David Ross’ eyes welled as the first-year manager talked about the core of his team, a group he’d also played with and won a World Series with.
“That’s a special group in there,” Ross said. “That’s outside of baseball. That’s talking about friendships and guys that I’ve made history with and done special things with. And the way they played for me this year… I love those guys in there.”
As he spoke, cheers from the field carried through the Wrigley Field press box to a back hallway where a handful of reporters streamed Ross’ postgame press conference via Zoom. The Marlins were celebrating their berth to the NL Division Series.
The Cubs’ season ended with a 2-0 loss to the Marlins in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. They were swept by a team not unlike the 2015 Cubs – young and talented, with a few veterans mixed in for stability, making an unexpectedly deep playoff run. The 2015 Cubs started a run of five postseason appearances in six years. That group’s time together may be running out.
“When you come up short-handed, it’s a bad feeling,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “You’ve got guys in this clubhouse you’ll never be teammates with again. You’ve got friends in this clubhouse that you’ll never see, or you’ll see from afar. The end of the year is never easy.”
Next season is a team-option year for both Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester. Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Kyle Schwarber are all set to become free agents in 2022.
So, this moment – a first-round exit after the most mentally exhausting season these players have experienced – may be the last one shared by a group that’s grown together since 2015.
The fight to keep the season going was evident even Friday, from a stifling defensive effort to a building offensive pressure.
The Cubs put runners on first and second base with less than two outs for two consecutive innings. But after that, they added just one more hit in the sixth through ninth innings.
Jason Heyward delivered that double, sending a line drive into the left-field corner to lead off the ninth inning. The game ended with three consecutive strikeouts.
“When you’re not hitting and you see (Yu) Darvish out there – or our whole pitching staff, really – just carrying us, and us not being able to come through,” Rizzo said, “It’s heartbreaking, it’s upsetting, it’s all of the above.”
Darvish had thrown six straight shutout innings, and he was one strike away from a seventh. Then, the Cubs’ Cy Young candidate threw an 83-mph slider at the bottom of the strike zone to Garrett Cooper. The Marlins first baseman lifted it over the left field fence for the first run of the game.
Darvish allowed two more base hits, the second a one-run single by Magneuris Sierra, and the Marlins took a 2-0 lead. That score would hold for the rest of the game.
“It just feels different than every other year when we get eliminated,” Bryant said. “I don’t know why. I don’t have the answers for that. It’s just a weird feeling.”
His best guess? That the disconnect could be traced back to February, when they had no reason to suspect anything but a normal season ahead of them. But from the abrupt Spring Training shutdown to now, the whole year has been strange.
“It’s just the weirdest thing that I have experienced maybe my whole life,” Bryant said. “Definitely my baseball career, but maybe my whole life.”
The Cubs cleared the dugout after Friday’s loss before the Marlins were done with their handshake lines. The rhythm of Miami’s routine – high five, hug, two pats on the back – was the soundtrack to something new. While on the other side, the Cubs faced the possibility of the end of an era.
Or, Jason Heyward said, maybe not.
“This game’s a funny game,” he said, “It is a business on one side, and (we’ve) just got to see who makes moves, who doesn’t. I know there’s only certain things we can control as players on a daily basis, and we’ll see what happens.”