By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) You’re told it’s a failure.
You’re told for years and decades that anything but a title is failure.
You know better.
You head to the ballpark, gallows humor intact, to witness what you suspect will be the death rattle. You’re an optimist, but deep down you know the end is nigh.
When your top pitcher got beat up on Sunday night, part of you braced for this. Your best have to be at their best at the most crucial of times.
Theirs were. They roll out pitcher after pitcher with absurdly dominant stuff: 96-99 mph fastballs, with multiple changes of pace they can spot for strikes at any point in the count. The very best hitters to have ever played this game succeed at a 40 percent clip against average pitching. The young Cubs are overmatched at the plate, as most teams would be.
But you’re disappointed in what you’ve seen. You wanted them to play well, to represent the quality of their season in this frustratingly small sampling of deciding games.
They don’t play well. Each kid has made at least one ugly mistake in the field. The Babe in left field seemed to play worse and get tighter every day. The aggressive, confident team taking advantage of every opportunity isn’t yours. You slowly begin the process of accepting defeat and balancing frustration with the remnants of your joy.
You enter the ballpark and scale the first ramp of many. You hit level two and pause to turn left. There’s the greenery, visible for the first time, the grass with still vibrant ivy behind it. There’s the manicured dirt, the perfectly white bases. It’s all beautiful, untouched, offering a night full of possibilities, as it always has.
You keep climbing. People are smiling, chatting, forgetting the circumstance of the series for a while. You reach the top. You realize that here on Oct. 21, for a playoff baseball game at Wrigley Field, it’s so warm you have to take off your jacket. You know a grilled dog with onions awaits, sometime between the fourth and sixth innings. You take stock of your good fortune.
The game starts, and within minutes it’s essentially over. You watch the player you enjoy the least on a truly likable team pitch his very worst, again. It’s 4-0 after six batters, and you wonder how long you’ll wait for that hot dog.
Then 75 minutes into Game 4 of the NLCS against the Mets, the Cubs trail 6-0, and each home batter has just now finally come to the plate. It’s a display of futility that will reach historical embarrassment.
You heed the siren song of that encased meat. Darkest char, darkest onions, please. There’s a large open air beer garden behind the press boxes, filled with people who came for a bite and to stretch their legs, but now they stand, drink and watch the game on TV hoping for change.
You speak of shared mojo. Maybe we are the men, maybe this is the place, where the improbable rally starts. You’re momentarily drunk on foolishness, and you love it. This is a big part of why you like the commonality of sports in the first place, random hopeful conversations that can start anywhere with absolute strangers.
Nothing you try works. The season grinds toward a finish. It ends. The wrong team celebrates. You make sure to watch. They’ve earned that much.
Now you’re faced with the reconciliation of mixed emotions. The four games sucked, the team was awful, the result is a gut punch.
But you had those seven months. Hell, you had last week. You saw two rounds of playoff winning, and you even made it here, on Oct. 21.
You stay and see the home team come out of the dugout to thank remaining fans, sharing one final moment. It’s a beautiful gesture on a beautiful night. It’s the last memory you’ll hold onto from this season from the stands.
Here in the very first year of the Cubs actually trying to compete, they exceeded expectations. A bearded ace emerged. Five rookies made legitimate contributions. The arrow undoubtedly points upward. Almost every franchise in the game would trade its entire organization for yours.
The Cubs won 97 games, made the playoffs and sent both the Pirates and Cardinals home. They went further than 26 teams.
This is a failure?
You know better.
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter@MattSpiegel670.