The Kevin Gregg Apology Tour continued on Friday night in the Wrigley Field press box.
It was a bizarre ending to a day that began with Cubs manager Dale Sveum on the hot seat and the Atlanta Braves waiting postgame inside the cramped visiting clubhouse to see if they clinched the National League East.
Gregg blasted Sveum and team president Theo Epstein after a 9-5 loss, ripping the organization for thinking about using Pedro Strop in save situations. Epstein called Gregg into Sveum’s office, demanded an apology and said he would sleep on it before deciding Saturday morning whether or not to release the closer.
Gregg took the loss and blamed his ninth-inning meltdown — four runs, three hits, three walks — on the decision to showcase Strop and quotes in an article on the team’s website.
Except Gregg misinterpreted a meeting with Sveum this week in Milwaukee, where $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson argued with the manager and Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija screamed at third-base coach David Bell inside Miller Park and in front of the televisions cameras.
Gregg — who has 32 saves after getting released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in April and signing a minor-league deal — is not losing the closer’s job. The Cubs simply hope to see Strop in the ninth inning once or twice in late September.
All these incidents reminding you of The Carlos Zambrano Years are happening at a time when the front office is evaluating whether or not Sveum should return in 2014.
“It’s natural when you have a tough season,” Epstein said. “At the end of the year, there are usually some brushfires that come up. Frankly, I’ve praised Dale to anyone who would listen last year because we somehow got through the year without a single one.
“About six weeks ago, I went to (media relations director Peter Chase) and told him I don't think it’s going to be possible to get through the rest of this year without something popping up here and there. And sure enough, we’ve had three this week.
“Dale went to the player. It’s not like he learned about it through the media. Unfortunately, there was miscommunication or Kevin misunderstood. But he ran to the media and that was his decision. I told him, as a man, I didn’t respect that.”
[WATCH: SportsTalk Live: Will Sveum be back?]
Here’s another Cubbie Occurrence: Gregg actually reached a $500,000 performance bonus on Friday with his 50th game finished.
And the 64-90 Cubs are talking about save situations when they have eight games left against the Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, three teams thinking World Series.
Gregg’s greatest hits:
• “A professional courtesy would be nice.”
• “I expected to be treated a little bit better than this, but they have decisions to make. When they want to go in a new direction, they can treat the players how they want. Unfortunately, we’re under their control. It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.”
• “Can Pedro close next year? I don’t know. They’re going to have to take the chance and see. Is September going to be a telltale sign of what’s going on? No, it’s not the same baseball this time of year.”
A follow-up question from the blindsided group of reporters standing by Gregg’s locker: Is your issue with Epstein or Sveum?
“Unfortunately for Dale, I think it’s guilty by association,” Gregg said. “But I think the decision — from what I understand — is from above. And they want to see what they have for next year. And they’re going to use 10 games to figure out if Pedro can close next year.”
Not quite, but Gregg and Strop are friends who played together last year with the Baltimore Orioles (before Gregg got released last September in the middle of a pennant race). The anxiety is understandable: Gregg is 35 years old and will be looking for a job as a free agent this winter.
“The whole point was that Kevin has been a success story this year,” Epstein said. “He’s pitched at a high level and he’s proven himself. We’re doing the right thing for the organization and for Pedro to give him an opportunity. So I told Kevin that I believe he had a selfish reaction to it. And that it was disappointing because he’s been such a good teammate all year.”
Minutes after Epstein left the Wrigley Field press box, Gregg had cooled off and appeared with the same media relations official, explaining that he misunderstood Sveum. Gregg hopes to finish the season with the Cubs and Epstein seemed to recognize the absurdity of the situation.
“Theo’s a smart man,” Gregg said. “He’s not going to have a kneejerk reaction to something. Unfortunately, I did.
“Now that we’ve clarified things, I’m on the same page with him. I understand where he’s coming from. I understand that he’s got an organization to run.”
Right now, “The Cubs Way” looks more like something out of the 2009 season, when Milton Bradley sabotaged a win-now team and Lou Piniella couldn’t trust Gregg as his closer. The circus is back in town.
“None of us wanted to be in this situation with our record and where we’re at,” Gregg said. “We all think we’re a better team than this. You see a lot of frustration built up in guys because we hate losing.
“It boils over. You get sick of it and it just happens. You blow up.”