in his season for us," Cash said, noting how he got better as the game went. "I don't know how much better Arch's stuff can be. He was throwing 96-99 mph with a 91 mph slider. That's pretty good."
Archer, a former top Cubs prospect acquired in the January 2011 Matt Garza trade, had a pretty good day overall. He was pleased Cash let him finish the sixth with 116 pitches and shrugged off questions from Chicago writers about rumors of the Cubs wanting to trade to get him back.
His only disappointment was that none of his teammates called for the ball after his historic first hit — "Unfortunately the guys didn't pick me up" — so he instead plans to have the bat framed.
As good as the Rays felt with Brad Boxberger and Tommy Hunter zipping through the seventh and eighth with the 6-3 lead, Colome, continuing his puzzling struggles, ruined a few appetites — and had Cash's broken left foot throbbing — with a mess of a ninth.
Infield hit. Walk. Popout. Rizzo RBI single, 6-4. Zobrist sharp grounder that first baseman Trevor Plouffe makes a great play on to get the out at second but scores a run, 6-5 with the winning run on. Ian Happ walk after an 0-and-2 count. Then, finally, a Jason Heyward fly to left to end it.
"I have nothing to say," Colome offered at first, then added. "The only thing that's important is that we won the game, and that I feel good. … The other things I'll take care off."
Maddon downplayed the nostalgia angle, saying it was a bigger deal the first time with the Rays that he faced the Angels, where he'd spent 30-plus years. That it will be odder when he walks back into the Trop with the Cubs in September. That he had no issues with anything the Rays have done, including taking down photos of him around the Trop.
This was about playing baseball, and he was curious to see, noting their now 44-41 record and standing among the AL wild-card holders, how they were doing.
On this day, anyway, they showed him.