This is part 3 of a series. You can start at the beginning here.
Just prior to the start of the playoffs, I got an invitation from the Chicago Film Festival to do a one hour speaking gig, and when I checked my calendar, it coincided with a possible 6th game of the NLCS, assuming the Cubs made it that far. They agreed to fly me to and from Chicago for that weekend, and to put me up in a hotel. Best case, I got my transportation and lodging taken care of for some of the games I might be attending. Worst case, I would be obligated to be in Chicago that weekend, even if the Cubs had been eliminated, or if the series had ended. I said yes, with the understanding that depending on what happened in the playoffs, I might or might not have to change some flights around.
So when the Dodgers defeated the Nationals, I could finally lock in some plans. The tickets for the unplayed games in DC were completely refundable, so no loss there. I had to book a one-way ticket to L.A. for Games 3, 4 and possibly 5. And my return trip would either be to NY if it was over after game 4, in which case I would then fly back to Chicago for the Festival on Saturday, or I would use the Festival ticket to fly directly back to Chicago from L.A. You with me so far?
In the meantime, the Cubs ticket lottery drawing happened, and it looked at first like no one among my enablers, nor my extended enablers, was a “winner.” I began to panic and went to Craig’s List to see what tickets might be available, and I found a guy who lives in Florida, who had won the ticket lottery and was looking to sell his code to a Cubs fan who would use it. To be safe, I asked if we could talk by phone, and after a great conversation about the team, about our Chicago connections and other assorted topics, I was convinced the guy was legit. I made him a reasonable offer, which he accepted. I paid him via Paypal, which is kind of an insurance policy, and he forwarded the email to me with the code. As I’ve said in an earlier post, this doesn’t guarantee you any tickets necessarily. You still have to get on-line at the prescribed time and grab what you can, as quickly as possible.
I contacted both Jessica and Rich to see what their needs were. I could buy a maximum of 4 tickets, and had to cover myself for 3 possible games. Jessica only needed a ticket for the first game, and Rich could possibly attend Games 2, 6 and 7. The tickets would go on sale the next day at noon Central Time, and I would do the best I could.
Then, a miracle happened. When I woke up the next morning, there was an email from my L.A.-based friend Janis Nelson. She was a “winner” but hadn’t seen the email until late the prior night. Now I had two codes. So the plan became that I would use one code to try to get two tickets each to Games 1 and 2, and Rich would use the other code to try to get two tickets each to Games 6 and 7. If we managed that, all three of us would have what we needed for all 4 games.
Rich and I decided to be on the phone with each other when the ticket sale began, so we could compare notes during the process. At the dot of noon, we were offered seats. I quickly grabbed what I needed and was checking out, when Rich hit some kind of glitch with his credit card. He was in a bit of a panic, but I talked him down and he managed to charge them to a different card before he lost the tickets he had in his cart. Whew. We had what we needed. I would be with Jessica for Game 1 and with Rich for Game 2, 6 and 7.
The next day, I was off to Chicago again, this time for the National League Championship Series. I dropped my stuff off at the Gilberts, changed into my Cubs gear and was off to Wrigley. The bars around Wrigleyville were much more crowded, much earlier than had been true for the NLDS. After a 20 minute wait on line, I managed to get into my favorite pre-game spot, Vines on Clark. I like the place for a few reasons. First it has a large outdoor area, which weather permitting, is way more pleasant than the other very loud bars in the area. Second, as the name would suggest, they have a decent wine list, which is not typical for Wrigleyville bars. Additionally, they have something on the menu I’ve never encountered anywhere else–a hamburger topped by a hot dog. Mmmm. Finally, it’s directly across the street from Wrigley. After two glasses of wine and the aforementioned “dinner,” I walked across the street for the game.
Game 1 NLCS, Dodgers at Cubs, Wrigley Field
Tonight Jessica and I were in the Bleachers. The Bleachers at Wrigley are their own unique experience, as documented in the play “Bleacher Bums.” But during the playoffs, the makeup of the crowd is not as rowdy as during the regular season. Even so, the proximity to the outfielders makes taunting the players on the other team way too tempting, so there was lots of catcalling throughout the game.
The crowd in general was loud from the start. As the PA announcer announced the starting lineup for the Dodgers, it was completely drowned out by chants of “Let’s go Cubbies.” After the victory over the Giants, everyone was upbeat and psyched.
The game started well as Lester pitched a 1-2-3 first, and the Cubs scored a run in the their half of the inning. They added 2 more runs in the 2nd, including a bizarre play in which an attempted pickoff at 3rd base ended with Javy Baez stealing home. Lester continued mowing down the Dodgers and there were some spectacular defensive plays, one of which was a catch in center field by Addison Russell that was literally right in front of us. The game was looking great for the Cubs.
The Dodgers came back with a run in the 5th, but it was in the 8th inning that all hell broke loose. The Dodgers loaded the bases with no outs against 3 different pitchers (none of them Lester, who had been removed having thrown only 77 pitches) and once again Madden brings in Chapman in the 8th inning. Let the 2nd guessing begin. Strikeout–one out. Strikeout-two outs. Single-game tied. Crowd in shock.
Cubs come up in the 8th. Zobrist leads off with a double. Russell grounds out. Then the Dodgers walked Heyward to get to Baez. Huh? Heyward is hitting exactly nothing. The only explanation is that the Dodgers are trying to get to Chapman’s position in the order, to essentially force him out of the game. Baez pops out and now there are two out. The Dodgers intentionally walk pinch hitter Coghlan to get to Chapman, and of course the Cubs pinch hit Montero for him. The Dodgers have achieved what they wanted–Chapman gone. Except that Montero hits the ball over the fence in right field for a grand slam.
At this moment, everyone in the Bleachers was jumping up and down, screaming and high-fiving one another. Great, except that they all had beers in their hands, so the beers went flying all over the place. By the time the crowd calmed down, I was soaked, but like everyone else, elated.
Final score Cubs 8, Dodgers 4, and ironically Chapman gets the win.
Game 2 NLCS, Dodgers at Cubs, Wrigley Field
Tonight Richie and I are in the upper deck in the right field corner. It’s a strange angle on the ballpark, but the entire field is visible except for the foul territory in right field. We also had a great view of the crowds on Sheffield Avenue and some of the rooftops. Rich made a point of the fact that we were in Section 538 in honor of Nate Silver.
Everyone was feeling pretty good after the Game 1 victory and the way the team had come back against the Giants. No jitters. On the other hand, the media was hyping the fact that Clayton Kershaw would be pitching for the Dodgers–“the best pitcher in the major leagues.” However, he was pitching on only 2 days rest. Our pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, actually had the best ERA of any pitcher in the major leagues this year, so arguably it was a great matchup. However, he had been injured in his last appearance, so there was some speculation about whether he would be sufficiently healed.
As it turns out, both pitchers, and the bullpens of both teams came through in spectacular fashion, and one bad pitch decided the game. It was a solo home run by Gonzales that put the Dodgers up by one run in the 2nd inning. The fans were not panicked by a one run lead, at least not at first. This Cubs team had proven they were capable of scoring enough runs. But as the innings wore on, the anxiety grew. The Cubs simply couldn’t get any clutch hits, even when there were opportunities. When the game ended at 1-0, there was no despondency. There was simply too much confidence in this team. Everyone filed out to the bars in Wrigleyville, and toasted a great pitching duel, even if the final score was not what we wanted.
For me, it was off to L.A.
Part 4 of the series can be found here.