Columnists, Sports

Going For Two: The Chicago Cubs are reversing 100-plus years worth of heartbreak

PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The 97-win Chicago Cubs are on the brink of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The remaining four teams in the MLB postseason are all without a title since at least 1993. So it appears as if one team’s long drought will finally come to an end in the coming weeks. No other team has had a longer drought nor has suffered more baseball gloom than the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs’ last world championship came in 1908 when they defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games.

Ever since that Game 5 victory at Bennett Park in Detroit, the Cubs have been chasing after baseball’s crown and have gotten their hearts broken along the way. In 1932, the New York Yankees, led by baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, steamrolled the Cubs in a four-game sweep. In 1945 the Cubs once again found themselves in the big dance, this time with the Tigers. However, they would eventually fall to Detroit in seven games.

During that series a man named Billy Sianis was ejected from Wrigley Field after he attempted to bring his pet goat into the game. An angry Sianis subsequently placed a “curse” on the entire Cubs organization that day, stating that Wrigley Field would never again host a World Series. Sianis’ curse has held true for 70 years, as the Cubs have yet to make it back to the Fall Classic.

Following the 1945 World Series loss, the Cubs endured a playoff drought for 39 years. But, in 1984, it came to an end as Chicago, led by Cy Young award winner Rick Sutcliffe, made it to the National League Championship Series.

After taking a two-game lead over the San Diego Padres in a best of five series, and outscoring their opponents 17-2, it looked as if the Cubs would finally break the curse. Instead, another chapter of Cubs misery was written as Chicago collapsed and lost the next three games to the Padres, watching their title dreams slip away.

With the dawn of a new century, many fans in Chicago hoped that a new era would begin for their ill-fated Cubs. In 2003, the Cubs appeared to be turning the page as they won 88 games and the National League Central Division, once again making it to the NLCS. This time, however, they would be facing the Florida Marlins, a team that had only been in existence for ten years, but had already won the World Series in 1997.

In the first four games of the seven-game series, Chicago jumped out to a three games to one lead. After losing Game 5 in Florida, the series shifted back to Wrigley Field where the Cubs’ demons — or should I say goats — once again reared their ugly heads.

In the eighth inning of Game 6, leading 3-0 and just five outs from making it back to the World Series, the Cubs once again became victims of bad luck. With one out in the inning, the Marlins’ Luis Castillo hit a foul ball that tailed towards the left field grandstand. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou had a beat on the ball as he rapidly approached the wall separating the fans from the field. But, in a play that lives in baseball infamy, Cubs fan Steve Bartman also reached up for the foul ball and prevented Alou from recording the out. This seemingly insignificant event kept Castillo’s at-bat alive before the second baseman walked on the next pitch.

Two batters later, Miguel Cabrera hit into what seemed an easy double play when he hit a grounder to Gold Glove award winning shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Unfortunately for Chicago, Gonzalez mishandled the ball, which allowed both Cabrera and Ivan Rodriguez to reach base safely. The Marlins would go on to score eight runs in the inning and win 8-3. They would also best the Cubs in Game 7 by a score of 9-6 to extend the franchise’s World Series drought.

Ever since that fateful October night, the Cubs have been an organization in turmoil. They made the playoffs in 2008 but were quickly swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series. In 2014, Chicago was an abysmal 73-89, but showed signs of promise with their young talent. Up-and-coming players like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Javier Baez all showed signs of promise while pitcher Jake Arrieta showed flashes of utter dominance.

Joining the team in 2015 were the likes of rookie phenom Kris Bryant, leadoff man Dexter Fowler and lefty-pitcher Jon Lester. Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon joined the Chicago bench as the team’s new skipper.

With their new identity intact, the Cubs rattled off 97 wins en route to locking up the second wild card spot in the National League. After Arrieta’s complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Game, the Cubs next matched up against their rivals from Missouri, the St. Louis Cardinals, and were the first team to clinch a berth in the NLCS with their four-game series win.

This season, the Cubs were expected to make strides toward being a competitive team. They were not supposed to make the playoffs and they were definitely not supposed to be battling for a trip to the Fall Classic.

With a chance to end a 70-year curse and erase a 107-year World Series drought, how can anyone root against the Cubs if their own team is out of the playoffs? As a Red Sox fan with ties to Lester, general manager Theo Epstein and a generation-spanning curse, the Cubs were my natural bandwagon choice. The pain that many Chicagoans have felt for over a century will hopefully come to an end this year, and I cannot wait to see their reaction when it does. So, as the always-faithful in the North Side of Chicago say, “Go Cubs Go!”

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