“This is it! This is it! It’s two, they’re gonna turn two! Eeeaaaaaahhhhhhh!” The moment the ball was hit to Russell, I jumped outta my chair, screamin’ like a banshee. I don’t really know what a banshee is, but it’s gotta be loud and somewhat unhinged. (That would make my sister in law a banshee.) I bear hugged the missus who was already workin’ on a full set of raccoon eyes. If I was a woman, or Johnny Depp, I woulda had ’em too, cuz I realized she wasn’t the only one cryin’. That’s what happened at the Schlombowski household Saturday night. And I’ll tell ya … except for the Swedish Bikini team servin’ me beers without their bikini’s, blubberin’ like a newborn was the last thing I expected to happen. I guess the Cubs going to the Series means more to me than I thought it did … And believe me, I thought it would mean one helluva lot.
More than anything else, I feel gratitude towards Mr Ricketts who, as the Cubs owner, sorta takes a back seat to Theo, Jed and Joe in terms of getting credit for puttin’ this club together. But if it weren’t for Mr Ricketts, none of those guys would be here and, in all likelihood, our season woulda been over by the mid-season classic, like usual. So … thank you, Mr Ricketts. On the 10 million to 1 chance that you’re readin’ this, I want you to know how grateful I am that you brought Major League Baseball to Wrigley Field. Yeah, there’s always been some sorta reasonable or unreasonable facsimile, but until you started signin’ the checks, it’s never been anything like this. Thank you for givin’ so much joy to so many people who have patiently waited for so very, very long. We do, however, need a sit down about concession prices, my friend.
Full disclosure: I was more than skeptical at times over the last 5 years. 55 seasons of nothin’ will do that to a Cubs fan. So for me, bringin’ in Theo wasn’t an instantaneous Kyle Schwarber moon shot. Not that I didn’t wet myself with excitement when Theo first signed. I mean he came with the Red Sox miracle on his resumé, which was huge. Still, it took a while before all the ingredients started to come together. That’s when the intoxicating aroma of Theo stew with Maddon sauce started wafting out over Wrigleyville, and I realized that Mr Ricketts was really baseball’s Charlie Trotter. So sue me if I’m a little slow on the uptake. Nobody except Javi Baez is perfect, pal.
“Try not to suck.” That was the mantra this year. A Joe Maddonism that’s Yogi-esque in its utter simplicity and purity. And the Cubs lived up to every bit of it. They did not and do not suck, my friend. The same can’t be said for the Dodgers. Sorry, it may be unsportsmanlike to kick your opponent when he’s down, but somethin’ has got to be said about what happened to the Dodgers and their messiah, Clayton Kershaw.
The bunt. No one likes to bunt. Pitchers bunt, but that’s cuz they can’t hit. Except for Cubs pitchers — who CAN actually hit — which means they don’t like to bunt. There’s no majesty in a bunt. No glory. Not a single player has ever been signed to a multi-year, silly-money contract cuz he could lay down the perfect bunt. You won’t see the Bunt Derby substituted for the Home Run Derby at the All Star Break. Ever. They don’t hand out plaques at Cooperstown for tappin’ the ball down the line. And no fan will ever bid a hundred grand for a ball that went 37 feet. Most of the time, a bunt means you’re willing to give yourself up for the cause. It’s noble in that regard, but in the arsenal of offensive weapons, it’s the BB gun.
Yet, with all 10 mph of its minuscule exit velocity, last night’s bunt, by Ben Zobrist, was perhaps the most powerful blast of the night. Yeah, yeah … Rizzo and Russell went yard. But I say that four run 4th doesn’t even get started without Zobrist makin’ the bunt heard ’round the world. It was the catalyst for the entire 10 run barrage, and simultaneous collapse of the Dodgers’ ability to play defense. In fact, if you consider what happened from that point forward, it would be more accurate to call it a lionalyst or tigeralyst than a catalyst. Name it what you want, Ben’s willingness to get the ball rolling by … uh … getting the ball rolling was what it took to CPR the Cubs offense. In psychological terms, that bunt was a 500 foot moon shot over the center field bleachers.
