At Last, Cubs Win World Series

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Cubs Finally Beat the Curse in Classic Game 7

At last, My love has come along

My lonely days are over

And life is like a song – Etta James

In 1975, when I was 15 years old, I remembered watching Game 6 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds (The Big Red Machine) as if it was yesterday.  A see-saw game ended when Boston’s catcher Carlton Fisk hit a long fly ball to left field in the bottom of the twelfth inning. As he ran up the first base line, Fisk waved his arms to the right, as if imploring the ball to stay fair. The ball hit the left field foul pole high off of the Green Monster and Fisk’s waving has become on of the most enduring and iconic moments in baseball lore.

This game featured great drama: home runs by unlikely players (Bernie Carbo), great defense (Dwayne Evans catch of Joe Morgan’s blast and Greg Foster gunning down a Red Sox runner tagging from third on a fly ball in the bottom of the ninth), lead changes, and of course, Fisk’s home run. (Note: This game has been ranked as Number 1 in MLB’s Top 20 Game of all time.)

In 1991, I watched Game 7 of the Twins-Braves World Series from a bar only half a mile away from the Metrodome.  I saw the Twins’ Jack Morris go 10 innings to outduel the Braves John Smolz in Game 7 of the World Series. Jack Morris would rebuff his manager Tom Kelly on numerous occasions to pull him out of the game, prompting Kelly to say “Oh hell, it’s only a game.” In the bottom of the tenth, the Twins scored the winning run to cap one of the more intense games in World Series history, only the second time since 1962 that a team had won a Game 7 by a 1-0 score. That ended one of the more exciting World Series in history.  This game was different from the 1975 game alluded to earlier, not possessing the back and forth drama, but nevertheless featured great pitching and defense to keep the game scoreless.

These games have been superseded by the Cubs dramatic 8-7 win over Cleveland to win the 2016 World Series.  This was not only an intensely dramatic game, but a game with huge stakes, a battle of two storied franchises that were both in pursuit of their first championship in decades (of course for the Cubs more than a century). The game was also a culmination of an amazing comeback, where the Cubs, once down 3-1 in this series, were not only forced to win three straight games, but the final two on the road, and the final game against Cleveland’s ace.

The story of this game is one of unbelievable resilience, of a take no quarter give no quarter attitude on the part of both teams. The Cubs, after an early lead, almost gave this game away with a series of mistakes (both player and managerial), but somehow held off the never say die a Cleveland team that simply refused to give in. In the end, a very young Cubs team simply refused to wilt to either Cleveland or to history.

The game began about as well as possible for the Cubs. They knew they had to get Cleveland’s ace early and not allow him to settle down. The Cubs got to Corey Kluber early as Dexter Fowler homered off the game’s fourth pitch. Cleveland would tie it in the 3rd when Coco Crisp doubled, was sacrificed to third, and scored on an RBI single from Carlos Santana. Thus started this game’s back and forth pendulum.

The Cubs got two more in the fourth off a sacrifice fly from Adisson Russell and Wilson Contreras double.  Kluber was not the same dominant pitcher he had been in Games 1 and 4. It was apparent that Kluber would have a very difficult time repeating Mickey Lolich’s feat of winning 3 World Series games accomplished in 1968. He was being tagged early and often, and in the fifth inning was taken deep by Javier Baez. It was the only the first in 145 appearances that he had gone in without a strikeout. With Bryant on first, Rizzo doubled and Bryant’s rounded the 3 remaining bases in 9 seconds (a 20 mph clip). The Cubs now had a 5-1 lead. With how Kyle Hendrick’s was pitching, this appeared to be enough insurance for the Cubs to win it all.

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Cubs Faithful

But a funny thing happened in the bottom of the inning. Joe Maddon, the Cubs skipper, choked. He started to make a series of decisions that appeared would cost the Cubs this game. With two outs in the inning, Kyle Hendricks walked Carlos Santana when the at bat could have very easily ended in a strike out. Hendricks had been cruising and was the recipient of a very dubious 3rd ball call by umpire. But Maddon played it ultra safe and yanked Hendricks in favor of John Lester.

