The Cubs are baseball’s biggest party now, a crazy mix of bonus babies and spare parts, led by a mad-scientist manager who loves giving the middle finger to unwritten rules and an Ivy League executive who can casually namedrop rock stars without sounding obnoxious.
The Cubs have been playing (mostly bad) baseball at Wrigley Field for 100 years, but they had never seen anything like this before, clinching a playoff series at Clark and Addison for the first time in franchise history.
Beating the hated St. Louis Cardinals made it that much sweeter for a crowd of 42,411 that wouldn’t sit down in the ninth inning on Tuesday, standing on tiptoes and holding up iPhones trying to snap pictures of the final out.
The roar echoed out into the night when Hector Rondon — a Rule 5 pick who came back so much stronger from Tommy John surgery — struck out Stephen Piscotty swinging to save a 6-4 victory and end this National League Division Series in only four games.
“We’re doing things that we shouldn’t be doing this year,” Anthony Rizzo said. “And we have a great time doing it. This city deserves it. These fans deserve it.”
You could feel the press box shaking after Rizzo blasted the go-ahead shot into the right-field bleachers in the sixth inning, his second home run off Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist in two days. The Cubs didn’t win the division like Rizzo predicted back in January, but they do have 101 wins this year.
“When I was popping off at The Cubby Bear, I was thinking 90,” said Joe Maddon, thinking back to his first shot-and-a-beer press conference as Cubs manager last November.
The Cubs whipped this white-towel-waving crowd into a frenzy, clapping along with Starlin Castro’s walk-up music and becoming baseball’s biggest story in October. This franchise rose out of the ashes of five straight fifth-place seasons, advancing to the NLCS to face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets on the road for Saturday’s Game 1.
“I was talking upstairs with Eddie,” said Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations who’s tight with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. “This is like our first record.
“You put that record out and then things blow up and it’s a whole different time of innocence and exceeding expectations and bursting on the national scene.
“But these guys care so much about each other. Maybe it’ll get more complicated as time goes by. But I don’t think it will get any less special.”
Epstein doesn’t know if this will be the best chance for the Cubs to win their first World Series since 1908, but the unique chemistry is impossible to miss, all the clubhouse goofiness balanced by a deep roster and the tenacious way this team kept coming at the Cardinals.
The Cubs won Game 4 with seven different relievers and three rookies in the lineup, plus backup infielder Javier Baez, who’s 22 years old, had to wait until September for his call-up from Triple-A Iowa and got the crowd chanting “LAC-KEY! LAC-KEY!” after his three-run bomb off John Lackey in the second inning.
Jorge Soler showed off his rocket arm with a great throw from right field, nailing Tony Cruz at home plate and keeping it a tie game in the sixth inning. It was hard to tell where Kyle Schwarber’s solo home run landed in the seventh inning, soaring out toward Sheffield Avenue and appearing to clear the scripted Budweiser sign atop the video board in right field.
“Our guys don’t buy into the little narratives,” Epstein said. “They’re doing it for each other, for the organization. The pressure, the history doesn’t really bother these guys.
“They’re young. They’re innocent — in a great way. They were in instructional league last year. You think they’re worried about history? They’re worried about getting their laundry done in time for Saturday.”
The Cubs wore their new official postseason T-shirts: “CHICAGO WANTS IT MORE.” A fan held up a sign: “NEXT YEAR IS NOW.” From the top of the dugout, Schwarber and Rizzo high-fived fans, Rondon sprayed champagne into the crowd and arrow-shooting reliever Fernando Rodney puffed a victory cigar.
Forget that stuff about goats and ghosts and curses. The Cubs believe they are a team of destiny now. Rizzo — a two-time All-Star first baseman who just turned 26 in August and has grown into a real leader — believes they are playing for the old Cubs who could only dream about moments like this.
“They left this uniform in a better position,” Rizzo said. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to leave this uniform in a better position. Look at this weather in October with the wind blowing out. It hasn’t blown out all year here. If that doesn’t have something to do with Ernie Banks smiling down on us, I don’t know what does. He would be really proud of this team. Billy Williams said it at Ernie’s funeral: This team is going to win in 2015 as a team.”