Carl Edwards Jr. wore his black National League Central champion cap backward and held his 1-year-old daughter, Ava, in his valuable right arm as he and his family absorbed the division-clinching celebration at Wrigley Field on Sept. 16.
“This is something else,” one family member said.
Something else is exactly what the future may hold for the Prosperity native.
If the present is an indication, the 25-year-old rookie reliever they call “the String Bean Slinger,” the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder who on May 11 was called up from Triple-A Iowa to serve as the 26th man on the roster for a doubleheader and returned to the big leagues June 20, could be the team’s closer of tomorrow.
With current closer Aroldis Chapman likely to be costly on the free-agent market and former closer Hector Rondon and setup man Pedro Strop seeing reduced roles in the postseason, Edwards might be the next man to be the last man in for the Cubs.
“Sometimes he speeds things up, but that’s part of my job – to make sure he keeps the ball down and he keeps calm,” rookie catcher Willson Contreras said earlier this season. “We’re pretty much on the same page every time I’m catching him. It’s a lot easier.”
Edwards came to the Cubs from the Rangers with Justin Grimm, Mike Olt and a player to be named for Matt Garza in 2013.
He pitched 4 2/3 innings in five games last season. Thanks to a 96-mph four-seam fastball and an exceptional curveball, Edwards has landed in the good graces of Cubs manager Joe Maddon this year.
Edwards raised his innings to 36 in 36 appearances during the 2016 regular season, when he had a 3.75 ERA and allowed just 15 hits while striking out 52 of 138 batters. He has allowed four hits and one run in 5 2/3 postseason innings.
Maddon hasn’t been shy about using Edwards in key situations in the postseason either. He brought him in to start the seventh inning of a scoreless Game 3. Edwards took the loss that night after allowing an RBI single to Coco Crisp for the game’s only run.
But Maddon went right back to him in Game 5 on Sunday, again to start the seventh, this time to protect a one-run lead in relief of National League Cy Young Award front-runner Jon Lester.
Edwards didn’t flinch.
“I didn’t really feel any tension,” he said. “I was just trying to do what I have to do to keep my team in it, to help us survive another day.”
After Mike Napoli singled and moved to second on a passed ball, Edwards got Carlos Santana to fly out before giving way to Chapman, who went on to record a 2 2/3-inning save.
Edwards understood the move as he stood at his locker afterward, heaping praise on the man he could one day replace as the team’s closer.
“I wasn’t surprised. Joe Maddon is like a wizard,” Edwards said. “Something had to tell him, ‘Hey, Chapman can go 2 2/3 today.’ I don’t question him.”
Question is, will Edwards be that guy in the near future?