Thursday, October 2, 2008

October means time for Cubs to lose


The most entertaining part of watching the Cubs get blown out on consecutive nights, pushed to the brink of more playoff disappointment, more talk about next year, the continuation of the curse?

Watching the fans at Wrigley Field.

It's as if they don't know what to do with themselves. After Wednesday's Game 1 loss, I told a friend that this much was very obvious from the fans' behavior during the game: They were nervous and feeling as much pressure as the players on the field. After all, name another team under the heap of expectations that the Cubs entered the postseason with.

Sure, the Angels led the majors in wins. But they won a World Series a mere six seasons ago. I won't mention how long it's been for the Northsiders.

When James Loney erased a 2-0 Cubs' lead in Game 1 with one sweet swing of the lumber, sending the ball into the center-field bleachers — and four runs to the Dodgers' side of the score — the air went out of Wrigley. Forget the fact that there was plenty of baseball to be played. Forget that it was just a 4-2 game.

Even here in North Carolina, I could hear the whispers in the stands, "Here we go again." The regular season quickly became a distant memory — all 162 games. Not even a few brewskies could lighten the mood. The fans stayed that way for most of Wednesday night, as their Cubs forgot how to hit in a 7-2 loss.

But, thank heavens, they went to sleep and woke up to a new day — much like a new season — and a new opportunity. There was another game to be played, a great chance for their boys to even up the best-of-five series at home.

And they were going to do their part to help.

So even after two Chicago errors and a bunt single, even after Russell Martin cleared the based with a heat-seeking double, even after 0-0 became 5-0 in a matter of minutes Thursday night, the Cubs faithful stayed behind their team.

They were not picky when it came to cheering and making noise. A two-strike count on a Dodgers hitter? Time to get loud. A baserunner, any baserunner, with any amount of outs? Time to get boisterous.

It was as if fans figured, "Hell, I better get the most out of this $237 I spent for the ticket and six beers." (And, believe me, I'm sure the booze was flowing at an all-time high — especially when 5-0 became 6-0 ... and then 7-0.)

Around that point, I believe, is when sobriety set in. And as is usually the case, reality was its partner. As was the case Wednesday, the beautiful stadium became morbidly quiet. The seventh inning passed quickly, though the Cubs did get on the board (7-1). So did the eighth. The Cubs showed no signs of life, gave no indications that there is any chance of a Game 5 back at Wrigley on Tuesday.

Chicago hitters went quietly, swinging at so many balls, I had to wonder if they were looking at a different home plate. The opportunistic Dodgers, meanwhile, played like the team that had won 97 games — not 84 — in scoring runs whenever they got a chance. And, of course, having Manny Ramirez is always beneficial. He belted a solo home run for the second straight game.

(By the way, how cool would a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series be? I'd like to see what kind of reception Manny would get at Fenway.)

Back to the miserable Cubs fans, though. I actually stopped watching during the eighth inning due to boredom (and I felt like some "Law and Order" – in that regard, I'm sure Cubs followers think the last 100 years have been lawless). Anyway, I checked back in on the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. And that's when it got interesting.

OK, I'll stop. Not interesting interesting. But about as interesting as a 10-1 game could get. The Cubs got their first three batters on base, scoring two runs to make it 10-3. Then they got a walk — with still nobody out. I actually started calculating in my head how close they were to bringing the tying run to the plate. I thought — and this, obviously, was completely ludicrous — that maybe, but very unlikely, I'd get to witness the greatest comeback ever.

I doubt the fans remaining at Wrigley were thinking the same thing, but they sure did get pumped up by the mini rally. With each ball thrown by the Dodgers, the cheers got louder. Some fans rose to their feet.

The meaning of their actions was transparent. They had decided that the series, and thus another season, was over. The Dodgers will close things out in California. So the fans tried, as painful as it must have been, to cheer on another disappointing team that saw all its good work of six-plus months just about fly out the window in a neat 30 hours.

I don't blame them. What else could they do? Stop being a fan? Forget about it, because when you love a team that much, when you religiously follow its ups and downs season after season, you become hooked. You can never stop being supportive — even if you know your efforts will be fruitless.

So despite the fact that another sad chapter in Cubs history has been written. Despite the fact that these Cubs forgot how to hit once September became October. Despite unforgivable — and costly — miscues by normally reliable Mark DeRosa and Derekk Lee...

That won't stop 'em from flocking back next year. And the year after that ... and after that.

To think, for a moment, that this might be The Year. And, come October, to feel that burden of expectations.

Only to have it quickly lifted by more painful losses.

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