I had to change the channel briefly after the final out of 163. I don’t know how much of the Brewers’ celebration, on the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field, ESPN actually showed before switching to the other National League tiebreaker game on the West Coast. But I could not watch a single second of it.
I’d just been on my feet, wildly smacking my hands together in my trademark “Wielgus Clap” that infamously once moved an old woman sitting in front of me at a Cubs home game to rip off pieces of napkin and stick them in her ears. Javy Baez — my favorite Cub, whose quest for NL MVP is effectively over, given Christian Yelich’s recent trajectory for the (cringe) Central Division champions — had just battled his ass off against (bigger cringe) Josh Hader to get on base after an awful, strikeout-filled stretch, and the game’s lone offensive hero, Anthony Rizzo, was up with two outs, representing the tying run in a 3-1 game.
I knew that expecting Rizz to go deep a second time against a (cringe cringe cringe) All-Star hurler (can you tell I’m a Hader hater?) was foolish. But, b*tch please. I watched these guys rally from a 3-1 deficit in the WORLD SERIES in 2016, to win the whole damn mother-effing thing before my very eyes on a (thankfully) rainy night in Cleveland. I also watched David Bote hit a walk-off grand slam earlier this year to turn a Max Scherzer gem into the Nationals’ Death March. And I’ve been a baseball fan for 40 years. Amazing sh*t happens all the time. You gotta believe.
And maybe being through the wringer all my life with this team — the team my dear daddy brought me up to love so much that I used to save every ticket stub and scorecard from games we attended, and cut out the most ridiculous headlines and pictures (MIKE HARKEY?!?) from the Chicago Tribune and tape them into a giant collage on my childhood bedroom door — and not only being alive to see them win the World Series, but seeing it IN PERSON with my husband and brother-in-law in what remains the best day of my life, makes it easier to stomach Monday’s loss to the Brewers, and the “collapse” we witnessed this year in the division race.
It’s nuts that I would even call this a “collapse,” when the Cubs maintained one of the best records in baseball all year, despite NONE of their big offseason acquisitions (Darvish, Morrow) staying healthy, and former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP Kris Bryant spending so much time on the DL, and shortstop Addison Russell underachieving before his off-the-field stuff completely blew up and forced him (rightly) off the field, and Joe Maddon running his only remaining closer, Pedro Strop, off into Hammy Hell. If not for elder-statesmen castoffs Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy — acquired mid-to-late season — we would not have even been in the division race. You could argue that.
So, no, “collapse” is not a fair assessment. The Cubs did not collapse. The Brewers rose up. They might not have been a better team overall, but they were much better in September, at crunch time.
They could make it to the freaking World Series this year. It makes me throw up in my mouth to say it, but it’s true. At this point, I’d say, it’s even likely. (Everyone’s just waiting around to watch the Red Sox pop corks, though, right?)
I’m disappointed that the Cubs couldn’t celebrate on their home field today, and that they now face a do-or-die situation on Tuesday, but my very long, very rich history with this team has muted my emotions somewhat. I was there, at Wrigley, in 1998, to watch us get swept out of the NLDS by the Braves — after sitting in the Northwestern student union and watching them beat the Giants in a one-game Wild Card playoff to GET to the Braves series. I was there, in Florida, in 2003 to watch the first cracks in a TRUE collapse in the NLCS, and I finished off my family trip to Game 5 with a good cry in the Pro Player Stadium parking lot. I was there for Game 4 of the 2015 NLCS, having paid for a flight to Chicago knowing it was very likely the Mets were going to sweep us, and sure enough…good lord, that was awful.
I was ALSO there in 2016, when the Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS to reach their first World Series since World War II. And, as mentioned earlier, a little over a week later, I drove to Cleveland to witness one of the greatest COMEBACKS in sports history.
The 2018 Cubs are in the postseason for the FOURTH STRAIGHT YEAR, which, if you grew up in my dad’s era, or in my era — basically the last two generations, at least — is a streak you never thought you would ever see, based on the sh*t you had already seen.
My little cartoon heart is broken after Monday’s game, and watching a very challenged Cubs team that’s running on fumes lose to what looks like a very hot “team of destiny” that is also a team I freaking HATE as a general rule, but my human heart is truly proud of a franchise that has become a model of success, instead of Sad Sack Poster Child, in a brutally tough sport, in my lifetime.
I’m still in love, after 40 years. My Cubs fandom has been the most tumultuous relationship of my life, and truly has made me sick – mentally and physically – at times. But the rewards I’ve reaped have far outweighed any risk to my health and/or sanity.
(I reserve the right to puke all over this blog if they lose again tomorrow.)