Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXXIII: Finally!)

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Published on : November 5, 2016

 

 

Pardon my tardiness, dear reader. It took me a full day to recover. The longest championship drought in the history of North American sports is finally over. And as the Cubs doggy-piled on the infield grass in Cleveland on Tuesday, I fell to the floor alternately weeping and laughing maniacally. It still doesn’t necessarily feel real. But I want to take you on the journey one last time. So here are my reactions to Games 3-7, directly after they were over. I hope you enjoy it. I know I did.

 

Friday, October 28th. The Indians beat the Cubs 1-0. They lead the Series 2-1.

“Sure as God made green apples, some day the Chicago Cubs are gonna be in the World Series. And maybe sooner than we think.” That was Harry Caray on the final day of the 1991 regular season. And on Friday, fans laid green apples at the base of Harry Caray’s statue at Wrigley Field, because the Cubs played their first World Series game there since 1945. Tickets weren’t cheap. And man,  I really felt like the Cubs were supposed to win this one. I wanted it. Wrigley Field definitely wanted it. But I guess the Indians’ bullpen wanted it more.

 

With the wind blowing out, Carlos Santana in left field and Josh Tomlin pitching, the Cubs still couldn’t score a run. It was the Indians’ 5th shutout of the postseason, which is a record. And it was the 4th time in 8 games that the Cubs have failed to score. Runners were on second and third in the bottom of the 9th with Javy Baez, the star of the NLDS and NLCS up to bat. And he was struck out by Cody Allen to end the game. The Indians moved to 63% to win the Series. The good news is that Corey Kluber is pitching on short rest and the Cubs are favored in Games 4, 5 and 6. The bad news is that the Cubs can’t win the World Series at Wrigley. Now I just hope they can get back to Cleveland.

 

 

Saturday, October 29th. The Indians beat the Cubs 7-2. They lead the Series 3-1.

That was fucking brutal. Corey Kluber strikes again. Goddamnit. The Indians were underdogs against the Red Sox. They were underdogs against the Blue Jays. They were underdogs against the Cubs. Now they’re 10-2 in the postseason and one win away (and 85%) from winning the whole thing. And Kluber would go again in a potential Game 7. I don’t know what to say at this point. LeBron James was down 3-1 in the NBA Finals this year? The Cubs have won three games in a row or more 16 times during the regular season? 18 times, if you count the postseason, including in the last round against the Dodgers? Andrew Miller finally allowed a run? The Cubs handled Drone Finger in Game 2? The Indians have yet to have a long series? Seriously, what??? The Indians have looked like the superior team through four games. I think it’s time for the Cubs to remember who they are. Maybe this wasn’t supposed to be easy. But I’m just not ready for it to be over.

 

Sunday, October 30th. The Cubs beat the Indians 3-2. The Indians lead the Series 3-2.

We’re going back to Cleveland! Aroldis Chapman came on in the 7th inning and got an 8-out save. And I could barely take it. In hindsight, the Cubs made some amazing defensive plays. Everyone is saying that the goofball foul ball that glanced off David Ross’ glove that Anthony Rizzo caught in the 2nd inning looks like the Bob Boone/Pete Rose catch in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series. Jason Heyward made a leaping grab down the right field foul line in the 3rd on Trevor Bauer that even Bauer had to applaud. And then the Cubs’ bats finally came alive in the 4th.

 

Just when John Smoltz was saying the Cubs absolutely had to score in the inning, Kris Bryant homered on the next pitch to tie the game 1-1. Anthony Rizzo doubled on the next pitch and the crowd finally had a reason to go crazy. Then a Ben Zobrist single, an Addison Russell RBI single and a Ross RBI sac fly made it 3-1 Cubs, which is thankfully all they needed. Maybe now the Cubs can get that Josh Tomlin game back that they needed and Short Rest Kluber will finally be brought to justice. Man. Cleveland will be loud in Game 6. They’re down to 76% to win the Series. Kyle Schwarber will be back at DH. And the Cubs are 52% favorites to win Game 6. I still believe. Let’s go.

 

Tuesday, November 1st. The Cubs beat the Indians 9-3. The Series is tied 3-3.

 

With two outs and an 0-2 count in the top of the 1st, NL MVP-in-waiting, Kris Bryant, launched a 433 foot home run into the left field bleachers to make it 1-0 Cubs. Then Anthony Rizzo singled. Then Ben Zobrist singled. And then Addison Russell reached out and poked a fly ball that landed softly at the feet of Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall, who badly miscommunicated on what would have been an easy third out. Rizzo scored. Zobrist bowled over Roberto Perez at home and the Cubs were up 3-0.

 

In the 4th, Kyle Schwarber walked to lead off the inning. After Bryant flew out, Rizzo singled again. Then Zobrist singled again. And since Schwarber has the bum knee, he was held at third. Bases loaded. One out. Josh Tomlin yanked. Dan Otero in to pitch. Addison Russell at the plate. Here’s Pat Hughes on the call.

