Ed. note: I might ninja-edit this later, but for now I’m posting in all it’s (even more) imperfect glory so I can get some sleep.
The Cubs were dead, ground into submission by a Giant juggernaut led by…wait, that can’t be right. Matt Moore and Conor Gillaspie? *Checks box score* For most of the first 8 innings Tuesday night, it looked for all the world as though there might indeed be something to this whole Even-Year BS everyone kept talking about.
It wasn’t just the huge performances from unlikely San Francisco stars, though, as the Cubs were nothing short of moribund after the 5th inning. For a team that takes pride in never quitting, their body language and performance in the field seemed to scream, “Uncle!” Such was the resignation among fans who had been jubilant 24 hours earlier that I was determined to put head to pillow as soon as the last out had been recorded.
Thank God the Cubs themselves didn’t fall prey to the same emotional foibles we all pass around like crabs in a fraternity house (not that I’ve ever seen anything like that before, mind you). The specter of Johnny Cueto had stepped from the shadows and was haunting my Twitter timeline like a creepy, junkballing clown. And then something crazy happened, a miracle unlike any I’ve seen since the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.
Moore was finally lifted after 120 pitches, giving way to mascot and hype man, Derek Law, who promptly gave up a single to Kris Bryant and was himself removed from the game. Anthony Rizzo, who’d been having a rough series at the plate, worked a walk from Javier Lopez and things were almost looking good. The revolving door of relievers produced Sergio Romo, who had allowed the game-tying home run to Kris Bryant in the previous game, to face Ben Zobrist.
After working a 3-1 count, Zobrist sat on a fastball and whipped it down the line in right to plate Bryant and put the tying runs in scoring positions. And then things got really interesting.
Addison Russell has gotten accolades all season for his uncanny ability to come up with big hits in clutch situations, but Joe Maddon wasn’t confident in his young shortstop’s performance of late. After some really bad swings on the evening, and with a righty on the mound, Maddon turned to Chris Coghlan to pinch-hit. Bruce Bochy countered with lefty Will Smith, so Maddon called on Willson Contreras.
WillCo got jiggy with a 1-1 slider and tied the game with a single to center, celebrating before he’d even reached first base. Jason Heyward hammered a bunt that resulted in a force of Contreras at second, but Gold Glover Brandon Crawford biffed the relay and J-Hey moved into scoring position for Javy Baez. I’ve written too much about Javy to spend much more time on him here, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least bring up once more how fantastic it’s been to bear witness to his transformation.
Still a free-swinging force of nature at times, he’s shown the ability to rein in his berserker mode when the situation calls for it. After taking a massive cut at a Hunter Strickland (oh yeah, the Giants had gone to another pitcher at this point), Baez fouled off a fastball at 98 to go down 0-2. Old Javy would have stood no chance in that situation, would have whiffed at a slider that at least made it within shouting distance of the plate. But this isn’t Old Javy and Strickland didn’t throw a slider.
Javy only needed to make contact to give his team the lead, which he did with a single to center that scored Heyward and completed the Cubs’ biggest inning of the season. Aroldis Chapman struck out the side to close the game and send the Cubs into the NLCS without having to head home to face Johnny Cueto once more. Oh, I also didn’t get to bed when I wanted to.
I wrote about it after Game 2 and I’m going to write about it again: this team just has a feeling, man. And after they stopped the Giants from #BeliEVEN, I know the Cubs are going to hold on to that fee-ee-ee-lin’ for a little while longer. It’s Grandpa Rossy belting a home run and Javy Baez staging a national coming-out party. It’s Joe Maddon benching Heyward and pinch-hitting for Russell and having it work. It’s winning 1-0 on a late home run and seeing 6 RBI from their pitchers.
Are you ready to stop doubting them yet? Are you ready to understand that nothing’s over until the Cubs say it is? You’d better all be nodding your heads like a bunch of life-sized bobbleheads right now. Well, at least until Saturday, anyway.