CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon was hopeful before Game 4. In the first three games of the National League Championship Series, everything had gone the Mets' way, from Daniel Murphy to pitching to baserunning. The Cubs needed to reverse their luck, so he brought back the magician.
Murphy continued his amazing run, hitting a two-run homer in the eighth, and Lucas Duda drove in five runs to power the Mets to an 8-3 victory and a sweep of the NLCS. The Mets are headed to the World Series for the first time since 2000, and they will face the winner of the Royals-Blue Jays American League Championship Series, which the Royals lead, 3-2.
The magical season at Wrigley is over. Chicago posted the third-best record in the Major Leagues, winning an unexpected 97 games, yet the Mets' young pitching overpowered the Cubs' young hitters in the NLCS.
In late June, the Cubs had lost five in a row when Maddon invited a magician to perform at Citi Field. The Cubs proceeded to sweep the Mets and win seven of their next nine games. But the odds favored the Mets in Game 4 of the NLCS. The only team in MLB history to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series was the 2004 Red Sox, who rallied to beat the Yankees and then sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.
"The lesson to be learned here now is that they've learned how to win this season," Maddon said. "They've learned how to win at the Major League level. They were participating in the playoffs, with only four teams left, which is pretty impressive at their point of development. For me, at this point, it's been one big positive.
"You're not going to race all the way through and nail it down. You're going to have your struggles. I think our guys have done a great job of dealing with it. I can see it in their faces, I can see it in their eyes."
The 2015 season was supposed to be another development year for the young Cubs. Instead, the talented group fast-forwarded the calendar.
"It validates the entire organization," Maddon said of the 2015 season. "It validates the scouting and development, it validates what we did in Spring Training this year just to get to this point to win over 100 games this year. When everything's said and done, we've won over 100 baseball games this year in the regular season and postseason. That's not easy to do.
"Everything that's occurred this year validates all that has been put in place prior to this year. I've said it before, I feel very fortunate to be part of this because I was not responsible for any of the heavy lifting."
In his first season as manager, Maddon guided the Cubs to a 24-win turnaround from 2014, the best in baseball. But there's more work to be done, and in February and March, there will be an emphasis on situational hitting, on doing the little things to win a game.
"You want to have our hitters understand the ability to do other things," Maddon said. "They're young. They're really a group of young, inexperienced hitters. ... They'll get better at it. I know we talked about it in Spring Training, and it'll be something we'll address in the future. When you get to this time of year, it's always nice to be able to do different things."
The postseason provides Maddon with a teaching moment.
"The thing that occurs now is that we're all here together doing this, so next year when you want to preach something about maybe the little things in Spring Training and point out what occurred last October, it actually helps a lot," he said. "Guys who have never been through it before, and you talk about the little minutiae, it doesn't really resonate with them sometimes. Now, having gone through this, getting the bunt down, hitting the cutoff man, being in the right position, whatever, it's an easier sell."
Next up? Getting the Cousin Eddie ready for the trip home. Maddon's recreational vehicle has been in the shop. It needs new windshield wipers, the air conditioning has been troublesome, and there's an issue with the window shade. The water tanks have to get filled, and it needs a new hose for the septic area.
There was music playing in the Cubs' clubhouse after Wednesday's loss.
"It's a tribute to Joe's success in keeping them loose and focused, and his game management," said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, who passed through the clubhouse to shake players' hands and say goodbye. "It's a tribute to guys stepping up and starting to live up to their potential. It was a great year off the field, too.
"We just have to keep moving forward, whether it's the ballpark or the team. We're starting to get better and better every year. We're heading in the right direction."