Don’t blame this on billy goats and black cats and whatever else the national media and New York writers discovered during their trip to Chicago.
The Mets completely outplayed the Cubs in every phase of the game, never trailing at any point of a National League Championship Series that had almost no drama or suspense.
You could start writing the season obituaries in the first inning on Wednesday night, the Cubs falling behind again and getting booed at Wrigley Field. A loud season that announced the Cubs are coming quietly ended with an 8-3 loss, the Mets moving onto the World Series for the first time since 2000 after a four-game sweep.
“They did not let us up for air at any point,” manager Joe Maddon said after watching his team get outscored 21-8.
You can wonder if ownership might have made a difference by creating a little more financial flexibility at the trade deadline, why the business side hasn’t produced enough revenue to support a big-market payroll in 2015, when baseball operations will finally develop a legitimate starting pitcher from within.
Those are good questions for another day. But don’t pretend players born in the early 1990s feel cursed or burdened by history. Maybe just try to step back and appreciate the playoff ride.
“It benefits the entire organization,” Maddon said. “It validates the scouting and development. It validates what we did in spring training this year just to get to this particular point. To win over 100 games this year – come on!
“That’s not easy to do. So, yeah, I think everything that’s occurred this year validates all that’s been put in place prior to this year beginning. I’ve said it before: I feel very fortunate to be part of this because I was not responsible for any of that heavy lifting that put this all in order.”
A Cubs organization stocked with so many former Boston Red Sox could point to how the New York Yankees experienced an epic collapse in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Fenway Park is the business/baseball blueprint at Clark and Addison – and it should keep the team relevant through a five-year window – but history wouldn’t repeat itself this time.
Those 2004 fighting words looked so much stronger the next morning in print. Standing by the laundry baskets inside a quiet clubhouse, it sounded more like going through the motions when you actually heard president of baseball operations Theo Epstein speak briefly with reporters after a sloppy Game 3 loss.
Before Game 4, a video board showed Kevin Millar – one of Boston’s favorite “Idiots” from 2004 – wearing a Cubs hat and sitting with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. The sound system played Jason Hammel’s standard warm-up music – Pearl Jam’s “Alive” – a tribute to his roots in the Seattle area and a reminder of superfan Eddie Vedder.
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But the Cubs looked dead in the first inning when Lucas Duda – who had been 3-for-24 with 13 strikeouts in the playoffs – blasted Hammel’s 94-mph fastball into the left-center field seats next to the batter’s eye for a two-out, three-run homer. The next batter, Travis d’Arnaud, crushed another Hammel fastball into the right-center field bleachers.
So rookie lefty Steven Matz – a homegrown, local kid from Long Island – had a 4-0 lead before he threw a single pitch in an NLCS where the Mets never felt all that uncomfortable.
“I wouldn’t say we’re shocked,” said Kris Bryant, who hit a two-run, garbage-time homer in the eighth inning to end his Rookie of the Year season. “We know how good of a team they are. But we (also) know how good of a team we are. We just kind of hit a down point at the wrong time and they were swinging the bats well and pitching it. They just beat us.”
Hammel – a good clubhouse guy and an All-Star-level performer in the first half who never looked the same after trying to pitch through a leg injury that knocked his mechanics out of alignment – got four outs and gave up five runs. It again showed how much work the Cubs have to do on their rotation this winter.
The Cubs didn’t get their first hit off Matz until Jorge Soler doubled down the right-field line in the fourth inning. With that, Soler became the first Cub in this series to lead off an inning with a hit, snapping an 0-for-28 streak (which included Anthony Rizzo walking and getting hit by a pitch).
The Cubs still would have signed up for this back in spring training, no questions asked, knowing they have Rizzo, Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber – just to name a few building blocks – in place through 2021.
“I think the lesson to be learned here now is that they learned how to win this season,” Maddon said. “They learned how to win on a major-league level. They’re participating in the playoffs as one of four teams left, which is pretty impressive at their point of development.
“It’s been just one big positive. You’re not just going to boat-race it all the way through and just nail it down. You’re going to have your struggles. And I think our guys have done a great job of dealing with it.”