Maddon had promised not to bring in Lester into a “dirty inning” but that’s exactly what he did. Although a single runner on first with two outs would not usually be considered daunting, Lester’s inability to both throw to first or field off the mound would cost him dearly.  With Santana almost halfway to second, Cleveland shortstop Jason Kipnis hit a harmless little dribbler that any pitcher should have easily handled for the third out. But since Lester doesn’t field or throw to bases well, this forced his designated catcher, David Ross to make a very difficult play. Kipnis reached base safely, and all of a sudden, the inning had become filthy dirty for the Cubs.

Lester then threw a wild pitch that bounced off the plate and knocked Ross down.  Both Santana and Kipnis scored (This was only the second 2 run wild pitch since 1911, when a catcher named Chief Myers allowed the second run because he refused to chase the wild pitch.) The Cubs’ lead was suddenly down to only two runs. Progressive Field (an odd name for a team with a racist name) was rocking and the Cubs fans were thinking: “Oh no, not again.”

In the top of the sixth, with Cleveland’s extraordinary middle reliever Andrew Miller on the mound, the much maligned David Ross (none of the previous inning’s badness was really his fault but nevertheless he was still the face of its calamity) swung a little momentum back Chicago’s way with a 406’ blast into right field.

The dust settled for a couple of innings as both Lester and Miller and then closer Cody Allen shut down both offenses.  In the bottom of the eighth, things got interesting again. Lester retired the first two batters before Jose Ramirez reached second on an infield hit and subsequent throwing error.

Again, Maddon pushed the panic button. Rather than bringing any one of his middle relievers (Montgomery, Rondon, Edwards) he brought in his overworked closer Aroldis Chapman, this time to record a four out save.  Chapman didn’t have his usual stuff and Cleveland greeted him with a double by Guyer to the gap between center and right to score Ramirez. The next batter, the slumping Rajai Davis, worked an 6 pitch at bat, fouling off numerous pitches before stroking a low slider over the left field wall to tie the game.

The Cleveland fans went crazy, LeBron went berserk, and just like that this game was tied. Cleveland had all of the momentum, they had their closer, and the Cubs suddenly had no more reliable pitchers left to finish off the game. It was the second WTF decision by Joe Maddon that had caused this mess. For sure now the Cubs would wilt. How could they possibly recover from this ?

In the top of the ninth, the resilient Cubs continued to fight. Ross walked and his pinch runner Coughlan was forced out on a fielder’s choice.  Heyward, now at first, stole second base and then made it to third on a throwing error by catcher Gomes.  With only one out, Maddon made another indefensible decision by having Baez try to bunt on a 3-2 count. When Baez fouled out, the Cubs were down to their last out. When Fowler grounded right up the middle, it looked like a hit, but Lindor, in an exaggerated shift, fielded the ball behind the second base bag and threw Fowler out. The Cubs rally had been stymied.

Then in the bottom of the ninth, Chapman, remarkably, came out to pitch yet another inning.  After crying in the locker-room, how was Maddon trusting his closer to come out again ?  Unbelievably, Chapman retired the side in an easy inning.

With extra innings looming, the rains came down and temporarily suspended this enthralling game. Heyward called a players only meeting in the dressing room and told his teammates

“I just had to remind everybody who we are, what we’ve overcome to get here.

The Cubs came out in the tenth roaring to go. Schwarber continued his excellent batting with a single. Alberto Al Mora came in to pinch run.  Bryant then hit a ball deep into the right center field gap. AlMora’s running decision here was absolutely crucial to the Cubs winning this championship. Rather than going to second and waiting to see if the ball would be caught, he stayed between first and second, apparently having judged that the ball would be caught.  He was thus able to tag and take second base instead of having to return to first. After Rizzo was intentionally walked, soon to be MVP Ben Zobrist slapped a single to left field to score AlMora.  A single by Montero scored Rizzo for the invaluable insurance run.

The Cubs led 8-6 but now didn’t have their closer. Instead, the ball was given to Carl Edwards Jr. to bring home the bacon.  Carl got two outs before walking Guyer.  Guyer then took second on an infielder’s indifference.  After 8th inning hero Rajai Davis came through again with a single to cut the lead to 8-7, Maddon finally got it right and relieved Edwards.  Mike Montgomery came in to face Miguel Martinez, who had been put into left field as a designated thrower in the previous inning.