After that, the genie was not only outta the bottle, he was grantin’ just about every single wish that could possibly come to the mind of a Cubs fan. At least the ones that can happen in front of 54,449 people, and that don’t involve Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson and a can of Reddi Whip. We’d gone 21 innings without so much as sneekin’ a peek at the plate, and had accumulated just 6 hits in 60 at bats in games 2 and 3. For a while there I was hopin’ we could pull Mario Mendoza outta retirement. Instead, Zobrist ignited the Cubs’ jets by doin’ somethin’ most clean-up hitters probably have written outta their contracts. What followed was epic.
Four runs in the 4th. Monkey? What monkey?
In the bottom of the 2nd, Adrian Gonzalez is called out in a close play at home, but on review it’s plainly obvious that he was safe. Still, the bozos in New York uphold the call. That was baffling. I mean what’s the point of havin’ reviews if the umps in New York are gonna leave their seein’ eye dogs at home?
A one-run 5th. After givin’ back a couple of runs in the bottom half of the 4th, Rizzo says, WTF, and takes one of ’em right back.
During this particular at bat, Rizzo starts headin’ to first on what he believes is ball four, only to be called back by the called strike of home plate umpire, Angel Hernandez. Then, in the words of Harry Caray, “ho-leeeee coooooowwwwwww!” Instead of standin’ on first with a walk, Rizzo deposits Pedro Baez’s pitch in the bleachers. Don’t know if he said anything to Hernandez when he crossed the plate, but I think a thank you would have been in order.
How ’bout five more runs in the 6th? Cubs world, Cubs world! Party time! Excellent!
Rizzo and Russell gather 3 hits each, and both had round-trippers. I don’t know how many times that’s happened, but I can’t imagine it’s been very often.
In a game where just about everything goes right for the Northsiders, Zobrist gets a second bunt single, of the swinging variety this time, makin’ it a multi-hit game. This one involved a close play at first, and Zobrist was originally called out. But the review went in favor of the Cubs, again, and the call was reversed. This time, New York got the call right.
Like Zobrist, Fowler, too, has a couple of hits, including a double.
Contreras unloads the Guns of Navarone on Justin Turner, pickin’ his bushy red ass off — not first, not third, but second. Awesome.
The Dodgers, who made just 80 errors over the course of the regular season, make four in this one game. So no matter how much Adrian Gonzalez whines about that call at home plate, or how much momentum he thinks was stolen from them as a result, the Dodgers dirtied their own diapers, defensively, last night. They LOST the game. AND they were beaten. And how did they handle it? Like you’d expect. They were moanin’ louder than the entire stable at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch.
Montgomery, in keeping with the hitting prowess of the rest of the staff this post season, bangs out a single.
Heyward, although 0-5 and pretty much as anemic at the plate as he’s been all year, has a couple of good at bats, one that ended up drivin’ in a run.
All in all, things were different last night, for both ball clubs. The Cubs finally started playin’ like the Cubs, and the Dodgers had their season-long luck run out, followed by a heapin’ helpin’ of sour grapes in the clubhouse afterwards. Given the trouncing we took in games 2 and 3, it would give me a world of satisfaction to tell LA to “go get your shine box” right now. But it ain’t over. It’s down to the best 2 outta 3. No room for mistakes.
Though never definitively proven, Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was believed to have said afterwards, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” I think LA unleashed their Pearl Harbor in games 2 and 3, and now the sleeping giant is wide friggin’ awake.
Hey there, ice chips. How ’bout those friggin’ Cubs, huh?! I gotta tell ya, I luuuuuuvvvvv flyin’ the playoff W. I’d say it makes me feel like I’m on top of the world but that’s kinda stupid. I mean think about it. First — SPOILER ALERT — there’s no Santa Claus up there and second, it’s butt ass cold. It’d be a lot more accurate to say I’m feelin’ like I’m sittin’ on a clothing-optional beach in Bora Bora, the missus has exercised her option, and is feedin’ me pork sliders while I sip on a frosty Old Style. Yeah, that about captures it. Thank you for that, Cubbies.
Anyway, as the Central Division Champs are makin’ their way to the city of whackadoos for Game 3 against the Giants, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the meaning of the oldest phrase in baseball: Keep your eye on the friggin’ ball.
Lemme start by sayin’ that anyone who pays attention to my microscopic corner of the Cubs universe knows that I live and die with them. If that’s you, 1) thank you for payin’ attention and 2) you know that my 55 seasons have seen a whole lot more dyin’ than livin’. That’s given me a certain … let’s say … perspective. I tend to call it like I see it, rather than wearin’ Cubbie blue shaded glasses. Sometimes the Schlombowski forecast is “cloudy with a chance of losing.” Hey, I don’t make the weather, pal, I just report it.
