9:25: A scoreless top of the fourth passes. Three up, three down. Hopeless dread circling and stabbing at my head. I know a losing Cubs team when I see one.
9:30: Put running shorts on, tie shoes. Glance at TV on the way to the door. Hear Mom say “… bases loaded?”
Hear the crack of the bat and a cheering ballpark, through the TV speakers. Hear Dad say “Matt freaking Moore?”—and assume the worst.
9:31: Leave on a run around the neighborhood, desperate and aimless. Dark outside, almost no cars, the sighs of Chicagoland audible even on the streets. One foot in front of the other, running not for escape—from the heartbreak punish-watch that is an October Cubs broadcast.
9:35: Think aloud: These guys are frauds. You knew it. You KNEW it. It’s that thing again. That f***** Cubs thing again. Blowing the whole season just when that instinct seemed bred out by the Theo and Joe genius. But again. Here it is. Here we are. You knew it and they fooled you again.
9:45: Circle around past the CVS on North Avenue, turn back, see every house around town with the game on, start jogging the two miles back home.
9:55: I think it’s probably 5-2. Maybe 5-1. Knowing what I know, the Giants might’ve even scored 10.
9:56: Walk in the house, glance at the TV. 5-2, Giants ahead. Gather belongings for the self-imposed exile upstairs. You can’t watch this shit. They’ve done it again. We’ve got the best team in the league and they’ve done it again. The Giants?? The Giants??? Conor Gillaspie?? Joe Panik???
Theo needs a Xanax ASAP. pic.twitter.com/BkMVJD6Afd
— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) October 12, 2016
9:57: Hear Dad clapping at a Dexter Fowler walk.
9:58: Hear Dad moaning at a Dexter Fowler blunder on the basepaths. The choke confirmed. The end times arriving.
10:00: Abandon the world of baseball completely. Pick up a book, lack focus, put it down. Open Twitter. Everything Cubs/Giants. Close Twitter. Open Facebook. Everything Cubs/Giants. Close Facebook. Shit. Well, what do I do now?
10:10: Check hairline. Receded already two inches tonight and receding fast. Twenty-four and going on eighty.
10:22: Go to MLB.com, just to be sure. Nothing resembling hope. Just to check. A curious itch for the What Happened. Just show me the truth, show me what’s happened to this team. Give it to me straight, doc. Giants still lead, 5-2 in the sixth.
10:36: Open YouTube. The one lone online refuge from the spinning, the ripping apart, the collapsing, the dying. From the turning and turning in the widening gyre. The Cub fan cannot hear the Cub. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.
It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding.
I’m only bleeding, Ma.
I’ll be fine.
I think. I hope.
To Fall in Love With You.
A tear goes down my day is real…
What paradise? What can I do? …and the day is dark
10:42: Surf around online through old saved articles and Wikipedia pages. End up, of all places (unintentionally), on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Book of Revelation. The end of days. Pestilence and War and Famine and Death. The narration of this Cub fan’s last hope.
Surely, as Yeats had said, some revelation is at hand.
10:45: Check the MLB Gameday status on my phone. Cubs still down 5-2. Heading into the ninth. But then… I see some mention of Will Smith. In the bullpen. And Matt Moore comes out of the game. The slightest tingle of belief. In something, even the smallest of things, a more respectable loss, a bit of late-game action, a something a something a something. Please, a something!!
“Don’t you want to watch?” Mom says from the staircase.
“Can’t. Too stressful. Can’t. Not now. Not now.”
TOP OF THE NINTH: CUBS 6 (2) – 5 GIANTS
10:48: A memory. Will Smith… didn’t he… wasn’t he the… he was. July 24th, 2016. Milwaukee Brewers vs. these Chicago Cubs. Miller Park. Cubs had been down 5-1 in the seventh. Will Smith came in. Jim Deshaies brought the Fresh Prince jokes. And the Cubs rallied back to take a 6-5 lead, sending Sir Smith into the most melted-down of meltdowns we’d seen all year. An assault on the dugout bubblegum, a rage-quit tumble back into the clubhouse, and the lasting memory of Will Smith the Milwaukee Brewer, just days before a sudden deadline trade to the Giants.
I know this guy. Put. This guy. In this game. Now. And boy, will I watch again.