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Kris Bryant celebrates after throwing to make final out.

Martinez grounded softly to Bryant, who easily fielded the ball. You could see a big smile pop up in his face as he threw to first, the punctuation to the Cubs miracle season.

 

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Cubs Stayin’ Alive with two straight wins

Cubs Stayin’ Alive with two straight wins

What the Cubs are doing can best be described as a megarally. Joe Maddon told his team the oldest baseball cliche: “We just need 3 one game winning streak to be World Champions.”  But what the Cubs really needed was to win Game 4, in whatever manner possible, in order to keep forcing Cleveland to play more baseball. The Cubs need to build momentum by winning each game by an ever widening margin so that by the time a decisive Game 7 is played, they would have the mental edge over this tough Cleveland team.

The model for this is the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win the best of 7 Series. After winning Game 4, the Red Sox margins increased with each game played (won Game 5 by 1, Game 6 by 2, Game 7 by 7).

The more Cleveland has to play, the more it plays into the strength of the Cubs pitching staff, since it is generally regarded as much deeper than Cleveland’s. After Lester out pitched Trevor Bauer in  Game 5 and the Cubs eeked out a tense 3-2 victory, that set up the favorable Arrieta versus Tomlin matchup.

The megarally began in the 4th inning, with the Cubs already down one run.  Kris Bryant homered to lead off the inning. Rizzo doubled, and Ben Zobrist singled to get the Wrigley Field faithful cooking.  Addison Russell got an infield hit, and the slruggling Baez laid down a perfectly paced bunt down the third-base line. With the Cubs up 2-1, David Ross got a sac fly to make it 3-1. For the first time in this World Series, Wrigley Field was energized by baseball as much as the city had been by expectation.

Cleveland cut the lead to 3-2 on a single by Franciso Lindor.  In the seventh, Maddon summoned Chapman to get an 8 out save.  Chapman threw 42 pitches, 26 for strikes, and 19 over 100 mph, a new postseason record. The most important being a 101.3 mph fastball that struck out the dangerous Lindor with a runner on third threatening to tie the game.

With the W flag flying at Wrigley, the patrons at Murphys bleachers going wild, Chicago was headed for Cleveland for Game 6, very much alive and kicking.

Back at Cleveland for Game 6 and that meant the reappearance of Kyle Schwarber in the lineup. In the first inning, the megarally continued to build momentum.  Kris Bryant homered. With the two men on, Russell hit a routine fly ball to right field. Two Cleveland outfielders converged on the ball and it dropped in between them. Rizzo and Zobrist scored and Russell headed to third on a Jason Kipnis throwing error.

This is what the Cubs needed badly, to score first and hand their ace Arrieta a nice lead before having to throw one pitch. (Arrieta pitched 5 2/3 innings allowing only 3 hits with nine strike outs for his second victory of the World Series.)

The Cubs assured there would be little drama tonight in the second inning when Addison Russell smacked a hanging slider for a grand slam. He became the second youngest player to hit one since Mickey Mantle did in 1953. Russell, who had been struggling, also had 6 RBIs to tie a World Series record.

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It is important to note that the rally was started by Kyle Schwarber, who worked a walk off of Tomlin to continue his amazing World Series performance. Although he only went 1-4 in the game, the walk set the tone. The middle of the lineup (Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist, and Russell) were 11-19,  a combined .578. It will be the irony of ironies if Schwarber turns out to be the ace factor, able to play in 4 games instead of 3 because Cleveland had the home field advantage.

The only controversy in this game was Maddon’s decision to bring in his closer Chapman in the seventh inning to record a 7 out save.  Lindor hit a ground ball to Rizzo and Chapman did not forget to cover the base this time as he had in Game 4. LIndor was eventually called out on replay but Chapman appeared to hurt his knee on the play.

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In the eighth inning, the Cubs got out of the inning when Baez took a low flip from Russell to turn a 6-4-3 double play, another one of his many defensive gems of the playoffs.  But in the ninth, Chapman walked the first batter he faced and the Joe Maddon removed him after he had thrown 20 pitches. Wny Chapman was still in the game with a 7 game cushion (thanks to Rizzo’s two-run homer in the top of the inning) was puzzling to many observers. With the victory all but assured, it seemed like a risky move to have him throw so many pitches with a huge lead.

