Navarro, who had a 4-0 record as of Sunday, has become the ace of a young and surprisingly effective pitching staff that after the 25th game was leading the majors with a 3.30 earned run average. Holdovers Kevin Foster, Jim Bullinger, Steve Trachsel and Frank Castillo, who suffered through the long afternoons of 1994, have benefited from Jenkins's gentle advice. With 284 career victories, Hall of Famer Jenkins had nearly triple the total victories—106—of his entire rotation when the season began. In one nine-game stretch his starters pitched through the seventh inning seven times. Holdover closer and off-season college basketball shooting guard Randy Myers has taken care of the rest of the business.
"I really haven't changed anything with any of these guys," Jenkins says. "I just have gotten them to pitch aggressively. It's so much easier to pitch, especially in Wrigley Field, when you're ahead in the count. Everything has kind of grown from that. One guy wins one day, then the next guy wins the next day. It's become a situation where nobody wants to let everyone else down."
"It's all so different now," Trachsel says. "I was a rookie last year, so I didn't know what to expect. I was in the clubhouse, and players, especially the veteran players, all seemed very tight. It was like they were afraid to make mistakes because they knew they'd hear about them."
The road trip made everything seem real. How good is this team? Well, when was the last time a Cub team went west and came home with a 7-2 record? Even the two losses—on a two-run homer in the seventh by the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds and a two-run, ninth-inning rally by the Rockies—were far from discouraging. The 7-2 trip very easily could have been 9-0.
MacPhail worries about Cincinnati, a team that has the talent to walk away from everyone else in the division. Dunston worries about the Cubs' lack of power, with only rightfielder Sammy Sosa as a genuine home run threat. Lynch worries about depth and the untested pitching over a long season. What will happen if injuries occur? What moves would have to be made? Grace and the rest of the Cubs worry less and less.
"People ask us if we're really this good," Grace says. "We ask ourselves the same question all the time. The answer is, we're doing it now, so why can't we keep doing it?"
"We're doing it, and we really haven't started to hit yet," McRae says. "You go through our lineup, and nobody's having a career year. Nobody's hitting any better than he ever has. Our pitching has been keeping us going, and if our hitting kicks in too, we could be hard to beat."
Hard to beat? The Cubs? Who could resist that?
"I'm a [Cub] broadcaster, but I'm also a fan," former Cub third baseman Ron Santo says. "I look at this team and...who knows? You get started like this, and all of a sudden you're doing things you didn't know you were capable of doing. I played 14 years with this team, and unfortunately we never won it, but someday it's going to happen, and god, I hope I'm there when it does. Wouldn't it be something?"
You are back. You are a Cub fan, and you spent part of your Memorial Day weekend in nasty weather at Wrigley. Or you watched and listened to Harry Caray gargle on television. Or you picked up the Chicago Tribune and threw away the front sections and went directly to the sports for scores and standings. Or you picked up the Chicago Sun-Times and started reading from the back, from the sports.