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Cubs manager Scott Boone didn’t feel comfortable as he paced back and forth in front of the dugout.
He looked at the scoreboard, back at the ground and turned around to pace in the opposite direction. With his hands in his pockets and head looking down he could only shake his head and pray for more runs.
In the fifth inning his team answered his prayers and broke open a tight 6-4 game with eight runs to take a 14-4 lead, and ultimately a 15-5 win to advance to the little league championship.
“I was really nervous and kept telling the coaches we needed at least two or three runs and man, the kids just started hitting everything,” Boone said.
It’s hard to fault Boone for his anxiety. Just two days earlier, against the Reds, with the score tied at four in the fourth inning, the Cubs had to rely on a three-run, two-out rally started by Ryan Clark jumping over Reds catcher Lane Marquardt for the inning’s first run.
They then had to withstand a late push by the Reds that brought the game to within one.
Nevermind the fact the Cubs began the season at the bottom of the standings with a 1-4 record, including losses in each of their first three games. Since then, the Cubs have gone 14-3 and will play the Yankees, who defeated the Mets 8-5 in Thursday’s other semifinal, for the championship.
“It just happened. We’ve been on a roll,” Boone said. “We’ve had a few bumps where we haven’t played that good but I love the way we’re playing right now.”
Boone used a bit of strategy at the beginning of Thursday’s game, starting Zach Miller on the mound. Boone said because nobody would be expecting it, he put him out there, and might have a similar surprise Saturday in the championship.
The end result was an admirable performance from Miller that saw him go 1.1 innings while allowing just one Red Sox run.
That run came in the bottom of the first, and was almost worse. With Red Sox first baseman Nathan McGregor on first base after hitting an RBI-single, Ben Simmons hit a harmless pop up to Cubs second baseman Josh Quire. Quire didn’t secure the pop up however and dropped it. Without panicking though, Quire picked it up and gunned over to third base where McGregor was called out and the Cubs left without further damage.
The Cubs doubled up the Red Sox in the next inning. With men on first and second, Zane McCoy batting in the nine-spot ripped a triple to deep left field to clear the bases. McCoy would finish the game with three RBI after drawing a walk in the fifth inning with the bases loaded.
After falling behind 6-1 from four Cubs runs in the top of the third inning, the Red Sox made a comeback in the bottom half of the inning. Having already given up three runs, their lead down to two, and a Red Sox runner on third base, Boone went out to the mound to talk to Puckett, who had come in relief of Miller in the second.
Puckett was getting outs, but was also throwing wild pitches, rushing his pitches and was visibly frustrated.
“I went out to Dusty and just said, ‘You need to take a deep breath and relax. You know they’re not going to swing at probably the first two pitches. Get them behind in the count. Get it in the strike zone; then they have to swing. Then throw your stuff at them,’ ” Boone said. “He makes me look like a good coach.”
“I was rushing the pitches and I was all in a hurry,” Puckett said. “I was out of control.”
Puckett responded by striking out the next batter to end the inning, and two of the three batters who stepped up in the inning after that.
The Cubs broke the game open in the fifth inning.
With three runs already on the board, the bases loaded and two outs facing him, Dylan Boone stepped up to the plate. With confidence in his ability, Dylan pinged out a bases clearing, three-RBI double to give the Cubs a comfortable 12-4 lead.
“It felt really good,” Dylan said.
“It gave us a really big lead and fired (the team) up.”
The Cubs put two more runs on the board in the fifth inning, and one more in the sixth and won 15-5 to advance to the championship.
Despite their rise from the bottom at the beginning of the season, and the championship, winner-takes-all game on Saturday, Scott Boone said there would be no Vince Lombardi-type motivational speeches.
“The last time I gave them a big motivational speech we got drilled 12-2 by the Mets,” Scott said. “I just figured I was over-coaching so I’m going to take the same approach (as I have the rest of the season), stay calm and let the boys play.”
E-mail Metz Camfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.