After the game, Maddon was asked about this and he responded: “Chapman is a young tough guy. I don’t think there’ll be any problem with him going again tomorrow night if needed.”

I think the manager did the right thing. You do everything possible to make sure the game doesn’t unravel, to make sure that you get to Game 7.

The Cubs have momentum. By winning this game so decisively, they also now have belief.

NOTES:

By the time Game 7 is played, a winner take all game will happen for the 38th time in WS history. The Cubs will have waited 39,466 days for a title; the Indians, 24,859.  My prediction is that the Cleveland streak will continue.

 

Cleveland stuns Cubs twice in Wrigley to take 3-1 lead

Where did this Cleveland team come from ? To come into the Friendly Confines and take two games from our beloved Cubs to take a dominant 3-1 game lead in the World Series.  They have come and stolen the thunder from the team that was supposed to exorcise all of the curses and in the process bring joy to masses that were so happy to see Chicago in the World Series for the first time in 71 years. They have silenced the crowd and drove it back to a dark place of doubt and misery.

Cleveland came from the tepid AL Central, a division where the reigning World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals, managed only a 500 record this year and home to the Majors worst team, the Minnesota Twins.  They won 10 less games than the Cubs but got home field in the World Series through the anomaly of the American League’s All-Star game victory. They also came with their own baggage of futility, not having won themselves since 1948.

After splitting at home, they came into Chicago with a vini, vidi, vici mentality, led by a manager who was perfect in World Series play, an ace who had won the Cy Young two years ago, and a middle reliever acquired mid-summer who has been dominant in the post season. Together, playing awfully loose with nothing to lose, this team has come in and taken it to the Cubs, who it now appears, may have been just happy to have gotten to the Series at all.

Being down 3-1, the Cubs need to look at the exception rather than the rule  to draw inspiration from teams that have overcome the huge obstacle. The 2004 Red Sox (down 0-3 to the Yankees and the only team to win 4 straight to win a series), The 1996 Braves, who beat the Cardinals, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates beating the Baltimore Orioles with their “We Are Family” anthem.

The team they shouldn’t look at is the 2003 Marlins, who of course, beat the Cubs. The turning point of that series is the infamous Steve Bartman incident. They don’t need to study that for it is too painful a memory.

But perhaps the team they should try to emulate the most is the 1985 Kansas City Royals, who pulled off the feat twice, once in the ALCS against the Blue Jays, and then again in the World Series against the Cardinals. In the ALCS, Kansas City won the final two games in Toronto.

There is still hope, even if it is faint.

Cubs Beat Back Cleveland 5-2 To Even World Series 1-1

 

We Need More Schwarber

In this World Series of have nots, the Cubs and Indians split the two games played in the city that used to be known as ‘The Mistake By the Lake’. The Cubs misfortunes, of course, have been widely dissected here and afar. The Cubs haven’t played in a World  Series game in 71 years. As for the Indians, they haven’t won anything since 1948 and have also had their share of misfortune over the years. As far as all of Cleveland professional teams is concerned, up until this summer, when the Cavs won the NBA championship, they had a collective professional team drought that dated back, to well, 1948, when the Indians beat the then Boston Braves 4 games to 2.

The sports landscape today in Cleveland is not as barren this October. The Cavaliers, led by King James, pulled out a historic comeback when they defeated the Golden State Warrior in June to make up a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. The Indians just simply won’t face the pressure to win in order to bring relief to the beleaguered city.  On this opening night of the World Series, the Cavaliers played their NBA opener and collected their championship rings.

Cleveland entered the World Series after having faced minimal resistance in the American League. They swept Boston in the ALDS, and promptly took care of a very good Toronto Blue Jay team 4-1 in the ALCS. Their skipper, ex Boston manager Terry Francona, was perfect in the World Series, having gone 8-0 with the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox, the 2004 edition being the team that finally conquered the curse of the Bambino.

