The chill rains, as the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti once lyrically called them, have not yet come, but Wednesday evening the 2015 baseball season, for the Cubs at least, ended.
I don't suppose you need me to revisit all the ways the New York Mets hashed up Cubs pitching again Wednesday evening; suffice to say that Jason Hammel was not up to the task, and it would not surprise me to learn in the next few days that he's been pitching on a bum hamstring since July. In which case he probably should have spent some time on the disabled list instead of attempting to pitch through an injury which might have severely limited his pitching abilities. But this is not what players do; they want to compete, help their teams, not understanding that perhaps not doing so for a time while their bodies are not 100 percent would actually help their team better when they return.
This isn't going to be a traditional game recap, because what's the point of trying to post the two or three or four things that went right for the Cubs in their 8-3 loss to the Mets that ended this season? Sure, Kris Bryant hit a home run that momentarily woke the remains of the crowd from the muted silence given to it by the Mets' four-run first inning. That was nice to see in person, so let's have another look:
For one thing, that's the last time you'll have to listen to Ernie Johnson's muffled, strangled-sounding home-run call, or watch any TBS baseball coverage this autumn. That can't be anything but a good thing, as TBS' baseball production is poor in every aspect: camera work, graphics, announcing team. They ought to take a hard look at all of it before the 2016 season.
Bryant's home run, the last by a Cub this season, briefly pumped a little energy as it landed just a few rows behind the video board he hit twice this year.
By the time that ball left the yard, so had a lot of the 42,227 in attendance. Interesting number, too, as it was four fewer than the announced total for Game 3, meaning the Cubs had unsold tickets. I walked around the ballpark midafternoon and the crowd waiting at the Wrigley Field ticket windows for possible available tickets was much smaller than the previous afternoon, a few dozen as opposed to a couple hundred hopefuls Tuesday.
The fact is, the Mets were just a better team. Their young pitching was better than the Cubs' young hitting. It was, in a way, refreshing to have a postseason series loss that had no bizarre incidents, no weird media narratives, just one baseball team outplaying the other, Daniel Murphy in particular. Murphy's performance might have been the best I've ever seen by anyone in a postseason series; he played as if possessed by the combined postseason baseball ghosts of Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Yogi Berra and others from the other side of New York. When Murphy came to bat in the eighth inning, I said to my assembled group in the bleachers, "Just put him on!" Not that it really mattered with the score 6-1 at the time, but sure enough, with a runner on base, Murphy launched Fernando Rodney's third pitch into the bleachers, likely the final runs Rodney will give up in his big-league career, almost certainly the last he'll give up as a Cub.
Soon after that, the game and the season were over when Dexter Fowler was called out on strikes on a pitch that could have been called ball four. That might be the last time you see Fowler, who had a fine 2015 season, playing for the Cubs. Theo & Co. will have decisions to make about him as well as quite a number of other choices for the 2016 squad, but for now, those can wait as they and we take a breather from the incredible ride they've taken us on throughout this year.
Thank you, Cubs, for all the young players who just scratched the surface of their obvious great talent this season. Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber all provided moments of triumph for their team and for us. Teams that start four rookies on a regular basis aren't supposed to win 97 games, and four more in the postseason and dispatch their biggest rival in a playoff series. But they did, and Bryant will likely take home some hardware when awards are announced next month.
Thank you, Cubs, for Jake Arrieta and the magnificent season he posted. We saw things that had never been done by anyone, much less any Cubs pitcher.
Thank you, Cubs, for that 46-19 run after the Phillies sweep through the end of the regular season, the best two-plus months any Cubs team has had in my lifetime, for the 14 walkoff wins, for memories to be cherished forever.
Thank you, Cubs, for coming back onto the field after waiting a respectful amount of time for the Mets to celebrate their pennant, to acknowledge those of us who stayed in the ballpark after the game ended. We wanted to thank you for your wonderful season. We saw you applaud us and wave in recognition. Wrigley Field's intimacy creates a bond between Cubs fans and players that I don't think exists anywhere else. As a fan, I'm glad Cubs players recognize that and appear to cherish it.
And for the knowledge that, as has been stated a number of times through this postseason run, the Cubs were "playing with house money," putting together a playoff season perhaps a year earlier than anyone expected. The loss in the NLCS exposed some of the weaknesses of a young team, weaknesses that will certainly be addressed in the offseason. But the experience gained in losing this series to a club with outstanding starting pitching will also help Bryant, Schwarber, Soler and Russell in future seasons, though the latter missed the series loss to the Mets. Russell, the ninth-youngest player in the major leagues this year (and fourth-youngest in the National League), won't turn 22 until January. Joe Maddon, as always, had cogent thoughts about what this season all meant:
And so, as I noted above, while the Cubs lost, they are certainly not "losers," as some in the traditional media will no doubt call them. They win because they have put together a club with a manager who knows how to focus his team on the right things, they win because they have brought a fractious fanbase back together with players who are not only good but likeable, they win because... well, they won. They won 97 regular-season games, second-best over the last 70 Cubs seasons, and four more in the postseason, and took a playoff series for the first time in 12 years. The latter not only pleased all of Cubdom, but those who were weary of seeing the Cardinals advance in the postseason every single year. Here's to more dispatching of the Cubs' rivals from St. Louis in future seasons.
And to doing the same to the Mets, who I congratulate on their victory. You know, I had mentioned something when this series began about my thoughts about the 1969 season and how a Cubs win over the Mets might assuage the sad feelings from four-plus decades ago.
Funny thing. Even losing this series to the Mets has made those personal feelings move on. The Mets, who had ceased to be a direct Cubs adversary 20 years ago when they were separated into different divisions, are a rival once again after this playoff series. But what I feel isn't the visceral things I felt years ago; instead, it's a desire to see this blossoming Cubs squad beat these Mets on the field next year. This one felt as if it could be the first of many postseason matchups between young teams that could dominate the next decade of Major League Baseball. That's good for the Cubs and good for the sport. Personally, I can't wait for the Cubs' moves to improve this team in the offseason and for spring training.
Someday soon, the Cubs will be the ones jumping up and down on the field at Clark & Addison as the Mets did Wednesday night, celebrating a National League pennant. You can feel that day edging closer, can't you?
In the meantime, there will be lots to discuss here through the offseason. I'd like to publicly thank Josh for all his help here during the season and postseason and for writing the Rapid Recaps, so you'd have a place to discuss the playoff games right after they ended.
There will be game threads for the remainder of the ALCS and all of the World Series, and there are a couple of Arizona Fall League games that will be televised in November as well. I'm planning an offseason series that I think you'll like (no hints, not yet, it'll start early next month), and I'll close as I do every year, with the words of Bart Giamatti. And one of these years, we'll be able to witness the season's ending without our hearts being broken.
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.