Milwaukee’s Will Smith and the all-out attack on Dubble Bubble // Rizzo under his skin pic.twitter.com/fXKBgQiDrk
— The Big Inning (@big_inning) July 28, 2016
10:50: Turn on the Cubs radio broadcast on the computer, hear Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer narrate the start of this ninth inning.
Kris Bryant hits a leadoff single. Javier Lopez comes in to replace Derek Law.
10:52: Take computer out onto the deck outside, into the chilly fall air, stand out there beer in hand and just listen.
Anthony Rizzo draws a walk. Whoa. Hey there, hope.
10:55: Sergio Romo comes in. Giver-upper of the huge two-run homer to Bryant the night before, off the top of the Chevron cars in left.
I’m slouched over on the deck outside, looking up at the sky, feeling the wind, seeing the stars, peering above for gods of any kind, for hope in any way it can come. Some 23 hours after the wildest Cub game any of us have seen, in Game 3. The Bryant homer, the Almora catch, the Gillaspie, the Panik, the 6-5 loss, the even-year vicegrip of these never-die Giants.
My ears open wide and listening for a break. For some Cub fan’s cheer in distant California, at the ballpark, screaming out into the North American wind currents, from San Francisco to Chicago. Is it possible, or is this some cruel trick ending—the lead-in to a walkoff triple play we all know must be coming?
10:58: Well. And then.
Ben Zobrist. You’ve done it.
Somewhere, Ernie Banks smiles. Somewhere Ron Santo screams his squawking hurrah into the air, unintelligible bursts of Cubs affection. Harry Caray finishes beer number fifty, with a grin. And Pat Hughes, here on Earth, on the Cubs’ radio broadcast, yells the call into the mic. On cloud nine. Ben Zobrist with a double down the line. One run scores. Rizzo to third. No outs.
Dad shouts from two floors below. Seconds behind on the TV delay. Some buzz sounds around town, the just-audible Whos of Whoville screaming aloud in unison.
4) Huge hit by Zobrist. Underrated play by Pence to hold him to a double (and Rizzo at 3rd). Still no outs. pic.twitter.com/anLzHHiRot
— Peter Elliott (@plelliott90) October 12, 2016
Quiet for now, up on the deck outside. For I know this team. I know these Cubs. No one’s out of any woods yet. No one’s in any kind of clear. No one’s been proven wrong, right, or anything else. Just listen now, to Pat Hughes, think of nothing else. And just. See. If something. Happens.
11:00: Joe Maddon pinch-hits Coghlan for Russell. Bold move. Pulling an All-Star shortstop, first time he’s done it all year. Coghlan’s good and all, but Russell? Shouldn’t he be our hope here?
And then, it hits me, it hits all of us. Hits everyone but Bruce Bochy and the FS1 broadcasters. Joe’s going for the double-pinch.
The Sacrificial Coghlan and the Willson Loophole.
Russell gets pulled. Coghlan enters. Coghlan exits. Contreras enters. Romo comes out. And our savior, our hero, the messiah to Cub Nation comes in from the bullpen. Jogging over from the third-base line. The freshest of all princes. Will Smith.
Clearly this is what Joe was explaining to Willson in the dugout. This is the matchup he was chasing.
— The Ivy Drip (@CubsIvyDrip) October 12, 2016
Bruce Bochy, manager extraordinaire—and bench player on the 1984 Padres that sunk the Cubs in heart-killing fashion—did he just get duped?
Will Smith comes in for the lefty-lefty matchup with Coghlan. Then the Coghlan is no Coghlan. The Coghlan is a Contreras. Willson vs. Will Smith, with Maddon pulling Jedi mind tricks in the dugout.
Romo smiles a sort of giddy grin into his glove. Derek Law keeps on with his shit-eating grin, cheerleading in the dugout. Testing the gods of karmic sportsmanship, with each passing minute of TV time.
11:05: And then.
Willson hits the single up the middle.
I’m out there hearing Pat Hughes, three seconds ahead of the TV, thinking one thing only—Denard Span’s gonna throw out Zobrist at the plate, isn’t he. This rally will go kaputt. This game won’t go anywhere. This won’t—and Pat Hughes perks up: “One run is in! Here comes Zobrist, he ties the game, a two-run single by Willson Contreras, the ballgame is tied at five!”