In Game 1, Cleveland started their ace Corey Kluber and he delivered. The Cubs countered with John Lester, their most experienced pitcher (Lester was 4-2 in the post season including the Game 4 clincher against the Rockies in the 2007 World Series). By the end of the 3rd inning, Kluber struck out 8 Cub batters. Lester on the other hand, struggled from the get go. Cleveland scored two runs with two outs in the bottom of the first. Lindor singled and stole second (Lester can’t throw to first base).  A couple of walks and an infield hit later, and Cleveland had drawn first blood and led 2-0.

Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez hit the first of his two home-runs with a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth to put the Indians up 3-0.  Kluber, meanwhile, continued to stifle the Cubs, scattering 4 hits in 61/3 innings before being relieved by Andrew Miller. The next batter, the recently activated Kyle Schwarber, singled to add to his earlier double. Jorge Baez singled to load the bases. Miller, who had been so effective all post-season, was in an immediate jam of his own doing. He managed to get out by getting Contreras to fly out and striking out Addison Russel and David Rloss.

Perez cracked his second homer (a 2 run shot) in the bottom of the eighth to seal the victory. (Perez became only the second catcher other than Yogi Berra to catch a shutout and hit two home runs in a World Series Game.) The Cubs Contreras doubled in the ninth but was stranded on second. The Indians had their victory, and Francona undefeated streak in the World Series continued.

The only positive sign for the Cubs was that they had made Miller throw more than 50 pitches, thus making his availability for Game 2 questionable. Moreover, and more importantly, the Cubs made him work harder than he wanted to, and they got a good look at his stuff. I think Francona would have been better off leaving Kluber in the game, as dominant as he was.

With rain in the forecast, Game 2 started an hour earlier than normal. Cubs ace Jake Arrieta was paired against the Trevor Bauer. Apparently the Cubs couldn’t wait long enough, as they came out swinging and scoring, early and often. In the top of the first, Rizzo doubled to right, scoring Bryant from first. In the 3rd, with two outs and two strikes, Rizzo worked a walk. After a Zobrist single, Schwarber continued his amazing comeback from ACL surgery in April by singling to center, driving in Rizzo.

By the time he had pitched 3 2/3 innings, Bauer had thrown over 80 pitches, a much different story than Game 1, when Kluber used that many pitches to pitch twice as many innings. What Kluber did to the Cubs in Game 1, Arrieta returned the favor in Game 2. He had a no-hitter going into the sixth, when gave 2 hits after retiring in 5 1/3 innings (both hits in the fifth) worked before turning it over to the bullpen.

The Cubs went wild in the 5th, scoring three runs. It was Rizzo and Zobrist again (single and triple  respectively). Schwarber singled, scoring Zobrist. Contreras was then safe on an error by Indians second baseman Kipnis. After Jorge Soler walked to load the bases, Russell walked scoring Schwarber.

Aroldis Chapman got his 4th save of the postseason by retiring Game 1 hero Mike Perez to close the door on Cleveland.

The surprising story of the World Series so far has been the amazing play of Kyle Schwarber, who 2 days ago, was playing in the Arizona Fall League. In two days at the World Series, he has gone 3-7 with 2 RBIs, showing a remarkable patience at the plate for someone who hasn’t seen major league pitching in 6 months.  For example, even when he has struck out, he has made Cleveland pitchers work deep into the count. He is one of the reasons why Miller had to throw so many pitches in the Game 1 victory.

Rizzo has also come alive, drawing key walks as well as coming through with timely hitting. And what can you say for Zobrist, who is hitting .325 and has been Chicago’s most consistent hitter of the entire post season.

The Cubs used the formula that had made them so successful this season in producing the baseball’s best run differential: lots of walks (8) and lots of hits (9). But this statistic best illustrated the Cubs approach at the plate: 37 foul balls, 22 on two strike counts. The Cubs simply wore the Cleveland pitching out tonight.

So now it’s back to Chicago for the middle three games. The Cubs got the much desired split and now have recaptured home field advantage. Holy cow, don’t look now, but they can close this baby out at home.