 

“Russell drives one in the air. Deep left center. That’s back near the wall. It’s got a chance! Grand slam! Grand slam, Addison Russell! Cubs lead seven nothing!”

 

My call was just going, “YEAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” in my apartment all by myself, before my wife came home to find me five beers deep and pacing. At 22, Russell was the second-youngest person to ever hit a grand slam in the World Series. The youngest happened to be a 21-year-old Mickey Mantle in 1953. And his 6 RBI tied a single-game record set by Bobby Richardson in 1960, Hideki Matsui in 2009 and Albert Pujols in 2011.

 

Those seven runs would be all the Cubs needed. But Joe Maddon brought Aroldis Chapman on in the 7th once again. Maybe it seemed desperate or like Joe doesn’t trust his bullpen. Maybe Joe remembered Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS, when his Rays were up 7-0 and ended up losing to the Red Sox 8-7. But Rizzo homered in the 9th, the Cubs won 9-3 and we’re going to Game 7. A day that so many Cubs fans have waited their whole lives to see is just one day and 27 outs away.

 

 

The same could obviously be said for Indians fans. And everyone seems to think they have a huge advantage going in to the game. Or 54%, accruing to FiveThirtyEight. Corey Kluber was dominant in Games 1 and 4. They have a well-rested Andrew Miller and Cody Allen coming out of the pen if anything should happen. And Cubs doubters think Chapman’s arm might fall off at some point during the game.

 

But like I said last week when it was Clayton Kershaw, of course it has to be fucking Kluber. And fucking Miller. And fucking Allen. It’s almost too perfect not to be them. Maybe they’re going to the well once too often. Maybe this is just the sort of insurmountable odds the Cubs need to complete the most perfect ending to the least perfect of all 108-year droughts. Maybe. Just maybe. Holy shit.

 

Wednesday, November 2nd. The Cubs beat the Indians 8-7. They win the World Series 4-3.

On October 14, 1908 at Bennett Park in Detroit, Tigers’ catcher, Boss Schmidt, apparently hit a bunt or a dribbler in front of the plate, it was picked up by Cubs’ catcher, Johnny Kling, who threw Schmidt out at first. Orval Overall completed a three-hit shutout and the Cubs were back-to-back World Series champions. That was a really long fucking time ago.

 

I guess everyone has noticed the metaphor already, but what better way to end a 108-year drought than with a little rain. “It was the best rain delay of all time,” according to Anthony Rizzo. And it will forever go down in Cubs lore until the end of time. Or until the Cubs win so much that everyone is sick of hearing about it. Either way. But during the 17-minute delay, the Cubs’ struggling right fielder, Jason Heyward, called a team meeting to remind everybody on the team of who they were and what they’d already overcome to get to this point. And what could have gone down as another chapter in a century-long team misery ended much differently in the bottom of the 10th in Cleveland. A smiling, collapsing Kris Bryant firing Michael Martinez’ infield roller to Rizzo at first. And the curse, the drought, the black cat, Steve Bartman, Leon Durham, that goddamned goat story and 108 years of waiting ’til next year were finally over.

 

 

The Cubs started right away, with Dexter Fowler leading off with a solo shot off of Corey Kluber to make it 1-0 in the 1st. He almost ran backwards all the way to second base. But Cleveland tied the score in the 3rd when Carlos Santana singled in Coco Crisp. In the top of the 4th, with Bryant on third, Addison Russell yelled, “Goddamnit!” when he popped up to shallow center. But Bryant tagged up and slid under the tag of Roberto Perez at home, making it 2-1 Cubs. The next batter, Wilson Contreras, doubled off the wall in right center, scoring Ben Zobrist to make it 3-1. The last batter Kluber faced was Javy Baez, who homered in the top of the 5th, making it 4-1 Cubs. One unhittable pitcher down. Two to go.

 

Andrew Miller was the next pitcher in the game. He was the MVP of the ALCS, the guy critics were saying the Cubs should have given up Kyle Schwarber to acquire from the Yankees at the trade deadline. And he would be the next pitcher who couldn’t stop the Cubs. Rizzo came through with an RBI single to make it 5-1. Everything was looking great. Then Joe Maddon took Kyle Hendricks out of the game in the bottom of the 5th.

 

I didn’t understand the move at the time at all. Hendricks had been dealing. And he was one blown strike call away from striking out Santana and ending the inning. Instead they were bringing in Jon Lester and his throwing yips with a runner on first and removing Contreras from the game for Lester’s 39-year-old personal catcher, soon to be retiring due to issues with concussions. Lester immediately gave up an infield single to Jason Kipnis, which David Ross, that aforementioned 39-year-old catcher, had to field because of Lester’s aforementioned yips. And he sailed the ball high over Rizzo’s head at first. Santana went to third and Kipnis would wind up on second. The next batter was Francisco Lindor. And Lester bounced a pitch into the dirt that bounded off of Ross’ mask and knocked him to the ground. Santana and Kipnis both scored on the wild pitch and the Cubs’ lead was down to 5-3. I turned to my buddy Brendan and said, “Ross is concussed.”