— Cachorros de Chicago (@cachorros) October 12, 2016
Wow. Wow. Wow. Don’t get too excited, because this is the Cubs, and…
But wow. Wow. It’s only tied, though, I mean… they could lose it in the bottom of the inning, and…
Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Okay, good point, WOW!!!
11:08: A continuing gift. Will Smith stays in the game. Amid a disaster of a 2016 bullpen, but still. Will Smith. Over all the others. Maybe he lucks out, they figure, with Heyward up at the plate and the lefty-lefty matchup he was brought in for.
Heyward bunts. Smith fields it clean. Goes to second. Looking like two outs on the way. Crawford catches, taps second, brings the ball out into his hand, and whips over to first.
And a three-time champion, Gold Glove shortstop throws the ball away. Well wide of the base. Pat Hughes rejoicing again. Heyward dashing off for second base. And it’s the second bad error on the night for Crawford. The kind of gift that never comes a Cubs team’s way. The Bartman, the Durham, the Will Clark, the Daniel Murphy, the ’08 infield errors, the everything we’ve always seen from this team, this calendar month. Flipped now the other way. Brandon Crawford. With an error. Heyward with a mad dash into second. A tie game now with the chance for a lead.
7) Heyward bunts into a double play… but Crawford throws it away. Rough game for Crawford; first error let Baez score in the 5th. pic.twitter.com/aPxmvidvBz
— Peter Elliott (@plelliott90) October 12, 2016
11:10: Hunter Strickland comes in to replace Will Smith. He’s looked good all series. But, we’ve got ourselves a tie. We’ll try to fight these guys off in extras. 5-5 after all this? I’ll take it. I’ll take it for sure. But still, I think, but still. This Giants team knows no quit. This Giants team has all the edge in a tie. This is all a happy shock, but nothing sure of a win.
11:12: Javy Baez goes down into an 0-2 count.
11:13: Then. I scream.
YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! into the night air. Louder than anything, the loudest baseball-happy scream ever screamed before. YESSSS!!!!!!!!!!! YESSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Baez hits a single up the middle. The dewy grass holds it up, rolling to Span too late for a throw. Heyward scores. Cubs lead, 6-5.
Madness, absolute madness, pigs flying and hell freezing over, a billy goat on its way to the butcher shop.
Javy Baez, where did this come from?? Home run to win Game 1. Unthinkably great plays in the field every other inning, the best in all of the playoffs. Strong at-bats, base hits, drawn walks, and this. The winning single. After all the ups, the downs, the near-trades, the doubts. The strikeouts. The injuries. The hardship.
One of the longest-tenured Cubs. Drafted before Theo and co. came to town. Willson, too. Two of the Cubs here for the dark days. Down in the minors. Well before “Cubs Way” or the rebuild. Before renovations and the Jumbotron. Before Rizzo, and Hendricks and Fowler and Arrieta.
Baez and Contreras. Cubs lifers. Cubs saviors.
— Henny Williams (@Sleazy_WaltP) October 12, 2016
11:15: David Ross grounds into a double play. I meander downstairs.
We’re still not out of the woods, I’ll believe it when I see it, this is no safe lead, this is risky, Chapman’s coming in, who knows what happens, one good piece of contact and it could be in the seats, this is the Giants after all, this is the even-year magic, this is the Cubs after all, this could be the setup teaser for the worst of the worst to come. This could be—
But this, I think in front of the TV, could be something amazing.
BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: CUBS 6 – 5 GIANTS
I walk downstairs, too nervous to cheer. Hoping only for relief.
Chapman strikes out Hernandez. One down.
Chapman strikes out Span. Two down.
Our cheeks fill up with air and then blow out. We can barely watch it.
Chapman strikes out Belt.
It’s over. Is it over? It looks to be over. Everyone breathes out at the same time.
The Chicago Cubs win the game. The Chicago Cubs win the NLDS.
The Chicago Cubs end the even-year magic bullsh*t.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 12, 2016
Forget the twelve-run burst by the Mets. Forget that seventh inning rally in L.A. Forget the Royals comeback in Kansas City against the Sox. Forget the nine-run seventh by the Mariners, out in San Diego. Forget Hanley Ramirez and Ichiro and Chase Utley and Asdrubal Cabrera and Jordy Mercer and Khris Davis. Forget even that Cubs’ seventh inning off Will Smith in Milwaukee. Forget it all.
This was the one.
This, my friends, was the big inning.