 

 

Cubs Win The Pennant, Cubs Win The Pennant

Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face and I just can not hide it – CeCe Peniston

There’s no stopping us now Now that we found our way – The Supremes

With their back against the walls, with their lineup in a scoreless 18 inning funk, the Cubs went into Game 4 knowing that if they wanted to continue their curse-busting streak, they had to take on Dodger phenom Julia Urias to the cleaners.  Because if they didn’t, and the Dodgers managed to win, the Cubs would be facing a 3-1 deficit, and with their back against the wall would most likely have to go against Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, in a clinch game at Dodger stadium.

For the first three innings, the Cubs hung another zero and things were looking grim. It looked like the Cubs would falter again, and this would be another year to add to the pantheon of Cubs failure.

But in the fourth inning, everything changed.  The Cubs, who have won every conceivable way this year, started their comeback by playing typical National League small ball. Ben Zobrist bunted his way on to start a rally. Baez managed a hit, and Wilson Contreras’ single scored Zobrist. It was the first run the Cubs had scored in 21 innings, and they started a floodgate that wouldn’t stop. By the time the inning was over, Addison Russell homered to cap a 4 run inning, his first hit in the post-season.  In the fifth inning, Rizzo homered as well (Rizzo and Russell had previously gone 3-52 with no RBIs) and the Cubs had a 5-0 lead. The Dodgers got a couple of runs back but that’s all of the runs they would score.

By the end of Game 4, the Cubs offense had busted out for 10 runs to even up the series, thus guaranteeing a return trip to the Friendly Confines.  In Game 5,  against struggling Kenta Maeda, Rizzo continued his renaissance, doubling in Fowler in the first inning for the Cubs first run. In the sixth, with the score tied at 1, Russell homered again off of Joe Blanton (he who had given up the big grand slam in Game 1) to put the Cubs up for good 3-1.

In the eighth inning, the Cubs exploded for 5 more runs off of Dodger pitcher Pedro Baez with two infield hits by Derrick Fowler and Kris Bryant.

Chicago had figured out Dodger pitching and were scoring in all manners possible.  Everyone was involved. The only Cub unable to hit was Jason Heyward.  Rizzo tried an unconventional tactic by abandoning his bats and using those of teammate Matt Szczur’s (who is not on the active roster) to bust out of his slump.

When Game 6 rolled around, the Cubs were back in their home turf, and with a 3-2 lead, were feeling much more at ease. The Dodgers finally were able to counter with their ace Clayton Kershaw, but it didn’t much matter. I had predicted that Kershaw would suffer from exhaustion and would not be effective in Game 2. I was wrong as Kershaw pitched a two-hit gem in shutting out Chicago 1-0.

Kershaw would have no such luck in Game 6. Chicago equaled their Game 2 hitting output in the first inning, scoring two runs in the process.  The Cubs scored added a run in the second, and Wilson Contreras homer in the fourth gave them a 4-0 lead. Kershaw’s curve had abandoned him and the Cubs took advantage.

In the eight, with the Cubs ahead 5-0 and five outs from the pennant, Chapman came in to relieve Kyle Hendricks, who had himself pitched a two hitter up to that point. Astute observers would notice that this was the same situation where the Cubs had faltered in 2003. With only five outs to go, the Marlins Luis Castillo hit a fly ball to left field that Cubs outfielder Felipe Alou was about to catch before Steve Bartman put his hands up and deflected it from Alou’s glove.

Why would Maddon take out Hendricks now, as effective as he had been all game long. Why would he mess with a good thing ?  Chapman came in with a runner on base and he promptly got Kendricks to ground into a double play. The fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

In the ninth, the unfazed Chapman struck out Dodger slugger Adrian Gonzales with his customary 100 mile plus heater. But even in the ninth, after a ball landed foul near Bartman territory and the Dodgers Carlos Ruiz drew an eventual walk, the fans were nervous.  Nothing is ever taken for granted at Wrigley. Chapman got Puig to ground out into the Dodgers’ second double play of the game ending any possible scare.

From the edge of the precipice, the Cubs had rediscovered their hitting ways. They ended up winning three consecutive games, and after the Game 3 loss never trailed in the series again.  This young team showed remarkable resiliency in the face of immediate and historical adversity.

