After the fifth inning of last night’s Cubs-Giants game, Dad started telling me how this was 1984 all over again, how he was my age that season and how the Cubs blew it in the playoffs there, too. They won the first two games at home that year, and Rick Sutcliffe, the staff’s Cy Young winner hit a dinger. Then they went to California, where they lost three games and the series. “It’s the same stuff. The bats just go cold. I don’t understand how it happens every year.”
By the end of the sixth, we were already talking about next year. “Well, we’ll lose Dexter in center, but Almora’s looked pretty good, and we get Schwarber back which is huge for the offense.”
We suffered through the seventh and eighth innings in silence.
And then in the ninth…oh my goodness, my heart’s pounding again just thinking about it. The ensuing rally led to the Cubs’ best most important win since, well, whatever happened that October day when they won it all in 1908. What was most amazing was how un-Cubs it was. Every other Cubs team I have seen or heard about would have lost that game last night, and then they would have headed back to Wrigley to drop the series. They would have given up, we would have blamed it on ghosts, and everybody would have been in for a long winter.
Instead, the team that got booted from last year’s NLCS because they relied too heavily on the long ball started playing small again. Kris Bryant and his 39 home runs led off with a single. Anthony Rizzo snapped out of his funk and got a walk. Ben Zobrist doubled down the line to cut the lead to 2. Joe Maddon pulled some trickery to bring rookie Wilson Contreras up to the plate, who delivered by knocking a ball right up the middle, just enough to score two more and tie the game. Jason Heyward laid down one of the worst bunts you will ever see, but a throwing error moved him to second. Javier Baez hit another one through the middle, Heyward wheeled home, and the Cubs suddenly had a lead. And Aroldis Chapman closed it all out with a perfect ninth.
Cub fans are fatalists. It’s hard-wired into my brain that it is never going to happen. There’s no point even saying its name, that’ll only make it more painful. All year, people would tell me, “Your Cubbies are looking good,” and I would always respond, “Yeah. It’s gonna be amazing to watch how they blow this one.”
But last night started to change that thinking. Cubs teams blow leads, and Cubs teams are cursed. But this isn’t a Cubs team: they’re resilient, they’re loose, and at the end of the day, they’re just plain good. That can’t be said about any other group of Cubs ever. They have the best bats, starting pitching, and defense left in the playoffs, and I’m convinced that Joe Maddon is a wizard. The one thing they had never faced was any sort of serious crisis. They passed that test with flying colors last night, so what’s stopping them now? Well, I’m just not sure.
The next week (hopefully weeks) will bring me lots of stress, and Mom, my grades might slip a little because there’s no chance in Hell I’ll be able to focus on anything but baseball. I hope that there isn’t another moment as low as the middle of last night’s game, but if that moment comes, I’m done with blaming it on a curse. 1969, 1984, 2003…fine. There may have been higher powers at work there. Not this year. Any other year, that rookie Contreras would have flamed out under pressure, Heyward’s bunt would have led to a double play, or Chapman would have blown the save. It’s not the same thing all over again. Something’s different. This team is not cursed. They’re headed to the NLCS as the best team in baseball, and if they blow this one…well, it’s nobody’s fault but their own.