So much for my hope that Sept. 20 was the final game between the Cardinals and Cubs this year.
And so much for the temporary Pirates fandom for me and many other Cardinals and non-Cubs fans, eagerly rooting for the Bucs to win Wednesday night to give us a more palatable National League Division Series.
Nope. Not to be — just like Jake Arrieta told everyone on Twitter last Sunday.
Which means here we are, on the brink of THE MOST HISTORIC PLAYOFF MATCH-UP IN THE HISTORY OF
THE WORLD!!! BASEBALL!!! Never mind, as many obviously haven’t realized, that such a meeting has only been possible since the addition of a wild card team into the playoffs in 1995. So “historic” might be a bit of a stretch, despite how often that word has been tossed around since Wednesday night.
Details! What do they matter?
Before Wednesday’s game, I purposely wouldn’t think about the Cardinals facing the Cubs in the division series. Neither would any of the Cardinals/non-Cubs fans I know. Because that outcome seemed too dreadful to contemplate.
Now I can admit that, deep down, I figured the baseball gods would find this all too tempting to avoid. Even for the hype alone.
The baseball gods obviously found it all too tempting (poor Gerrit Cole), so now we are dealing with such pre-game storylines as “Feel-good Cubs threatened by playoff staple Cardinals” a noted Cardinals fan writing that the Cubs are “the hottest, most beloved, most exciting team in baseball” and a Chicago writer beginning his NLDS preview by rehashing all the wonderful, media-hyped tough talk of Joe Maddon from the series a couple weekends ago — which, to me, seems like it means nothing now that October is here, the little dust-up between the Cubs and Pirates Wednesday night notwithstanding.
As much as I hate to admit it, this is the Cubs’ world right now.
When my Giants fan pal vocalized yesterday morning the fear I’d had watching the top of the first inning of the wild card game (which, as it was unfolding, caused me to look up this game on Baseball Reference since what was happening at PNC Park seemed rather familiar), I silently nodded my head at him. After weeks of stopping ourselves short of saying the words, we could finally admit it out loud: the 2015 Cubs team looks like this October’s “team of destiny.” They’re the 2011 Cardinals, the 2014 Giants … my pal and I know about those teams, we’ve rooted for those teams and exulted in the joy that comes along with the success.
Now, obviously, we could be wrong. (Hopefully we are wrong). The Cubs have their own past destiny to overcome here, much as Cubs fans might be loathe to hear it yet again — the goat from 1945, the black cat from 1969, the Gatorade spilled on Leon Durham’s glove in 1984, Steve Bartman in 2003 … Or the sweeps right out of the postseason like they had in 1998, 2007 and 2008 — if we don’t want to count Wednesday’s game as a real playoff game.
Of course the Cub fans want to think it’s different this year. The ones I know will happily describe how this is Theo Epstein’s plan all coming into place — and earlier than expected, now that Joe Maddon is there. Or, to hear one particular Cubs fan coworker explain it to me, JOE MADDON IS THE BEST AND SMARTEST MANAGER IN THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL AND NOW HE’S HERE WITH THE CUBS AND MAKING ALL THE DIFFERENCE!!!!
Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.
But now, when this fan starts talking, I just smile and nod when he extols Maddon’s intelligence in batting the pitcher eighth all season (hmmmm, didn’t a now Hall of Fame manager who we as Cardinals fans are all very familiar with do that first?) yet now batting him ninth in the postseason since it’s a totally different game once October arrives and he gets that! and playing Kris Bryant (KRIS BRYANT!!!!!) in left field and Kyle Schwarber in right field Wednesday was so daring but the offense was so important.
What could I say to that final point anyway? Schwarber obviously produced on offense. (Poor Gerrit Cole.)
And it really is a Cubs’ world I am living in right now. Today, several coworkers who have never even mentioned baseball or the Cubs are attired in a variety of team shirts. One did it as a joke to see how I’d react — and I laughed, as I know he’s not a baseball fan plus he mentioned he got this jersey as a gift. Not all the new Cubs fans around these days are really up on the game, though. One wondered if the Cardinals and Cubs had played already this season. Another expressed disappointment to me this morning on seeing that Jake Arrieta is not pitching tonight, and said it to another coworker a little while ago (which I overheard).
Then there are all the times I’ve heard about “Back to the Future” and how the Cubs win the World Series in 2015 — isn’t that just a coincidence!!!!
Yes, I know what the facts are — the Cardinals’ 100 wins gave them the NL Central crown and gave them from Sunday through today off, the Cards have won 11 World Series championships since the Cubs last one, the Cardinals have won 11 of 19 games against the Cubs this season. I also know that none of that matters now — what matters is what happens starting at 5:30 p.m. on the field at Busch Stadium.
Plus I know how exciting it is to be part of a pennant chase, and I’m truly glad the genuine die-hard Cub fans I’m related to get to experience this again (even though it’s only been since 2008 that the Cubs were in the playoffs, although the media coverage might make you think otherwise). I know too how the highs and lows of each game are magnified in the postseason — which is why I’m nervously awaiting 5:30 p.m. — plus know how low those ultimate lows that end a season in October really are.
One other thing I know, as my coworker and the sports media are extolling Joe Maddon’s managing and game smarts, is that Mike Matheny’s obviously again calling the shots for the Cardinals this postseason. He’s done that successfully through this injury-filled 2015 season, leading the team to an MLB-best record.
Yet I further remember that Matheny doesn’t always make the smartest decisions when October is here — because I clearly recall Michael Wacha’s one and only 2014 postseason appearance, to start with. (Poor Michael Wacha.)
And that I had no answer for any of my coworkers — Giants fan or Cubs fans — after that. They wouldn’t get the answer of “because Matheny.”
So I’ve decided to plan for the worst this October, and maybe I ultimately can hope for the best.
Or at least hope for three Cardinal wins in the NLDS.