Joe Maddon sat behind his desk in the visitors' clubhouse and, with a sly smile, pressed play on his mobile device, starting up The Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe In Magic?"
Maddon brought in an illusionist to entertain his team after a rough patch of play, but after a 1-0 win over the New York Mets on Tuesday night that snapped a five-game skid, the Chicago Cubs seemed to think the man with the magic touch was actually their mischievous manager.
"I just felt more comfortable and, I'm sure the guys felt the same, because he kind of tones it down a little bit, lets you relax," Matt Szczur said about Maddon. "It was a fun time."
Kyle Hendricks (3-4) pitched three-hit ball for six innings and combined with three relievers to bail out the Cubs, who scored just six runs during their losing streak.
Szczur had an RBI double off Jonathon Niese (3-8) in the sixth, Chicago's only hit in five chances with runners in scoring position. It was enough to end a four-game winning streak for the Mets, who lost 1-0 for the fourth time in two months.
"A 1-0 win is always pretty spectacular, but we still have to do a better job offensively," Maddon said. "I know they're saying the same thing on the other side."
Chicago, which improved to 5-0 against New York this year, was 4 for 37 with runners in scoring position while dropping two to the Dodgers and getting swept by NL Central-rival St. Louis. Hoping to make the slump disappear, Maddon pulled out one of his tension-cutting tricks: He hired an illusionist named Simon to perform in the clubhouse.
"I was locked in on that," Hendricks said of the tricks. "It was crazy, some of the stuff he was pulling off."
Not so for Szczur: "That stuff makes me nervous," he said. "I don't want him to take my wallet or my phone or something."
The Cubs managed only four hits against the Mets, whose pitchers have yielded just five runs in the last 51 innings (0.88 ERA).
Hendricks was winless in his last three starts and hadn't gotten an out beyond the fifth since going six innings June 2 against Miami. The team that entered Tuesday 27th in the majors in runs was a good tonic for his troubles.
The right-hander walked one and struck out six, not allowing a runner past second base. In two career starts against the Mets, he's allowed one run and six hits over 13 innings.
"Today was much better as far as mentally," Hendricks said, "just focusing, making every single pitch."
Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop each pitched a hitless inning before Jason Motte finished the three-hitter for his third save.
New York activated Daniel Murphy from the disabled list Tuesday, the first game in a stretch in which the Mets play seven of their next nine series against opponents who are above .500.
Murphy doubled in four at-bats, ending the game with a flyout to center field. But the rest of the lineup that scored 15 runs in 10 games before Sunday, when rookie pitcher Steven Matz had four RBIs in a 7-2 win over Cincinnati, did little to support Niese.
"I would have liked to have gotten more hits, but it felt good in there from a personal standpoint," Murphy said. "It's a frustrating loss."
Niese gave up four hits and a run in seven innings against a team thought to be interested in trading for him. He is winless in a career-high nine starts.
"It's tough," Niese said. "It's tough to swallow but you've got to be professional about it. You've got to forget about it and not worry about it. Move on to the next game."