This has been quite a week for me and my fragile emotions. When I posted last week, I was preparing to head off to Dodger Stadium, get interviewed by WGN and then watch Game 5 of the NLCS. Since then, I’ve cried joyous tears, I’ve gotten champagne-drunk and then had to dust myself off and mentally prepare for one last nervous go-round. And once again I decided to write my reactions after every game, so you could take that ride with me. Enjoy.
Thursday, October 20th. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4. They lead the series 3-2.
The Dodgers can take their huge leads off of first and pretend to steal and dance around the base paths all they want. They can bunt all they want too. Jon Lester’s postseason ERA is still 0.86 over 21 innings. The Cubs’ bats also stayed woke (thanks to Matt Szczur’s bats and underwear, apparently), Addison Russell homered for his second night in a row and a bases-clearing double by Javy Baez put the game out of reach yet again. The Cubs have scored 18 runs in their past two games. And now they’re *takes deep breath* one win away from playing the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Ohmyfuckinggod.
As a franchise, the Cubs have infamously been here before. Everybody knows that. And I was at Game 5 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium when I noticed what a wonderful coincidence it was that Steve Garvey and Eric Karros were chosen to throw out the first pitches before the game. Yes, Garvey played most of his career with L.A. and so did Karros. But the dig, which was probably lost on the Dodger fans who don’t show up until the 4th inning, anyway, wasn’t so subtle to Cubs fans like me.
In 1984, the Cubs played the San Diego Padres in the NLCS and took a 2-0 lead in the last best-of-five series the LCS has ever had. The first two games were at Wrigley Field, and the Cubs killed the Padres 13-0 in Game 1. Even pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe, homered in the game. By Game 4 in San Diego, the series was at 2-1. And in the 3rd inning, Garvey doubled, making it 2-0 Padres. Cubs’ catcher, Jody Davis, tied the game in the 4th with a two-run homer. And then the Cubs immediately took a 3-2 lead on Leon Durham’s home run, which was back-to-back. I would have gone insane, if I wasn’t a pre-schooler and completely unaware. But Garvey tied the game again in the 5th with a single. And then he put the Padres ahead 4-3 with another single in the 7th. The Padres were up 5-4 in the 8th, when Davis tied the game yet again with a double to center. But Garvey ended the game in the 9th with a two-run walk-off. The series was tied at 2 and Garvey’s teammates carried him off the field in celebration.
The deciding Game 5 would see the Cubs go up 3-0 in the 2nd, before the Padres started chipping away at the lead. In the bottom of the 7th, Leon Durham made his infamous fielding error at first, which would tie the game at 3. Garvey added another RBI in the inning, and the Padres would go on to win the game 6-3 and the series 3-2. Garvey was named NLCS MVP. The first Cubs game I ever went to in my life was the following year. It was Cubs-Padres at Wrigley Field. And one of the only things I remember from the game was how much everybody booed Steve Garvey.
2003 is a little bit fresher in everyone’s memory. There was another Cubs NLCS in between 1984 and 2003. But the only real lasting memory of the 1989 NLCS to most baseball fans is that Will Clark’s grand slam off of Greg Maddux in the 4th inning of Game 1. And his lip reading of Maddux prior to the at-bat, is the reason pitchers and catchers cover their mouths with their gloves when they talk to each other to this day. But 2003 is just… ugh. I don’t even want to talk about it. Nor do I want to even have to think about the fact that Game 6 is essentially the exact same scenario as Saturday night’s game. Well, there are some major momentum differences, if that’s even a real thing, but just know that in Game 6 of the NLCS, in that god forsaken 8th inning, Eric Karros was playing 1st base for the Chicago Cubs.
For Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, L.A. has to rely on Clayton Kershaw yet again. Of course it has to be fucking Kershaw. It’s almost too perfect not to be him. And then a potential Game 7 would be Rich Hill. I probably don’t need to remind you that the Cubs have scored 8 runs or more in all three of their wins. And they’ve scored ZERO in their two losses. And I probably don’t need to remind you of who was pitching in both of those zero-run games. Right now, FiveThirtyEight is giving the Cubs a 54% chance of winning the game. They’re at 81% to win the NLCS. And they’re at 51% to win the World Series. So, as they pointed out, the curse is more likely to end than to continue. I have to assume these are not the same flailing bats that got blanked in Games 2 and 3. And I’m hoping for more of the ‘5.84 ERA in the NLDS’ Kershaw and less of the ‘0.00 ERA in the NLCS’ Kershaw. I’m not ready for his postseason reputation to be repaired. And I’m also hoping for the ‘1.32 ERA at home’ Kyle Hendricks and ‘103-mph lights out ‘Aroldis Chapman. And right now I don’t even want to consider the alternatives. 1984 and 2003 still hover out there. But, really, this team just feels different.
Saturday, October 22. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0. They win the series 4-2.
It’s still surreal. When Addison Russell cleanly fielded Yasiel Puig’s grounder in the 9th, tossed the ball to Javier Baez for the force out at second and then Baez fired to Anthony Rizzo at first to complete the double play, the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945. And Wrigleyville looked like pandemonium.
Really, it couldn’t have gone any better. It was like a bizarro alternate reality version of the 2003 game. A world in which Alex Gonzalez fields Miguel Cabrera’s grounder cleanly, tosses to Mark Grudzielanek at second, who fires to Eric Karros at first. The Cubs get out of that 8th inning leading 3-1. Joe Borowski gets the save and the Cubs go on to play the Yankees (or the long suffering Red Sox, if you want to go there) in the World Series. And nobody ever finds out the name of the doofus fan who tried to catch Luis Castillo’s foul ball.
