By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) That was cruel and unusual.
The television networks will spin it as thrilling baseball. Masochists will talk about the visceral rush of watching a game that was the equivalent of hot wax repeatedly dripped on their nether regions. But the rest of us didn’t deserve what went down in the Chicago Cubs’ 9-8 victory against the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night.
I’ve never experienced sports-watching in which there was an inexplicable connection between the game action and my life force. This includes Game 7 of the World Series last year. It was as though the game manifested within me, pulling and twisting my very being into something no longer two- or three-dimensional, the TV transmission not paralleling my circulatory system but actually being it. I have a new appreciation for the film “The Lawnmower Man.”
The game was long and it was arduous, but it seemed to repeatedly inject some toxin into the bloodstream that caused a piercing pain while being unable to look away from the screen, like a wasp that paralyzes a tarantula who then must be keenly aware as it is dragged away in conscious rigor mortis.
And we all died during that game. You may be breathing today and semi-ambulatory, but something within you is gone, and you’ll never reclaim it. We are all today interviewees in an 18-hour Ken Burns documentary on the psychological kidnapping that occurred in our nation’s capital. Your voice will forever quiver when you speak of it, the camera constricting the deep breath you take between mentioning Carl Edwards Jr.’s appearance and your insistence that you still love him and this was all beyond him or any of us.
Game 5 was horrific. It contained no fun. Yeah, sure, there was the fifth inning in which the Cubs scored three runs off of Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who had come in from the bullpen. But those included scores on a passed ball with a throwing error and then a hit-by-pitch. There were three Cubs runs scored on groundouts. Catcher’s interference and the slide rule all came into play.
And at no point in which the Cubs held a lead did it ever feel comfortable. The viewers were chained to a board with his and her eyes pried open and the rack slowly twisting and drawing their limbs ever closer to being ripped from their bodies.
It was all so Lovecraftian. If you’ll forgive my mental fragility right now that I may get remedial and cite Wikipedia, H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction includes the following themes:
Helplessness and hopelessness. Although Lovecraftian heroes may occasionally deal a “setback” to malignant forces, their victories are temporary, and they usually pay a price for it. Otherwise, subjects often find themselves completely unable to simply run away, instead driven by some other force to their desperate end.
Does that not describe the Cubs fan viewing experience Thursday night? The Cubs would score, and then shortly thereafter everything felt bad. It was all some sick trek of attrition, as pitchers came and went, double switches amid Nationals walks and singles and continued runs that made you realize your journey wasn’t on a road but a treadmill in the middle of a lava field.
And you seriously considered getting off. The sweet release of death was better than the inevitability that this game was going to extra innings and position players pitching.
Unanswered questions. Characters in Lovecraft’s stories rarely if ever fully understand what is happening to them, and often go insane if they try.
How are the Cubs scoring runs? Why don’t they ever feel at a safe distance? Did Jason Heyward just get intentionally walked? Who’s left to pitch? What’s the pitching situation for the next series? That is, if there is a next series and this game doesn’t open a portal to a dimension in which time no longer exists? How is it only the sixth inning? Why could you taste your own blood?
Sanity’s fragility and vulnerability. Characters in many of Lovecraft’s stories are unable to cope mentally with the extraordinary and almost incomprehensible truths they witness, hear or discover. The strain of trying to cope, as Lovecraft often illustrates, is impossible to bear and insanity takes hold.
This was just supposed to be a baseball game. The Cubs losing would stink, and if they won, hey awesome. It instead was something of a walking nightmare. You knew you were awake, yet the reality of the situation was gray. There was a thickness that took over the atmosphere and your chest.
More than once I almost took smoking back up. President Trump criticized me for being held captive by that game and stripped naked of my dignity. I am physically sore as I write this. A sour stomach has returned. I lost weight since Thursday afternoon. And the Cubs won. They tell me there was a victory, and I ask what then victory is.
You watched a manager in Joe Maddon lose his job three times Thursday night and get re-hired in seven outs from a used-up Wade Davis. What was there after Davis? Besides a collapse of the nervous system and a slow asphyxiation.
What was that Davis experience? That DMX album of a pitching appearance.
“I have no idea, I blacked out,” left-hander Jon Lester said afterward.
This is the only understandable statement about Game 5.
And now the reward is possibly trotting John Lackey out against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Who weeps for the Nationals right now? They are the fortunate ones, pain-free in a pleasant sleep for the winter. There should be narration by Col. Kurtz.
The Cubs weren’t allowed to die Thursday night by some inexplicable force beyond us, even though part of us whispered in a parched voice for it to all go away, to give in an accept finality. They get to play on, to reset and exist anew.
The same can’t be said for those who witnessed that violence of the psyche and soul.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.