It's not a scene you see often. In fact, you almost never see it. An entire lineup standing around a batting cage together.
Just Bobby Dernier, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Matthews, Bull Durham, Jody Davis, Ron Cey, Keith Moreland and Larry Bowa.
Just the first big league lineup in 15 years to have six players with 80 RBI. Just the first NL team in five years to score over 750 runs. Just the fastest (154 steals) and most powerful (136 homers) Chicago Cub team in ages.
Usually, the regulars take batting practice in groups of three or four, at most. Keep the egos spread out. Don't make the stars twiddle their thumbs.
All eight at once, standing and teasing each other for an hour? Nobody worried about the work, everybody into the fun. Never happens. Too much friction, too little camaraderie.
That's why, on this rather odd offday in the National League playoffs, it was instructive to see that the Cubs, who lost here Thursday, 7-1 -- thus losing a chance to sweep -- seemed as content as though they'd won.
Maybe by Sunday morning the Cubbies will be tight as a drum, tight as Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, Don Kessinger and Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams and Randy Hundley. Maybe they'll be looking down the barrel of history.
But right now the prospect of sending Scott Sanderson against the San Diego Padres' Tim Lollar in Game 4 at 8 p.m. Saturday hardly seems to bother them. They look like a team savoring the last day before a pennant.
It's true that the Padres' fans, accused of being mellow, finally have started to bellow. It's true that Sanderson has been no great shakes against San Diego this year (19 hits and seven runs in 13 innings). And it's also true that, after two comatose games in Chicago, the Padres have started to show their grit.
"We were definitely down after the first two games," said Deacon Jones, one of the Padres' coaches, today. "I thought we'd probably get swept. You see a lot of sweeps in the playoffs. But Garry Templeton, who's a laid-back cool type, really took charge (on Thursday) and got everybody excited. We haven't had that kind of take-charge leader all year."
Despite that, it's the Cubs who give this playoff its panache. The Pads are solid, but the Cubs have the stats and the swagger and the classy style.
Yes, the Cubs were a 71-91 team last year; only one club ever had a worse percentage one year and went to the World Series the next season (the 1960-61 Reds). But last year's Cubs team didn't have Dernier or Matthews and Sandberg wasn't yet a superstar.
The Padres (who, for instance, have only one player with more than 75 RBI) may think it unfair, but this playoff, especially after the first two games, will always be the pennant that the powerful Cubs either won or blew.
That's why the mood reading on the Cubometer was interesting this beautiful California afternoon. The Chicagos had a workout that was so exuberant, so much like a high school team on the first warm day of spring, that Earl Weaver, ex-manager of the Orioles, said, "I don't know if Jim Frey is gonna be able to get these guys off the field. They look like they wanna take batting practice all afternoon."
This was the day the Cubs measured Jack Murphy Stadium. They played "long ball," perhaps trying to convince themselves that 370 feet in the alley and 327 down the lines should be too spacey, even for a club geared to Wrigley Field, where, Matthews says, "It's about 330 in the alleys and we hit it 331 as good as anybody."
If anything, the Cubs almost seemed overconfident today, as though the thought of having a rested Rick Sutcliffe (17-1, counting the playoff opener) ready for a Sunday fifth game made Saturday's affair a no-lose proposition.
"We got four guys with a foot in the Jeep," cackled Bowa, referring to the car that goes to the playoff MVP -- a member of the winning team. "A couple of 'em got the key in the ignition.
They might include Sandberg (.417 with five hits), Matthews (.300 with five RBI), Dernier (.333 with five runs scored) and Cey (.333 with five runs produced). As usual, the Cubs' lineup has so many interchangeable offensive parts that it's hard to know whom to praise.
For example, Moreland, called "Zonk" and "Quaker" (because of his hot temper), had 80 RBI this year and is hitting .364 in the playoffs, but rarely gets noticed.
If Chicago has an extra dimension, it's fellowship. "A lot of guys' contracts are up after this year, so we don't know where we'll be or how long we'll be intact," says Moreland, "so we're enjoying being part of this while it's all together."
Love the one you're with.
"We got a new dance going on here," Matthews said as Bowa takes a typically awful swing with his feet moving everywhere.
"Let's see the slam dunk," says Bowa as Moreland steps in. Moreland obligingly duplicates the tirade he threw at a sub ump Thursday, flinging his bat down two-handed, then spiking his batting helmet.
Cey looks at Sandberg's bat and screams. "You're using my gamer in B.P. What about a little professional courtesy? You don't even ask anymore," says Cey.
"It's an old piece," says Sandberg quietly, looking disdainfully at the Cey-model bat.
"Old!" says Cey. "It's gettin' older the more you use it. Who raised you? Just walk to the rack and pull out anything."
If the Cubs' loose confidence comes from any source, it might be from Frey.
Two years ago, California Manager Gene Mauch, after winning two, then losing one on the road, moving his No. 1 and 2 men -- Tommy John and Bruce Kison -- ahead a day to pitch on short rest so he could avoid using No. 4 man Ken Forsch in Game 4.
Mauch was afraid of the pressure of a fifth game and wanted to keep his team from facing it. So, he overmanaged. Frey has yawned and left his rotation alone. He hasn't been afraid to say the words, "If we lose."
Instead, he shrugs and says, "Sanderson is capable of beating anybody on a given day. But if there were a fifth game, it would be the most important Cubs game in 40 years. Then I'd feel real good about having Sutcliffe out there fully rested."
That means, 1) I trust my team; 2) I trust Sutcliffe; and 3) if we blow it, I'll take the rap for pitching Sanderson instead of starting my two aces, Sutcliffe and Steve Trout, on three days' rest in the last two games.
The Padres might have found their stride, but, as yet, the Cubs don't seem to have lost theirs. That could make for an interesting twilight time Saturday and, perhaps, a truly memorable afternoon Sunday.