I hate to bring up all of the failings of the past, but Saturday’s game was the first step in wiping the slate clean for a franchise and a fan base who probably always wondered what winning a game like that would actually look like in real life. To not win the World Series since 1948 is one thing. To not even be there since 1945 is another, entirely. But Billy Sianis died on October 22nd, 1970. And exactly 46 years later, his curse is on life support.
Kyle Hendricks pitched a phenomenal game. He gave up a leadoff single to Andrew Toles. But then Baez tagged him out on a double play the very next pitch. And after Baez committed a (thankfully) harmless error in the 2nd, Hendricks sat down 17 Dodger batters in a row. He and Aroldis Chapman faced the 9-inning minimum of 27 batters, the first time that had been accomplished in a postseason since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956.
Clayton Kershaw was not as good. The scoring started for the Cubs in the 1st, when Dexter Fowler doubled to lead off the game and then Kris Bryant singled him home. Ben Zobrist’s sac fly would make it 2-0. In the second, Russell opened with a double and was then knocked in by Fowler. And Wilson Contreras’ leadoff home run in the 4th made it 4-0 Cubs, which was a great relief for me, since that 3-0 score had doomed the Cubs too many times in the past. Anthony Rizzo homered in the 5th to make it 5-0 and then Bad Postseason Kershaw was lifted, ending the Cubs’ onslaught.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Cubs have a 63% chance to win the World Series, although Corey Kluber and the Indians are given a 52% chance of winning Game 1. Then again, the Indians were pretty heavy underdogs in both of their previous series. And everyone seems to think the Indians are going to run all over Jon Lester. Rajai Davis led the American League in stolen bases. Jose Ramirez is also a threat. Then there’s Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Coco Crisp. But that also assumes anybody can get on base. Other than Lindor and maybe Lonnie Chisenhall, nobody on that team is hitting. And this is all before we even mention that Ohio-native Kyle Schwarber might actually DH in Game 1.
The Cubs-Indians World Series is a story so good that it doesn’t even need Schwarber’s inclusion. You have the two longest droughts in baseball. Any World Series featuring the Cubs would have massive interest, anyway. But the Indians also have Andrew Miller, the guy the Cubs couldn’t get at the trade deadline because they were unwilling to part ways with Schwarber. I don’t know how this is going to end. And so much of the playoffs is a crapshoot. But what we have is the best team in baseball from the beginning against a team that has benefitted from short series with a depleted staff and an excellent bullpen. I’ve never been here, to this point, before. But I gotta say, I feel pretty good about it.
Tuesday, October 25th. The Indians beat the Cubs 6-0. They lead the series 1-0.
Well, add the Chicago Cubs to the list of postseason teams that can’t hit a well-rested Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller or Cody Allen. Kluber (with a little help from the framing of Roberto Perez and the trigger-happy calls from Larry fucking Vanover) struck out eight Cubs in the first three innings. Five of them were called strike threes. The Indians are now 8-1 in the postseason. Terry Francona is 9-0 in the World Series. It was the Indians’ 4th shutout in 9 games. It looked almost exactly like all their other previous ALDS and ALCS wins. And they are now 55% favorites (accruing to FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight) to win the World Series. Goddamnit.
There are other ways to look at it. The Indians got 2 runs out of a fluke 1st inning. The Jose Ramirez swinging bunt. The Brandon Guyer bases-loaded HBP. All of the generous calls from Larry fucking Vanover. The wind stopping Kyle Schwarber (he is risen) from homering in the 4th. Andrew Miller escaping from a no-outs, bases loaded jam in the 7th and escaping again in the 8th against Schwarber. But that would probably sound like sour grapes when the reality is the Indians were the first postseason team to take advantage of Jon Lester’s throwing yips, Justin Grimm isn’t very good, the Indians’ pitchers are and Perez (3 HR, .183 AVG in the regular season) happened to play the game of his life. And it’s not like the score was close. I sound like a Dodgers fan.
The Cubs’ bats rebounded from that awful Game 3 in Los Angeles, so I’m hoping they can do the same in Game 2 against Drone Finger. Kluber is the best pitcher currently playing in the World Series, but other than Francisco Lindor at short, the Indians really have no other advantages, give or take the heavily-worked Miller. I know that anything can happen in the series. I know that the Indians can equally steal off of Jake Arrieta. I know that the bad Arrieta could show up. But Maddon says his team is fine. FiveThirtyEight has the Cubs at 54% to take Game 2. The Indians were expected to win the first Kluber game, anyway. Drone Finger isn’t that good. And it’s time to finally make Cleveland pay when Kluber’s not pitching on that sweet, sweet full rest.
Wednesday, October 26th. The Cubs beat the Indians 5-1. The series is tied 1-1.
So I guess you could say that this two-game Kyle Schwarber DH experiment worked out pretty well. Schwarber had two RBI singles in Game 2, looks like he’s just about ready to unleash some sort of goddamned fury every time he comes to the plate and has everybody wondering how they can keep his bat in the lineup in Games 3, 4 and 5 in Chicago. On top of that, Jake Arrieta took a no-hitter into the 6th. Ben Zobrist stayed red-hot. And the Cubs handed Cleveland their first home loss in the 2016 postseason, as well as Terry Francona’s first career loss in the World Series. All in front of famed Yankees fan, LeBron James.
Okay. This story concludes next week. And I’ll either be making the best out of coming so close and falling short yet again, or on another level of euphoria with a blown-world view and decisions to make on how much 2016 Cubs merchandise one person should own. The Decision, indeed. I hope to be taking my talents to MLBShop.com.
If you need more baseball from me, check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on the podcast things. And until then, the Cubs Magic Number is 3.