Even before Anthony Rizzo’s bat came back to life, before Javier Báez did more insane hocus pocus stuff on defense and before the ninth inning rally that saw the Chicago Cubs put the San Francisco Giants away in four games instead of going back home to Wrigley Field after dropping two in a row on the road, you had David Ross hitting a home run to set the tone.
Game 3 was a wash. Jake Arrieta pitched well and hit a homer, while the offense did what it had to do and knocked Madison Bumgarner out early. But then things fell apart and all of a sudden everybody on the Northside started thinking what they tend to think on the rare occasion that the Cubs are still playing baseball this time of year. To get biblical, Game 4, played the next night at the start of Yom Kippur, was going to have to be Chicago’s Day of Atonement if they had any hopes of staying alive. Even though they would have gone back to Wrigley Field for the decisive fifth game of the series, the Giants were hot and only getting hotter. All that coupled with that whole idea that San Francisco wins it every other year meant the Cubs were not in a good place.
The series was one of unlikely heroes for the Cubs. The Giants produced hits from the spots where they could have expected them, but the Cubs relied on pitchers like Arrieta and Travis Wood to supply runs, while Rizzo and some of the other hitters on the team stayed silent. The 39-year-old Ross, who is only usually in the lineup when Jon Lester is on the mound, was a surprise addition to last night’s game, catching for starter John Lackey. But in the third inning, he showed exactly why he is so important to the team by walking up and becoming the oldest Cub to hit one out of the park in the postseason, dethroning Moises Alou’s 2003 NLCS Game 7 dinger he hit when he was 37.
But Alou’s homer, in retrospect, didn’t mean much since the team eventually lost. Ross going up to the plate in a game he probably wasn’t expecting to play 24 hours earlier (although who knows with manager Joe Maddon), and being one of the few offensive bright spots for the team early on, and providing a crucial run in a game that his team would end up winning by one single score, was everything. It may have eventually been eclipsed by the rally in the last inning and Aroldis Chapman redeeming himself after a horrible Game 3 by shutting the Giants down, but it was important. Everything Ross does for his team matters.
“Grandpa Rossy,” doing another special thing during his “yearlong retirement party,” that mattered. The guy who means so much to the team many believe can break the World Series curse that has been haunting the franchise for over a century. He doesn’t play a lot, but like he showed in Game 1 when he caught for Lester, his play can get the team going. The Cubs get behind Ross because he’s a symbol to them. The curse is there, but so is Ross walking away from the game after this season, something he has been open about since spring training. And that, in a lot of ways, means more to the young core of players like Rizzo and Kris Bryant than any boogeyman that’s chasing the team around Wrigley Field. If the Cubs can beat the next challenge ahead of them and win a pennant for the first time since the last days of the Second World War, then pull off what could be the biggest win in baseball history by capturing that elusive World Series, it will largely be because of a guy who hardly plays that many games. It’s what Ross represents and what he means to the Cubs that could have them thinking about things other than what happened in the past. The guy whose time in baseball is coming to an end has given the Chicago Cubs reason to believe in the future.