WASHINGTON — Wade Davis stood not in the middle of the wildness in the visitors’ clubhouse at Nationals Park in the wee hours Friday morning, but rather on the periphery of it. He’s more comfortable there, more himself. Mostly he just watched his Cubs teammates celebrate like charmed lunatics, his eyes subtly shifting from one area of the mosh pit to the next, a three-quarters smile fixed on his face.
“It’s great to have such good teammates,” he said. “It’s been an awesome year.”
How different it is to see Davis this way than when he’s at the center of the Cubs universe — and the eye of an unimaginable storm — as he was Thursday night during a seven-out save, the longest of his career, to hold off the Nationals 9-8 in Game 5 of the NLDS.
The 32-year-old Davis hasn’t been perfect in his debut season with the Cubs, but his 32 consecutive saves before the Brewers got to him in Milwaukee in late September came awfully close. He got walked off by a Robinson Cano homer at the All-Star Game, not that it mattered a bit to the Cubs. He gave up a grand slam to the Nats’ Michael Taylor in Game 4, of far more serious consequence at the time.
But then he came back — on a high wire without a net — with a performance in the clincher that will cement him in Cubs lore. There are quite a few highly respected figures on this Cubs team. Fiery Anthony Rizzo. Bulldog John Lester. Bunyanesque Jake Arrieta. But no one moves the needle in this regard more than the quiet, unflappable Davis.
“I love that guy,” Lester said. “He doesn’t care about tomorrow. He doesn’t care about the next day. He knows about now. That’s a bad [expletive] right there. That’s a bad [other expletive].”
Feel free to guess at which colorful words Lester chose, but suffice it to say they mean pretty much the same thing. Davis is such a bad expletive, it makes one wonder if the Cubs would dare let him get away this offseason. Davis, making $10 million, surely will be one of baseball’s most in-demand free-agent relievers. Can the Cubs afford to lose a closer whose teammates regard him with awe and whose calm on the mound in even the tensest situations gives the team an invaluable edge?
“I’m not worrying about that now,” Davis said.
Does he ever worry about anything? He entered with two on in the seventh and struck out Ryan Zimmerman. He walked Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon to start the eighth before wriggling out of that to keep the Cubs in front. And he struck out Bryce Harper in the mother of all confrontations to end the game.
“There’s no words,” said Game 5 starter Kyle Hendricks, who would’ve beaten himself up all offseason had his off night turned into a loss. “There’s nothing I can say for what he did for this ball club. He’s one of the toughest guys. He lives to be out on the mound.”
Arrieta, a starter expected to seek a massive free-agent deal, said his nerves were on fire Thursday as he worried that it would be his final game in a Cubs uniform. In the clubhouse, he was asked to look over at Davis — watch the man standing silent and still amid the din — and describe what he saw.
“A grown man,” Arrieta said, “and a incredible pitcher. What Wade Davis did in a decisive Game 5 for the Chicago Cubs was absolutely incredible. I owe a lot to him for making this possible. We all do.”
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.