CHICAGO -- If Jason Heyward's hard-hit liner in the seventh inning gets past Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, the Cubs might be celebrating an Interleague sweep on Sunday. But Fielder caught the ball and stepped on first to pick off runner Addison Russell for a double play and end the Cubs' threat.
It was a key moment for the Cubs, who got another lesson in what baseball could be like in October. Texas posted a 4-1 win at Wrigley Field behind Cole Hamels, who stymied them over eight innings.
"That's a really good team," manager Joe Maddon said of the Rangers, who have the most wins in the American League. "We won two out of three against a really good team. You had really good pitching, good starting pitching. You look at their lineup, and you look at those names and the numbers and what they're capable of, and they're a very good offensive club also.
"To take two out of three here post-break is pretty impressive. That's exactly what you're looking like in the postseason, those kind of teams."
John Lackey, who knows a thing or two about the postseason, limited the Rangers to four runs over eight innings on a day that didn't favor pitchers. The wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field at 18 mph.
"That's a first-place American League team, and they came in here, and this small ballpark played even smaller today," Lackey said. "It was a good challenge. We've got to play well against whoever comes in."
Lackey had plenty of support. Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. made a leaping catch into the ivy-covered brick wall in the second to snare Robinson Chirinos' fly ball -- and he was reminded that the greenery doesn't provide much of a cushion.
"Yeah, it hurt," Almora said. "It ain't soft."
"We've got guys who make a lot of great plays," Lackey said. "The key to us moving forward is playing better fundamentally and do some of the little things better. That makes a difference in tight games."
They'll also need to keep their cool. After the Rangers' sixth, Lackey had a few words with home-plate umpire Cory Blaser, and Heyward had to separate the two.
"They were talking about Christmas cards for next year," said Maddon, who also came out to talk with Blaser. "I was just ameliorating the situation. I was kind of like the arbiter right there. John does the John thing, and an umpire is not going to like that, and I tried to explain to Cory what exactly was going on.
"We got beyond it. I think when John went up to hit, I think it was all over. Just let John vent a little bit and he's fine."
The Cubs will be tested again Monday, when they play host to the Mets for the first of a three-game series. New York swept Chicago in last fall's National League Championship Series, and again June 30-July 3 this year in a four-game series.
Maddon wouldn't say anything worthy of the back page of the New York Post. He's a "one game at a time" manager, and that attitude has rubbed off on his players.
"I didn't even know, to be honest, that we were playing the Mets," Almora said. "It's another team. We're not playing bad. [Hamels] was just really good today. We just have to take care of the next series."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.