Afterwards, Wrigley field was bedlam. The clubhouse was even crazier, an orgy of champagne induced happiness.  Outside, at Sheffield and Waveland, thousands of fans continued the celebration that they had waited for decades to materialize. Watching the celebration was almost more fun than watching the game itself.

The Cubs were going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. Cue the Supremes “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” for no Billy Goat or Black Cat curse is going to slow this march into history.

 

Magical Win and Bust

If you believe in the Cubs in the 2016 MLB playoffs, if you believe that this is the year that the Cubs will finally conquer their multiple curses, then Game 1 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers provided more drama and gave hope to the faithful.

By winning another tense game in electrifying fashion, the Cubs bandwagon rolled on, collecting more believers along the way.

With the Cubs ahead 3-1 going into the eighth inning, the Dodgers load up the bases with no outs.  Maddon once again summoned Chapman early to save the day, just as he had unsuccessfully done in Game 3 against the Giants when the closer was brought in in the seventh inning. Chapman, this time, had a better start and struck out the next two batters.  Then Adrian Gonzales singled up the middle to drive in two runs and tie the game at 3-3.  Chapman got the final out and limited the damage.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs loaded the bases themselves. Maddon and Roberts engaged in an interesting cat and mouse game. Roberts walked Hayward with first base open to force Maddon to choose between leaving his closer in or pinch hitting for him.  Maddon chose to pinch hit with Miguel Montero, a left handed batter. Dave Roberts, the Dodger manager, did not make a change as was anticipated, and left his pitcher Blanton in the game. Maddon would have brought in Wilson Contreras had Roberts made a pitching change.

What happened next is just indicative that the Cubs have destiny on their side. Miguel Montero, with an 0-2 count, blasted a grand slam. Electricity coursed through the Friendly Confines. That home run was some very exciting shit man.  Fowler added a solo shot to add insult to injury.

The Dodgers scored another run in the top of the ninth but the Cubs finished the game with a nifty double play when Rizzo caught a line drive and threw to second to double off the runner.

In Game 1, the Cubs still had luck on their side and continued their magical ride to a World Championship.

But starting in Game 2 and continuing onto Game 3, the “good pitching stops good hitting” monster reared its ugly head. Clayton Kershaw, who has had a super-human playoffs so far reminiscent of past Dodger Orel Hershiser in 1988, had collected two wins and one save against the Nationals in the division series.

Kershaw pitched a gem in Game 2, shutting the Cubs out in seven complete innings giving up only two hits.  In Game 3 back in Los Angeles, the Dodgers Rich Hill once again put the stops on the Cubs, going 6 allowing only two hits. By the time the eighth inning started, the Dodgers had gotten 4 runs against Arrieta. The Cubs, meanwhile, had gone 16 scoreless innings, the first time that had happened since, wait for this, 1908. Holy Cow !  The Cubs potent lineup had been retired 1-2-3 in 11 of the 16 innings. More bad karma stats.

By the time the Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen came into the ninth, the Cubs were down 6-0.   There would probably be no magical comeback in this game and the Cubs could only hope to make Jansen work enough to build some momentum for Game 4.  Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs slugger who had a monster year but has had an anemic playoff performance (he was 0-10 against the Dodgers, had only one hit against the Giants, and was batting only .138, the fifth worst batting average in post-season history) finally got a meaningless broken-bat infield hit. But Jansen then struck out Javi Baez and Coghlan lined out to third end the game.

If the Cubs are going to do what no Cubs team has done for over a century, their offense is going to have to wake up. They will face Dodger youngster Julio Urias and they better even up the series. Rizzo, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist are hitting a combined 9 for 95 (.094). They need to start hitting for the Cubs to have a chance at continuing their run. They need to start heeding Maddon’s motto “the pressure can’t exceed the pleasure”.

Because if they don’t, the weight of history becomes too burdensome. With Clayton Kershaw looming large in the shadows, Game 4 is the definition of a must win game.

NOTES:

First back to back shutout for Dodgers in post-season in 200 games.

The Dodgers have played the third most playoff games in baseball history, trailing only the Yankees and Cardinals.

