Sunday, October 23, 2016

Rock and roll and The CUBS ARE IN THE WORLD SERIES

I never thought I would ever see the day that The Chicago Cubs would make the world series, their first in 71 years.   The usual talk, the legendary 1969 team that stormed out of the gate, only to finish second to the much hated New York Mets, the 1984 team that were up on San Diego before Leon Bull Durham's error opened up the floodgates.  And of course the last decade, when Atlanta swept them twice and then to top it all off,  the Bartman game to which that Cubs fan, plus a couple others. But Steve Bartman would be the villain and forever banished from Wrigley Field, never mind that on the next play Alex Gonzalez would boot a routine grounder for a double play and Miami would change the outcome and would win the 2003 title.  The Cubs would eventually fall into the gutter by 2009 and when Theo Epstein took over he promised better things to come but Cubs fans would have to wait.

And wait they did. They had to. Epstein begin to stock new players in the minors to develop and not go with the free agency although they did get players.  They traded Ryan Dempster, a fan favorite to Texas to get Kyle Hendricks, an upcoming but unproven pitcher.  Steve Feldman was dealt to the Orioles for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta, who had sputtering success with the O's. Still the early 2010 edition of the Cubs was mostly awful, losing 101 games in 2012, to which at that time, the new players were beginning to usher in a more winning minor league teams during that time. Daytona in 2013 had the up and coming stars and the 2014 Kane County Cougars had Kyle Schwarber on their Minor league championship team.  Sooner or later things would change for the better, the record was slightly better for Chicago but they still lost 96 games in 2013 and 89 in 2014.  With Rick Renteria out after one season trying to put a bandaid over a scattershot team.  A big change came in 2015 when Joe Maddon, fresh from leaving the Tampa Bay Rays was tapped to turn things around.

When I originally wrote about them, I thought it would take at least 3 or 4 seasons to get things right.  Last season The Cubs caught fire in August and September and won enough to make it as a wild card team and outlasted Pittsburgh to play St Louis.  And for the first and only meeting that the Cubs/Cardinals play in the playoffs, The Cubs shocked The Cardinals by winning in six games, only to be swept away by the hated Mets in the pennant series.  And of course we had to hear the Bartman stories all over again by the clueless Bob Costas or Joe Buck, who's dad is the late great famed broadcaster Jack Buck, who broadcasted Cardinals games.  But the Cubs did more than what I thought they would do, which meant a small step in the right direction.

But this season The Cubs loaded up on free agents, snagging Jason Heyward and John Lackey from The Cardinals, Ben Zorbist from the world champs Kansas City Royals.  Lackey joined Jake Arrieta, John Lester, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks who ended up being the ace of the pitchers.  But a key transaction was retaining Dexter Fowler, who originally signed and then got released by Baltimore, to which the Cubs quickly got him back in pinstripes and he was very instrumental of providing offense pop to a lineup that featured Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.  This year the Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber to a freak injury in the first game. But the Cubs stormed out of gate and neither St. Louis or Pittsburgh could catch them.  The Cubs had great staring pitching, while Jake Arrieta faltered, Kyle Hendricks took over and managed to have the lowest ERA as starting pitcher.  Jason Himmel should get some love as well, he did pitch very well in the first three months before falling apart. Perhaps, the key trade was getting fireball specialist Adonis Chapman from the New York Yankees and he became the closer, taken over for Hector Rondon who was erratic at times.   While my best friend who roots for the Cardinals waited for the annual fade job, the Cubs got hot in August and by September 16th they clinched the division title.  And then played with the San Francisco Giants for four games before taking on The Los Angeles Dodgers, who haven't been to the world series since the 1988 season.

(photo: MLB)

In the deja vu bit of sense, Game 1 showed the Cubs getting a lead of 3-0 before the Dodgers came back in the 8th to take a 3-2 lead and Joe Buck continuing to mention Bartman with each pitch until Miguel Montero shut him up with a grand slam home run and Dexter Fowler connecting next and Chicago won 8-4.   In the next two games Clayton Kershaw and ex Cub Rich Hill would shut the Cubs to take a 2-1 lead and the Cub faithful would have to relive with idiocy of the past.  Next game the Cubs rolled over the Dodgers 10-2 and finished out the California trip with a 8-4 win, fueled by a Javier Baez two run home run off Joe Blanton.  There would be a game six in Chicago with both Hendricks and Kershaw facing off.

Only this time, Kershaw got hit and hit often by the Cubs. Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant hit back to back doubles to score the first run.  Wilson Contreras hit a home run in the forth inning off Kershaw. Anthony Rizzo would hit another HR and school was out for Kershaw.  The Dodgers had no answer for Kyle Hendricks, who only gave up two hits.  The Dodgers were desperate to the point that their closer Kenton Jensen worked three scoreless innings in relief.  But their hitters went cold.  Chapman came into the 8th and except for a walk in the 9th inning dominated the Dodgers.  Joe Buck and the Bartman story is old news and in the past.  These are the new Cubs, to which Joe Maddon ignored the superstitions of yore. When Puig hit into a game ending double play, I witness for the first time in my lifetime that the Cubs were finally going to the World Series after 71 up and down years of not playing to the end, or winning when it counted.  Somewhere in the great beyond Grandpa Smith is sharing a laugh or two with Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Jim Hickman and the 1908 Cubs and everybody else who donned a uniform or rooted for this team.   The new Cubs didn't buy the idea of the June Swoon, they overcame and if they did falter, Joe Maddon would tinker with the lineup to get the right players in there.  There's a method to his madness that it does work.

And now The Cubs have finally gotten into the World Series and it only took them two seasons under Joe Maddon, who continued to believe as well as the rest of the team that anything is possible and the guys are so confident in each other that they believe that they can win it all.  Cleveland, like Chicago has gone through a long dry spell too, they haven't won the WS since 1948, the Lou Boudreau/Bill Veeck era (Lou eventually became a Cubs coach and later a beloved radio announcer with Vince Lloyd).  The object still remains the same, win the last game of the year and share a spot with all time winners.  This should be a great series. 

But anyway, The Cubs are in a great position with the young players that they have and the minor leagues full of promising upstarts too.  The future is bright.  The Cubs are in the World Series.

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