Elation to misery and back again -- the MLB playoffs and the many lives of a
baseball Cubs fan
The Chicago Cubs most recently finished off a thrilling NLDS with the San Francisco Giants -- even-year success up against 107 prior years without a World Series title.
First off, it's time to scrap my own self-addressed illusion that I'm not at least a bit, somewhat misguided by my thoughts versus realities.
I know nothing I say is going to alter the outcome, but when something bad is happening it's easy to close your eyes and run out of the room, only coming back when you're sure the bad is over. It's like the Cubs are the victim in the scary movie and you can only take so much before you have to run for cover.
I never ran out of the room during Game 3 or 4, but my mindset drastically changed as I watched events--from elation to tragedy and back again--unfold before me on my TV screen.
Everyone was looking ahead to Monday's Game 3 with Jake Arrieta facing off against Madison Bumgarner. The Mr. October of pitchers hadn't allowed a run in 24 2/3 innings, until Arrieta took him deep to left field for a 3-run home run in the second inning. And suddenly the mere chink in the armor of Bumgarner, a postseason, folk hero legend, was almost too much excitement to bear. The elation flooded through me, a range of positive emotions.
Up 2-0 in the series, and the reigning Cy Young winner homering off a guy who ice-cold veins in the playoffs. That's when you start to grasp the potential culmination of it all.
The Giants offense hadn't mustered much of anything to that point in the series, having been shut out Friday versus Jon Lester and Aroldis Chapman, and then limited Saturday by Kyle Hendricks, Travis Wood and the rest of the bullpen.
For god's sake the Cubs pitchers had out-RBI'd the Giants' lineup 6-2 after that Arrieta homer.
I don't consider myself superstitious, or at least I didn't. But then how else would I describe my thoughts and actions when watching the Cubs versus the Giants?
All season I've remained humble as a fan, and reserved in my approach as far as rooting on the Cubs since their recent string of success put on display since 2015, keeping in mind the fact that nothing has really been accomplished yet. I didn't relinquish that mindset up 17.5 games over the St. Louis Cardinals and I wasn't about to start now at the beginning of a series against the defending even-year champion Giants.
Until Arrieta put the Cubs ahead with that 3-run homer.
Living an hour and change away from Washington D.C., I've quietly contemplated about the possibility of a Cubs-Nationals NLCS, and Monday night I began searching Stubhub with the idea of that virtual possibility becoming a reality. Just out of curiosity.
Hold the phone, here come the Giants.
With the out of nowhere surge of one Conor Gillaspie this October, the Giants did what they do. In 2010 they overcame a 2-0 series deficit to the Cincinnati Reds and won the whole entire thing. They did it all again in 2012 and then 2014. They missed the playoffs in 2011, '13 and '15. Now it's 2016...
Chicago, turning to their ultimate fireman in Chapman in hopes of extinguishing the Giants' blaze in that 8th inning, led 3-2, but were holding on for dear life. The excitement in AT&T Park was exuberant, each roar from the crowd adding to the tension as my elation from earlier was zapped and I was filled with pure uneasiness. This is where you would turn off the scary scene and hope to come back when everything is good again. I muted the TV as if cutting out the Giants' fans energy and FOX announcers was going to do anything.
Instead a punch to the gut,when that 3-2 8th inning lead turned into a 5-3 deficit.
Though the Cubs had the security blanket of a 2-0 series lead, of course all I could begin to feel was that "ugh here we &!#& go A-#!
Not really. I was confident enough. However, it's hard to dismiss what the Giants, those cockroaches as someone in the media so eloquently described them as, was capable of doing, and it's true. They're never really dead until they're absolutely dead.
I thought about how crazy it would be if only someone could hit a home run and just tie this thing up once Dexter Fowler started the 9th with a walk.
I don't typically get greedy enough to even say out loud, let alone think about hitting a home run, because that's just how I seem to operate. Can't say anything that would feel like I was jinxing something. But at that point, screw it. We were probably headed for a loss more than likely at that point anyway. Even against the dumpster fire that was the Giants bullpen all season long.
It's actually quite miraculous that the Giants even made the playoffs considering the dire state that was their bullpen -- 9th in NL among team bullpen ERA, only ahead of Atlanta, San Diego, Arizona, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Colorado, and only 43 saves in 72 opportunities -- and yet nothing surprised me about this team. Magic seems to always find them.
Then Kris Bryant ties it on a 2-run home run and there we were. 5-5 in the 9th.
While the club couldn't prevail through 13 innings, I was long past the deflation that was Chapman's miscue, and the euphoria that was Arrieta's homer. Game 4 was happening, and that was okay. As long as Chicago could take care of business.
They were going against Matt Moore the next night, a talented pitcher from the Joe Maddon Tampa Bay Rays days, and who was traded to San Francisco on trade deadline day August 1st, for Matt Duffy and two Augusta GreenJackets prospects that I personally knew well during my summer as an intern.
I thought the Giants sold high but Brian Sabean and company have built a consistent, even-year winner. Even Theo Epstein might be doubted and then it always seems to come back to I told you so, how dare you even question the mastermind.
That's just the type of mind-game, mystique and magic that creeps into your head--my mind anyway. I'm not overlooking Moore or the Giants, and the Cubs better bring it because you don't want Game 5 against these Roaches. Not against Johnny Cuteo, even at home with Jon Lester on your side.
Game 4 didn't start out all that well and I was irritated. Outside of a David Ross homer, the Cubs couldn't muster much of anything offensively, and it was the Giants, ever since the 8th inning of Game 3, that had come alive from the offensive standpoint. But for some reason I stopped being nervous. Maybe it was because I was past the unbelievable, how is this happening, this can't be happening phase, and now onto the Game 5 is happening for better or worse phase.
I've often wondered why do I care when it comes to sports. Why do I let myself get emotionally attached but there's no use analyzing that. We're not asking ourselves that question of why we care when something good happens. So there's no point in sinking in defeat. I was laying on the couch, cool, calm and committed for the long haul. Down 5-2, but not about to change the channel.
I watched Moore dominate, and as each out piled up, I could only shake my head and mentally prepare for Game 5. I quietly lauded each pitch that Bryant worked before singling to start the 9th. The Cubs had seven comeback victories on the season when trailing in the 9th inning or later. Not until Rizzo walked, and the Giants were opening the canister to once again go to the bullpen, desperate for an out, did I excitedly get up, standing before the glow of TV, and start to really think something was cooking here.
When Ben Zobrist doubled down the right field line tying the score at five, I knew we had to take the lead. Don't want the Giants getting the final at-bat.
From looking at NLCS tickets Monday, to expecting a Game 5 Thursday, the emotional roller coaster carried on. From not being able to hold a 3-run lead, to overcoming a 3-run deficit the very next night, defeating the odds and generating the greatest postseason 9th inning comeback in MLB history. That the Cubs of all teams could be the ones to add that title to the already impeccable 2016 resume is nothing short of extraordinary.
What other tricks can this team pull out of the hat?