Don’t get me wrong. I not only think the Cubs are in the driver’s seat right now, I think the Giants have been stuffed into the trunk and are about to get dumped on the side of a dark, winding road out in the middle of the redwoods.
IF they keep their eye on the ball, that is.
And I don’t mean pickin’ up the rotation on Bumgarner’s cheese and watchin’ it all the way to the plate. What I mean is that bein’ up 2-0 to the Giants, even in a best-of-5 series, isn’t a Labron James better-get-the-hell-outta-my-way slam dunk, unless we do one thing: stay focused on the ball that matters — winnin’ the World Series. To me, that mean’s not actin’ like we just won the friggin’ lottery cuz the first two games went our way, or cuz our pitchers have turned into Babe Ruth, or cuz Wood just penned his name in the record books. The Cubs gotta go about their business like they’re mailmen or something. You know … that whole “neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night” thing. Only with us it’s “Neither Mad-Bum, nor Posey, nor wicked line drives off our pitchers will keep us from our appointed victory over the Halloween-colored San Francisco Giants.” Do I think that’s gonna happen? You bet your sweet ivy-covered ass I do. Do I think it’s gonna be easy? Read on, my friend:
Boris Spasky? Garry Kasparov? Bobby Fischer? Pfft. You wanna talk about the grandest master of ’em all, you’ll be throwin’ the name Joe Maddon around, my friend. If you saw last night’s game, you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about. If I didn’t know better — but I do, cuz guys were wearin’ uniforms instead of suits, and the game was in Cincinnati not Reykjavik — I’d have sworn I was watchin’ a great chess match.
Maddon opened with the Zobrist Attack — nearly impossible to defend against — and then began to slowly and methodically dissect the Reds like the pawns they are. It was masterful; different than the night before, though, where he basically commanded the entire game with a single piece — a tactic known as the Bryant Challenge. But last night … last night’s middlegame was almost cruel. Maddon lulled the Reds into a sense of over-confidence by toyin’ with ’em. Even lettin’ them back in the game when he had a chance to close it out. This is known as the Rondon Gambit. There are similar Gambit moves — the Wood, the Grimm and the Stroup — that Maddon will attempt on occasion, but last night he went with Rondon.
You could see the Reds thinkin’ they had an opening, especially when they shut the door on the Cubs with their semi-brilliant (nothing the Reds do can technically be called “brilliant”) execution of the Votto Defense. But then Maddon started movin’ pieces around like a friggin’ tornado and exchanging ’em like teenage girls sharin’ a closet; Grimm for Rondon, Goghlan for Almora, Szczur from left to center, Edwards for Grimm, Montero to Edwards’s spot then Cahill for Edwards. This kinda chess-like mastery continued for the next 5 innings, with Maddon makin’ one of his most blinding moves — the Patton-Wood castling — in the 14th. Filthy. Really filthy.
It wasn’t until the 15th, though, that Big Joe pulled out the rarely-used Javier Baez Slam. An end game I don’t think anyone expected, least of all the Reds. That just friggin’ crushed whatever hope they’d been clinging to and 3 outs later … check-friggin-mate, my friend.
Tip of the Joe cap to you, Joe Maddon. That was 4 hours and 43 minutes of brilliance.
You know, when I was a kid, my parents used to get National Geographic. I used to thumb through it (for the articles, pal) and now and then there’d be a piece on volcanos. There were these awesome photos and fancy diagrams explaining how all this pent up raw power, buried inside the Earth, has to get out once in a while. And when it does, you got yourself a major league natural disaster.
Well, my friend, I think what we’re lookin’ at with this year’s Cubs is exactly that: the geological equivalent of Mt. Vesuvius or Mount St. Helens or Krakatoa or something. I mean the Cubs have been dormant for 107 years. Yeah, we shook up the Richter Scale in 1945, and had a few minor rumblings over the last 30 years, but it wasn’t until last year that people started wondering if the tremors on Chicago’s north side are for real. Based on pure scientific observation so far this season, I’d say it’s time to sound the Amber Alert system, cuz it’s looking like there’s a Prince Fielder-sized butt-load of molten Fowler, Rizzo, Zobrist and Arrieta that’s starting to explode on the rest of baseball.