A soft rain began to fall in the late innings of Tuesday's NLCS Game 3 Cubs 5-2 loss to the Mets, coming down harder as Jorge Soler took a called strike three to end the game.
If that doesn't epitomize everything you've ever been through as a Cubs fan, I don't know what does.
Despite the Cubs being down two games to none in the series, there was no problem with the sellout crowd at Wrigley Field having energy. Even when the Mets scored a first-inning run for the third straight game, the crowd came to life when Kyle Schwarber did it again:
That's a career franchise record for postseason home runs: five. Schwarber did it in seven games. It took the previous record holders quite a bit more: Aramis Ramirez played 18 postseason games as a Cub, and Alex Gonzalez 12.
Sobering reminder: the 1-1 tie was the first time in the entire series that the Cubs had not been behind. Kyle Hendricks, not sharp, put a couple of baserunners on in the second inning but got out of it in part on this heads-up play by Javier Baez:
That was followed by a double play, ending the inning.
Unfortunately, after the Cubs had made Jacob deGrom throw 29 pitches in the first inning, he settled down to a 1-2-3 second, and then Daniel Murphy homered. Again. I suppose in some way we can be comforted by the fact that Murphy has been hitting home runs off the best pitchers on the planet all month. Still, I don't think anyone can figure out this power surge. The homer led to this:
*George Steinbrenner bursts through the doors of the mausoleum, demands that Cashman give Murphy 6/$90M— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) October 21, 2015
Murphy's a good player. But he is not this good. Someone will overpay for this postseason power surge and regret it. Might as well be the Yankees.
The homer made for a bit of trivia: both the Cubs and Mets had career franchise home run records set in this game, as Murphy's blast, his sixth of this postseason, broke the Mets' record, previously held by Mike Piazza.
Home runs? Kind of the story of this series, up to this point, at least. So I might as well show you another one:
Being at the game, I was spared the calls of Ernie Johnson. Honestly, I simply cannot stand the way he calls baseball games. Beyond sounding like he has cotton balls stuffed in both cheeks, he just doesn't have the right pacing or cadence for baseball. And I'm not just saying this because the Cubs are losing this series -- I've never liked him on TBS' postseason coverage, which is generally awful. Johnson's good as an NBA studio host. He ought to stick to that.
The game turned in the sixth inning, when Trevor Cahill, who has otherwise been good this postseason, entered. Yoenis Cespedes led off with a single, went to second on a sacrifice bunt and stole third. After a groundout, Cahill struck out Michael Conforto. Inning over! Uh... no:
In a game of this magnitude, Miguel Montero has to, just has to, stop that ball. If he does, the inning is over with the game still tied. Then the Cubs got what appeared to be a big break on a hit by Wilmer Flores:
Soler made a dive that appeared to be ill-considered; if he stops that ball it's just a single, but after it went into the ivy, the rule is clear: two bases for the hitter and every baserunner. That stopped Conforto at third; Dexter Fowler was so far from the ball that when it went past Soler I thought both Conforto and Flores would score. Cahill got deGrom on a fly to left and the game went to the bottom of the sixth still just 3-2.
The Cubs, though, got just one more hit after Soler's home run, one more baserunner, in fact, when Fowler laced a one-out double down the line in the eighth. 17 of the last 18 Cubs to come to the plate Tuesday night were retired, and you simply cannot win baseball games that way. The two-run Mets seventh inning that put the game away for the visitors was largely irrelevant due to the Cubs' lack of offense, although it should be mentioned that slipshod defense, beginning with a ball that Kris Bryant couldn't handle, helped lead to at least one of the Mets' runs. After that Bryant miscue came this:
Schwarber has to, just has to, catch that ball. Is it an easy play? No, but a major-league left fielder has to make that play. If Schwarber catches that ball, there are two out. One run likely scores on the play, but Lucas Duda's subsequent groundout to Anthony Rizzo would have ended the inning. Would a 4-2 deficit have made any difference compared to 5-2?
The Cubs home runs are great. But the Cubs had just four other baserunners Tuesday night apart from the home runs. As noted here:
Add the rest of this game to that and you have: 94 at-bats, 26 hits, 11 home runs. And then there's this:
Games like Tuesday's are among the most extreme examples of this, where the Cubs scored twice on solo homers and had just three other hits. Unless your pitching is lockdown-shutdown, you're not going to win that way. The Mets got great pitching from deGrom and two relievers (after the first inning) and the Cubs' pitching was not up to the task.
Despite the rain, the crowd was still into things, even though the Cubs gave them little to cheer about as the game went on. Fans came to life briefly on Fowler's eighth-inning double, but the two quick outs registered after that, along with the rain, quieted things down, and I noticed quite a number of seats empty out after that inning. That's rare for a playoff game. The announced attendance of 42,231 was 180 fewer than the two NLDS games against the Cardinals, made so most likely by a much larger auxiliary media area. In the division series, that area took up just one section of the left-field corner in the upper deck. Tuesday night, four sections were allotted to media. I'd heard that about 100 standing-room tickets were sold in the bleachers for Tuesday night's game in addition to about 1,000 in the grandstand area. If you're interested in coming to Game 4, watch your email -- I heard also that many people who had signed up for the drawings got emails during the day Tuesday, even as late as early afternoon, offering a chance to buy tickets.
The best thing I can say about the evening: until it started raining, the weather was nice, 72 degrees at game time, way above average for late October.
And so the task at hand is daunting: Win four straight elimination games or go home for the winter. Does this make you feel any better about their chances?
#Cubs have had 9 winning streaks of at least 4 games during the regular season. Can they do it one more time?— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 21, 2015
Of course, none of those streaks happened in pressure situations like this one. You are, of course, familiar with the one and only Major League Baseball team that has accomplished this very difficult feat: the 2004 Red Sox. And you certainly know that the general manager of that club now runs the Cubs. I'd say "have faith," but you surely don't need to be told to have faith in a team that you've had that faith for all your life, a team that's never rewarded that faith.
Maybe this time. Maybe this time. It would certainly make this postseason among the most memorable in major-league history. It's not something you go into Game 4, down three games to none, expecting to see happen. Joe Maddon will certainly prepare his players as he has done all season: focus only on the game at hand. One day at a time. It's Jason Hammel's turn to start, and hopefully he throws the game of his life. He'll face Mets lefty Steven Matz.