It was over for me after Jake Arrieta’s first pitch in Game 2. The pitch was wild; strange-wild, silly-wild, and that’s when I knew: The Chicago Cubs were going to lose the National League Championship Series to the New York Mets. It was merely a question of how long it would take, and I suspected it wouldn’t take long at all. For that, I was thankful.
If that seems like fatalistic thinking, well, yeah. I’m not proud of it. It’s weak, damning and probably annoying to many. But that’s what a lifetime of watching the Cubs has done to me.
Fast-forward to Wednesday’s Game 4, top of the second inning in Chicago, as I spent a five-minute car ride silently F-bombing Cubs radio announcers Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer. Why? Because, with the Cubs down three games to none and already trailing 4-0, they were in full-on happy-hopefest mode. It’s that trait of “Wait till next year!” Cubbishness I neither possess nor understand.
The Cubs needed only to find that “Elusive thing called momentum,” play-by-play man Hughes encouraged. Coomer, the ex-ballplayer, explained that only a ballplayer could understand the magic powers of momentum; all a team needs is for someone to say, “Hop aboard, I’ll drive the bus today,” deliver a big hit and change everything. Of course, they referenced the unforgettable Boston Red Sox comeback from three games down to beat the New York Yankees in 2004.
God bless Pat and Ronnie. I wish I could order a plate of whatever the hell they’re having. About that five-minute ride? It was 6-0 by the time I got home.
Sorry, but I need gallows humor to get through times like this.
The Cubs still haven’t reached a World Series since 1945, or won one since 1908. You want to talk about momentum? It doesn’t take a ballplayer to understand 107 fucking years of this sick, twisted kind of momentum. It takes, hell, I don’t know, a mathematical theorist, a Talmudic scholar, maybe an anthropologist.
But congrats to the Mets, you know? If ever there was a more one-sided series in baseball, I don’t care to riffle through the pages of history to find it. They came, they saw, they kicked the ever-loving shit out of the Cubs.
And they entirely deserved their celebration on the Wrigley infield. For four games, the arms of their magnificent young pitching staff popped till the Cubs dropped. There was the impossibly good performance of Danny Baseball, NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy, who had nine hits, four homers and six runs batted in during the series. And what a time in the sun for manager Terry Collins, who’s never received any of the praise heaped on the likes of Cubs skipper Joe Maddon.
For the Cubs, who never pulled their heads out of their asses, the whole thing had to be like a blur. Or a hideous ooze of suck. It was suck to the 1,908th power.
They never led in a game. They fell behind in every first inning. Each starting pitcher faltered, and a makeshift bullpen was taxed to the max. Rookie slugger Kris Bryant had two – maybe three –strikes on him before he even entered the batter’s box. All-Star Anthony Rizzo went quietly into one bad night after another. The defense was simply atrocious.
Forget the Bartman incident of 2003 – for the Cubs, there weren’t even any tense moments anyone could screw up. Perhaps that made the whole experience kinder for Cubs fans than it was in 1984 and 2003, when the team was one win from the World Series, or maybe it made it worse. I guess it depends on your point of view. For me, unceasing anticlimax was preferable on the whole.
Also: This series was a haymaker of reality for the Cubs and their fans. The Cubs entered it as the team with a limitless future and exited it besieged by troubling questions. Is the starting pitching nearly good enough? How likely is it really that Arrieta, who was unhittable throughout the second half of the regular season, will be an ace into the future? Will Jon Lester, who never quite put his foot down in Year 1 in Chicago, be yet another Cubs acquisition gone bad? Do the young position players – massively talented – still have lots of growing up to do?
Will a World Series ever come?
The questions aren’t without merit, because the Cubs didn’t just lose the NLCS. They lost it like this. As hard as it was to believe they might come back like the BoSox of ’04, it seemed as though the players themselves believed it least of all.
But congrats to the Cubs, you know? Their season was pretty awesome. This was their most victories in a season – 101, playoffs included – since 1945, when they also had 101. Bryant is the likely National League Rookie of the Year. Arrieta has a great chance to win the NL Cy Young. Kyle Schwarber, Mr. Moon Shot, drew many a fawning comparison to Babe Ruth, and that was fun. The team was fun, and had fun, bashing the ball, taking extra bases, piling up walk-off winners. What more could a Cubs fan ask for?
You know the answer to that. It has been 107 years. Frustrating. Cruel. Sad. There’s no happiness. But – even down in the gallows – we’re left with some hope.