Opinion: From the diary of a Cubs fan
72 hours and 46 minutes – That’s how long it has been since the Chicago Cubs came back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. I’m still in a state of shock.
108 years in a history book is brief. To the generations of Cubs fans that cheered outside Wrigley Field at 11:45 p.m. Central time, it was a multi-generational burden freed at last.
For years, the Cubs were known as the “Lovable Losers”. There were jokes, like the Cubs were always out of the pennant race by Mother’s Day and that the word Cubs stood for “Completely useless by September”.
There were the curses, and the teams that came so close, only to fall short. The curse of the Billy Goat, allegedly perpetrated by a bitter fan whose pet goat wouldn’t be allowed in the stands during Game 4 of the 1945 series. This curse was believed to have affected many editions of the Cubs over the years. The 1969 team with future Baseball Hall of Famers like Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo infamously fell apart after a game at Shea Stadium against the New York Mets where a black cat crossed Santo’s path.
This incident was believed to have sparked a downward spiral, where they lost 17 of 25 possible games to end the season, missing the playoffs.
The 1984 team showed much promise, with Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe and many other solid veterans. Amassing a record of 96-65.
Subsequently, the Cubs were beat in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) 3-2 by the San Diego Padres.
Personally, the worst suffering by Cubs fans after 1984 was in 2003.
ESPN did a 30 for 30 documentary on an infamous play, titled Catching Hell. That year’s Cubs won 88 games and made the NLCS. With five outs to go in the series-clinching Game 6 with the Cubs up 3-0, Marlins second-baseman Luis Castillo sliced a foul ball down the third base line. As the Cubs Moises Alou reached for the ball, Steve Bartman, an unsuspecting fan reached out and caught the ball. This fluke play was deemed by many to be the turning point in the game and series, as the Marlins rallied and eventually advanced to the World Series.
On a personal side, as a young Cubs fan, two weeks before my tenth birthday, I then learned what it was truly like firsthand to have one’s sports dreams snatched from them.
With all this history, Cubs fans were cautiously optimistic going into this year. As my 81-year-old grandfather put it, “I’ll believe this team is destined for greatness when I see it.”
To put the Cubs previous futility in perspective, the last time they won the Fall Classic in 1908, my family hadn’t even immigrated to the United States. The last time they made it, my grandfather was 10-years-old and he and my great-grandfather huddled around an RCA radio listening to WGN announcer Jack Brickhouse do the play-by-play.
However, this year the Cubs and their manager, Lafayette College graduate, Joe Maddon won 103 games with young players such as Anthony Rizzo, NL Rookie-of-the-Year Kris Bryant, and veterans like Jon Lester and Jason Heyward.
As the Cubs gained momentum toward the playoffs, leaving the rival St. Louis Cardinals 17.5 games out of first place, the questions and excitement increased.
Was this the year?
Wrigley Field buzzed with excitement as August turned to September, home field advantage and a playoff berth in the National League Division Series came to fruition.
To begin the playoffs, the Cubs faced the San Francisco Giants, a well-managed club that since 2010 had won every World Series on an even year.
The first game began with a pitcher’s duel that pitted Jon Lester versus Johnny Cuerto, Javier Baez, the Cubs enigmatic second baseman hit a solo home run into the left-field bleachers to cap the scoring 1-0. Two of the next three games would be decided by one run and the Dodgers were looming with three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw on the horizon.
Although the Cubs had won the most games in baseball, the playoffs saw the Cubs lineup go inexplicably cold in crucial spots, leaving fans (like yours truly) sweating and highly nervous.
First blood in the NLCS was struck by the Cubs, capped by a pinch-hit grand slam home run by Miguel Montero, putting the Cubs up 8-4, that left the writer of this story hoarse the next day.
Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers dueled NL ERA leader Kyle Hendricks to win a 1-0 pitchers duel with the only run of the game drove in by first-baseman, Adrian Gonzalez.
Between Games 2 and 3, the 2-5 lineup spots for the Cubs would go ice-cold and hitless with runners in scoring position. Armed with the statistic that no team that had been shutout in consecutive games and won the series, Cubs fans were apprehensive for Game Four.
Ben Zobrist, World Series MVP led off the fourth inning with a bunt that sparked a 10-2 win, along with timely hits from shortstop Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez.