 

 

 

 

 

Cubs Win, Cubs Win – The Clincher

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the Cubs reversed role on the Giants and became the team that came back from behind.  I didn’t start watching this game until the 8th inning (I was at the Minnesota Lynx big win over the LA Sparks in the WNBA Finals Game 2).  The Cubs were trailing 5-2 going into the ninth when they started their improbable comeback. At that point, it didn’t look good. I was getting emotionally ready for the dreaded Game 5 at home, with the visiting team carrying all of the momentum.  With all of the dreaded history looming over their heads, the Cubs would have faced unbelievable pressure at home. And they would have had to face Cueto, a pitcher who, to quote John Maddon, they had been abysmal against.

But in the ninth, like the Giants had in Game 3, the Cubs created their own magic.  Kris Bryant led the inning with a single and then Rizzo managed a walk. Ben Zobrist had a key at bat, laying off a couple of low sinkers. When he got one up in the strike zone, he lined a curving double to right field scoring Bryant easily and closing the gap to 5-3. Runners on second and third and nobody out.  This could be real.  The next batter, Wilson Contreras, singled up the middle scoring Rizzo and Zobrist tying the game at 5.  With nobody out and a runner on first, Maddon called on Jason Hayward to bunt.  His bunt was too hard and right back at the Giants pitcher, who threw a strike to second baseman Crawford for the first out of the double play, but Crawford’s threw to first was wild and Hayward advanced to second base. Then Game 1 hero Javi Baez lined another single up the middle to score Hayward for the 6-5 lead. Boche will be second guessed for taking his starter Matt Moore out of the game after Moore had throttled the Cubs in 8 innings striking out 10. The Giants bullpen struggled all year long (they blew 30 save opportunities) and five relief pitchers could not get a single out before the Cubs tied this game.

The table had been completely reversed, and instead of facing an elimination game at home against the elimination kings, it was the Cubs who were applying the vice grip to the Giants. Arnoldis Chapman would get a chance at redemption, after having completely blown the save opportunity in Game 3.

Chapman wasted no time and struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the amazing victory. The Cubs celebrated like they had just won the World Series.  Their fans held up banners with a blue W.   The Cubs continued their wild celebration in the locker room.

This team has won during the regular season, but after this game, they learned what it takes to really win in the post-season by rallying back against the best team of the decade.  For this team, this appears to just be the start of a magical ride that will culminate with a World Series championship.

Notes:

The four run comeback was the largest comeback in post-season clinch game in history.

Combined with their ninth inning comeback in Game 3 to tie the game, no team had ever come back to tie the game in the ninth inning in consecutive playoff games in history.

Javi Baez had the first and last RBIs of the series, both game winning hits.

Broadcasting Notes:

In Game 2, I tuned into the MLB Network, which actually seemed to be carrying a playoff game. game. I was treated to the commentary of Bob Costas. Costas is more famous for his Olympics telecasts, but the more I heard him, the more he sounded like the second coming of Vin Scully. Costas weaved in stories throughout his play by play that made the game so pleasurable to hear. Scully’s magic, which Costas has been able to masterfully duplicate, is that you don’t really need to watch the game to enjoy it. All you need to do is to hear a gifted broadcaster to appreciate the essence of the game.

In the 6th inning alone, Costas managed to weave in a story about the Cubs pitcher Hector Rondon, a Venezuelan who was concerned about his family in the ever volatile country as well as commenting on Baez’s long hit to left field that when he thought it was a home run, didn’t start running very hard.  When the ball failed to clear the wall and bounced back into play,  Baez was forced to accelerate and slide into second to be called safe on a very close play. Costas immediately questioned why a player wouldn’t run hard from the beginning and how that may have cost him a double.  Under the new rules, in which certain baseball plays can be reviewed on replay, Baez was indeed called out. On the inning change over, MLB showed a list of the best Cubs teams to have lost in the past 108 years. Costas narrated each of the team’s records and lack of achievement in great style.

When the game was over, and the Cubs had won to take a 2-0 lead, Costas speculated about what would happen in Game 3, when both teams’ aces would match up against each other. When Madison Baumgartner, one of the baseball best pitchers in the last 6 years goes against Arrieta, the best pitcher of the past two years, it will be the best baseball game in many years.

“If the Cubs make it to the World Series” Costas would say, it will “be a national story.” It will not only be a national story, it will be a historic story.