I’m going to preface what I’m writing here by telling you that this post is going to be about feelings. If you’re looking for cold, hard facts about the Cubs and Dodgers and the National League Championship Series... not right now.
Instead, this morning my thoughts go back to the one other time a Cubs team was in exactly the position this one is: up three games to two in the NLCS, coming home to Wrigley Field for Game 6.
I am talking, of course, about the 2003 NLCS. It was the same, only not.
Remember that the Cubs also had a three games to one lead in that series, only to run into Josh Beckett, who shut them out on two hits in Game 5.
But I remember feeling — and so did you, most likely, if you recall that day 13 years ago -- that coming home and having Mark Prior and Kerry Wood lined up for Games 6 and 7 made it very, very likely that the Cubs would win one of those games and go to the World Series.
It didn’t happen, of course, and I’m not here to rehash those details.
The Cubs are in a very different position as we await Game 6 tonight. Instead of having the pitching matchup favoring the North Siders, it clearly favors the visiting Dodgers, even though Kyle Hendricks had a terrific year. Clayton Kershaw is probably the best pitcher on the planet, and defeating him will be very difficult.
If the likely Game 7 pitching matchup had happened last year, the Cubs would be clear favorites. But Rich Hill was very good in 2016 and Jake Arrieta just a bit better than ordinary.
And now that I’ve told you all this history, here’s the best part: This year’s Cubs don’t care one bit about any of it. From Dexter Fowler:
“I don’t think any of us are 71 years old,” Fowler said, smiling. “We weren’t alive then. We’ve heard the history, but at the same time, we’re trying to make history.”
When the Boston Red Sox ended their World Series-winning drought in 2004, the players, led by Johnny Damon, termed themselves “idiots.” What they meant by that, of course, is not that they were stupid, but that they simply didn’t care about anything but playing winning baseball. And they did, becoming the only team to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, the ALCS, and then sweeping the World Series. The Red Sox swept their division series against the Angels, then lost three straight to the Yankees, then won eight in a row. (In case you’ve forgotten, they were crushed in that last defeat, 19-8, then were down to their last three outs before winning Game 4.)
It feels like this group of Cubs is approaching this postseason that way. Knowing there’s pressure, but not caring -- as Joe Maddon has preached, never letting the pressure exceed the pleasure. You might think Maddon’s mantras are just words, but this Cubs team clearly believes them -- as another Maddonism says, “embracing the target.”
Every year’s different. Every postseason team is different. This Cubs team is different from any I’ve seen in my lifetime, and that’s likely the case for you, too. Already this postseason, the Cubs put together the greatest ninth-inning comeback in playoff history.
They have strong player-leaders. They have a manager who, for lack of a better term, “gets it,” understands what’s needed to win games and series like this. He’s done it, with the Rays in 2008, and Ben Zobrist was on that team, and Zobrist did it again last year, getting to the World Series and winning it with the Royals.
I realize this has rambled a bit. If you’re feeling the way I am, your mind’s rambling, too, just a few hours before the Cubs can make history.
Enough words. I’ve been waiting my entire life to know how it feels when my team gets to the World Series. Tonight. Can’t wait.