 

 

In the top of the 6th, with Miller still on the mound for Cleveland, Ross got one of those runs back with a solo homer to center, making it 6-3. I was wrong about the concussion. In hindsight, that homer was absolutely huge. And Lester would end up working until Ramirez reached on a two-out infield single in the bottom of the 8th. And that’s when Maddon brought in an overworked Aroldis Chapman from the bullpen. Nothing was making any sense.

 

The Cubs were four outs away from their first world title in over a century. And in the back of my mind, I knew if this lead was going to be blown, there was no better candidate than Chapman. He’d been taxed by the previous two games. Acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees, he came with 105-mph heat, off-the-field baggage aplenty and the attitude of a pampered diva. He was a rental and never a real Cub, anyway. That’s what they’d all say. His face would be plastered on memes and signs held up by Cardinal fans alongside Billy Sianis’ goat, Ron Santo’s black cat, Leon Durham and Steve Bartman. Another symbol of martyrdom, another scapegoat and another year of fucking waiting.

 

The first batter Chapman faced was Brandon Guyer, who doubled to right center, scoring Ramirez and making it 6-4 Cubs. The next batter was Rajai Davis. Ugh. It still gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach thinking about that at-bat. Rajai Davis wasn’t even supposed to be playing in the game. If it wasn’t for the worst game in Tyler Naquin’s life the night before, he would have been in center and Davis wouldn’t even be standing up there choked up a foot on his bat and screaming a line drive over the left field wall to tie the game at 6. Progressive Field understandably lost it. The first home run Chapman had given up as a Cub couldn’t have come at a worse time. And the camera cut to LeBron James who was scream-flexing in his personal king booth. Why did it have to be like this? Thankfully, after the 9th, the score was still tied. And that’s when the rain came.

 

 

The Cubs had already gotten through Cody Allen in the 7th and 8th. And Terry Francona called for Bryan Shaw to get the final two outs of the 9th. After the 17-minute delay, he’d go back out and pitch the 10th. But that was after the emotional speech from Heyward. That was after the Cubs remembered who they were. Kyle Schwarber led off with a single, and was replaced by pinch-runner, Albert Almora Jr. A 22-year-old replacing a 23-year-old. He’d move to second on Bryant’s deep sac fly. Then Rizzo was intentionally walked. Fox’s cameras had caught Rizzo talking to Ross during the game on Ross’ mic. “I’m an emotional wreck,” Rizzo told him. “I’m in a glass case of emotions.” And when Ben Zobrist doubled to left scoring Almora, Rizzo was holding his head on third in amazement. Then Miguel Montero, the third catcher of the game, singled in Rizzo to make it 8-6. They ended up needing that run desperately, and the hero of Game 1 of the NLCS came through once again. I was really loud in my apartment.

 

Chapman, who was seen openly weeping in the clubhouse during the delay, did not come out for the 10th. It was rookie, Carl Edwards Jr., who got two outs before walking Guyer and giving up an RBI single to Rajai Davis, yet again. Stupid Davis wasn’t even supposed to be playing! And then Maddon brought in Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez. And I’ll give you Joe Buck one last time.

 

“This is gonna be a tough play. Bryant. The Cubs…. WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!! Bryant makes the play! It’s over! And the Cubs have finally won it all! 8-7 in 10!”

 

 

Maybe now I can take the time to mention how spooky all those 108-year coincidences are. They’ve been widely reported everywhere already, but it takes 108 outs to win the NLCS and another 108 to win the World Series. The ball itself has 108 stitches. And that’s because the Cubs’ first manager, A.G. Spalding insisted upon it. And his offices were at 108 W. Madison. The Willis Tower in Chicago is 108 stories high. The Cubs’ owner, Tom Ricketts, has his business on 108th street. The Cubs win the World Series in Taking Care of Business and Back to the Future II, which are both 108 minutes long. The trophy is made of silver, which has an atomic weight of 108. The Cubs won in 10 innings. They scored 8 runs. I’ve probably shed 108 tears since.

 

Now I’ve wasted away two straight days of re-watching Cubs highlights and listening to Pat Hughes radio calls and sporadically crying during viewings of the championship parade. What a Series. What a send-off for David Ross, who was carried off the field by his teammates after Game 7. What a legacy for Theo Epstein. And Joe Maddon. And the rest of these young Cubs, who I said all year were like 13-year-old Chinese gymnasts who weren’t old enough to understand the 108-years of pressure.

 

This changes the entire culture surrounding the Cubs, as an organization. It almost changes the game of baseball, itself. It is the last great American sports story. And I’m just glad that I was one of the millions of Cubs fans out there who got to witness history. To finally get to see the end of something and the beginning of another. Man, I love this team. It happened. It really happened. And I mean, I totally believed. But I still can’t fucking believe it. Magic number: 0.

 

 

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