Sometime just after the four hour and 40 minute marathon panic attack that the Cubs put us through, as the TV showed them in their now iconic pose where they pile up for their playoff round victory photo on the pitcher’s mound, one thought popped into the fog of my mind. Sometimes, it just takes balls.
The Cubs and Washington Nationals played five games where the margin of victory and defeat was thinner than a Dusty Baker toothpick. The Cubs could have lost all five games. They were outscored in the series. But they got on a plane (that finally actually landed) to Los Angeles early this morning, and the Nationals are left to drool the drool of remorse on the pillow of regret.
It’s cliche to say that one team “wanted it more” than the other did. That’s not true in this case, anyway. Both teams wanted it. But when the decisive fifth and final game devolved from something resembling actual baseball to a war of attrition, the Cubs hung on for dear life and didn’t let go.
You don’t get to be a champion by only winning on the days you play well. The Nationals are unwitting examples of that.
The Cubs nearly emptied their bullpen (I wonder if they remembered to ever go get Justin Wilson?), and they nearly emptied their bench. They certainly emptied our patience and our nerves. Joe Maddon is fond of saying that they “aren’t all oil paintings.” If this one was, it was a Jackson Pollock.
But in the end, one team was left standing and one was left to answer more questions about if they will ever win.
And, incredibly, our Chicago Cubs have become the team that is expected to win games like this. It’s a different world than it was 11 months ago. The Cubs do not let a bad play, or a bad pitch, or a bad call derail them. Adversity, to them, is something that is going to make the win that much more satisfying. I may not live long enough to ever get used to this.
They won a game by one run and it took scoring a run on a wild pitch, scoring a run on a dropped third strike and and error, scoring a run on a bases loaded hit by pitch, throwing out one of the fastest players in baseball at home on a ball that you really shouldn’t try to throw him out on, picking a guy off first base with the tying run on second in the eighth inning and winning two replay challenges.
The game ended with an exhausted closer striking out one of the three best players on the planet. And when it did we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or pass out, so we just did a weird combination of the three.
The Cubs are playing for the pennant for the third time in three years.
Take a second to re-read that sentence. I’ll wait…
…they are the standard bearers in baseball now, and given their youth, and the brains behind them, and yes, their balls, that’s not going to change anytime soon.
They may not have actually wanted to win more than the Nationals did, but they were fearless in going about it.
They trudge into LA for a rematch with the heavily-favored Dodgers. Their pitching staff is in a shambles, they’re all tired, and the Dodgers are really, really good.
The Cubs have them right where they want them.
Now that he’s lost TEN straight games when his team could have won a playoff series, the consensus in the national media is that we should feel sorry for Dusty.
To put it as elegantly as I can: fuck that.
I think you had to be here during the Dusty Cubs years to truly appreciate how much blame he deserved and did his best to shield himself from. It’s not just that he ruined Mark Prior’s career. That would have been enough.
It wasn’t just that he sat paralyzed as the Cubs pissed away the 2003 pennant. That would have been enough.
It was everything that came after that. After presiding over two of the most egregious choke jobs in postseason history (the Giants World Series collapse in 2002 and the Cubs NLCS debacle in 2003), Dusty’s paranoia about any whiff of criticism spiked off the charts, and then, his players fed off of that. There wasn’t a petty battle that they wouldn’t fight. The only thing consistent about Dusty’s comments about games or players or fans was that they were condescending jibberish.
Strategically, he’s always been useless as a manager, but in his last three years in Chicago, those flaws were magnified by the decline in the one thing he’d been good at–handling his players.
He only came to the Cubs to pay off his IRS settlement when the Giants refused to re-sign him after the 2002 World Series choke job. Truth is, they were so sick of him he was out even if they’d won it.
He gave up even pretending to try in 2005 and 2006 with the Cubs, and acted shocked when the Cubs didn’t offer him a contract extension, even though he clearly didn’t want to be there. He’s spent 11 years now complaining about how the Cubs and the fans treated him.
We put up with his terrible lineup construction, his inability to handle a pitching staff, his weird devotion to washed up veterans and terrible utility men, and his nonsensical answers to questions about even basic baseball strategy.
I don’t see why we ever have to feel sorry for him.