Game 5 was won 8-4 after the Cubs tagged Dodgers reliever Joe Blanton for five runs in the eighth-inning.
With Game 6 at home, only Clayton Kershaw stood between a World Series appearance, the first in 71 years.
The final game of the NLCS began with a performance from the ages by Kyle Hendricks. The crafty right-hander gave up two hits over 7 1/3 innings.
Clayton Kershaw was hit early as four of first five innings saw the Cubs plate at least one run. From a hotel in Washington D.C., I sat in shock for several minutes, not daring to move until it hit me in a moment of jubilation.
Minutes later, my grandfather called me from back home, exclaiming between elated sobs that they had done it. I had prayed for the Cubs to make the World Series for his sake, but in that moment, I hoped that a higher power could help ensure a World Series win.
In the Fall Classic, the Cubs were slated to face the Cleveland Indians, a city with momentum after winning an NBA title in June and winning seven of eight postseason games thus far.
Game 1 began in rough fashion for the Cubs as they lost 6-0 on a rough outing for Jon Lester in Cleveland. Corey Kluber kept Cubs hitters off-balance and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen mopped up the remnants of the Cub offense.
Jake Arrieta pitched five innings and the return of Kyle Schwarber as a designated hitter after being out since April 7 pushed the Cubs to a 5-1 win in Game 2 and momentum with a three-game stand at Wrigley Field.
The third game began with a raucous crowd at the Friendly Confines as Hall of Famer Billy Williams threw out the first pitch. Again, the Cubs offense went anemic, and the same creeping feelings of dread crept into the pit of my stomach. The Indians won 1-0 after the duo of Miller and Allen shut down the Cubs yet again.
Admittedly before the fourth game, I felt that the Cubs had little chance. A 7-2 convincing win that left John Lackey shell-shocked confirmed my fears and angst.
With the Cubs now down 3-1, the teams I looked to for solace and comfort were the 1985 Royals and 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, the last two teams to come back in the World Series from that deficit.
Game 5 saw Jon Lester find his groove, and myself with the blood pressure of a chain smoker. MVP candidate Kris Bryant had a crucial home run. Most noteworthy was the eight out save by Aroldis Chapman. Chapman, a controversial acquisition at the trade deadline with domestic dispute charges, came through, striking out the side in the ninth to extend the series.
MVP candidate Kris Bryant took a pitch to left field and the Cubs never looked back, as the 2-6 hitters did most of the heavy lifting in a 9-3 Game 6 win on my birthday. Aroldis Chapman came in for a seven out save that floored even the most trusting of Cubs fans.
I spent the majority of the day of Game 7 not being able to focus. Giddiness had replaced a previous dread and nervousness in the games prior. Cleveland trotted out Corey Kluber on short rest and Cubs hitters had done little to assure fans they could hit, let alone score runs off of the AL Cy Young candidate.
Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff home run and the Cubs jumped to a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth. Lester came in relief of Hendricks and threw a wild pitch that plated two runs. Fittingly, David Ross, in his last MLB game ever, came back with a solo home run the next half inning and all seemed well in Wrigleyville until the bottom of the eighth, when Chapman came in for another extended relief appearance. He gave up three runs that tied the game and left me sitting on the floor in my apartment praying for a sign.
After no score in the ninth, the clouds answered my prayers and those of several million Cubs fans. The rain delay was desperately needed as veteran Jason Heyward gave a speech that was later credited by other Cubs players as sparking the game-winning rally with runs driven in by Zobrist and Montero especially.
The save was completed by reliever Mike Montgomery, who induced the sweetest ground ball in the history of Chicago baseball.
I sat in shock again, as I couldn’t believe 108 years of struggle had finally ended. 20 minutes later, my grandfather called again, sobbing in disbelief. There was a bittersweet sense in that phone call, thinking about those that we wished were here to enjoy the celebration.
The reality didn’t set in until the next day as I sat in NCC’s parking lot, listening to Chicago native Steve Goodman’s “When the Cubs Go Marching In.” The laughter and tears ensued.
With Cubs fans, it used to be, “Wait Until Next Year.” The wait is over, and the Chicago Cubs are the world champions. I didn’t know if I’d ever hear that in my lifetime, and yes, it is taking some getting used to.