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Cubs, Quintana withstand harrowing flight to reach Game 1 of NLCS

Jose Quintana of the Chicago Cubs throws a

Jose Quintana of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch against the Dodgers during the first inning in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Oct. 14, 2017. Credit: Ezra Shaw

LOS ANGELES -- As a group, the Cubs endured an emotional gantlet in the 48 hours leading up to their confrontation against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

After surviving a 4 hour, 37 minute clincher against the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the delirious Cubs boarded their charter to Los Angeles early Friday morning only to be diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jose Quintana’s wife, Michele, fell ill during the flight.

But little more than a day after, Quintana climbed the mound to start Game 1 of the NLCS, the personification of what has been a hectic few days for the Cubs. The lefthander was not even announced as the starter until a few hours before game time, partly because he remained in New Mexico until Friday night to be with his wife.

Meanwhile, the team moved on to Los Angeles, though not for several more hours. The emergency landing also meant that the pilots had to be replaced because they had gone beyond their legally mandated flight times.

“Everything’s fine,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We had to land in Albuquerque, and we did. We spent five hours on the tarmac, which I’ve talked about yesterday how proud I was of our guys. Nobody complained. It was an empathic moment. Everybody understood what’s going on. As a human being, you’re concerned for other human beings.”

The Dodgers wrapped up their NLDS with a sweep of the Diamondbacks. They spent most of the week resting and waiting for their opponents. When Clayton Kershaw took the ball for Game 1, he did so on a week’s rest.

Quintana’s situation was far different. He made his first career postseason start in Game 3 of the NLDS on Monday against the Nationals. He allowed only one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings, a game that the Cubs eventually would win. In Game 5, Quintana was pressed into work out of the bullpen, requiring 12 pitches to work two-thirds of an inning.

But the Cubs regarded the appearance as a bullpen day, allowing Quintana to start on Saturday. It was the kind of spot that the Cubs envisioned using Quintana, who was traded from the crosstown White Sox midseason as part of a blockbuster deal.

“He only threw 12 pitches the other [night[, and he felt good about it,” Maddon said. “We talked to him, and he said he was fine. He’s been throwing the ball great.”

Of course, the Cubs’ charter flight only added another wrinkle, though Quintana’s wife was said to be doing well. And early in Game 1, Quintana showed no ill effects from the episode, facing the minimum while allowing just one hit in his first three innings.

“We were celebrating, first of all, and I believe in celebrating after you win,” Maddon said. “The plane ride was raucous, and then all of a sudden we had that issue. So we don’t get in until noon L.A. time on the off day.”

The Cubs decided on Friday night to start Quintana. But they slept on the decision before announcing it, partly because team officials wanted to get a read on where the pitcher stood. Maddon disputed any notion of gamesmanship contributing to the delayed announcement,

“Yes, it was important to get a phone call from Q,” Maddon said. “We had to get in touch with him to find out specifically, yeah, I can do this. Because, again, there are a lot of moving parts here. So there was no intention to be disingenuous about anything, we just needed to know. So, once Q confirmed that we could, then we’re able to announce it.”

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