This is part 2 of a series. You can start at the beginning here.
In my last entry, I neglected to mention that while in Chicago, I stayed in the home of Peter Gilbert, my friend, colleague and one of the makers of “Hoop Dreams.” Peter, who teaches in North Carolina, has hosted me for the playoffs several times over the years, including for all the games played in Chicago last year. So I’ve become a part of the family. Peter’s wife Dru and his kids Leo and Fay not only make me feel welcome, they have invested in my Cubdom by being among my stoutest supporters. As the Cubs victories have mounted up, they have expressed their belief that my staying at their home has been good luck for the team. So, they don’t want me staying anywhere else.
I also neglected to mention the fact that on the day that the Giants defeated the Mets for the Wild Card, I started growing my playoff beard. Facial hair growth has been a pretty standard baseball superstition for a long time, and I adopted the custom last year. Just to be clear, I really don’t believe that anything I do is going to affect the outcome of the games, but I like the idea of participating in some way. And besides, my grey beard makes me look a little bit like Cubs Manager Joe Madden, and he is the coolest manager in baseball.
Off to San Francisco
Sunday was a day off and I decided to stay in Chicago for the extra day, rather than fly out to SF. There was plenty to do, as the Chicago Marathon was that day, and I hadn’t had my yearly deep dish pizza yet. After all, I didn’t know for sure if I would be back. It was a beautiful day and according to my Microsoft Band, I walked a good 8 miles around the city.
On Monday morning, I had an early flight, and took the “L” to Midway. They had just announced that game time in SF was going to be at 6:30 Pacific time, and Richie, who was flying in from Detroit, was worried about arriving in time for the game. He was scheduled to land at around 6, and would have to grab a taxi and head right for the stadium.
I arrived, took the Bart into downtown SF and checked in to the hotel. It was only 1:00, so I had plenty of time to kill before the game. I put on my Cubs hat, Cubs T-shirt and headed out. After scoping out the neighborhood, I started to head toward AT&T Park. A few blocks away I stumbled upon the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Jewish Culture, which had a huge flag outside for their Stanley Kubrick exhibit. I still had the time, so in I went.
The Kubrick exhibit was impressive and lots of fun. They had an area for each of his films as well as for his early still photography for Life Magazine. There was artifacts and original props for many of the iconic moments in his films–a model of the war room from “Dr. Strangelove,” costumes from “A Clockwork Orange,” a miniature of the maze from “The Shining,” etc. I was tempted to buy the catalogue, but I didn’t want to have to carry it to the ballpark.
Game 3, Cubs at Giants, AT&T Park, San Francisco
AT&T Park is one of the more beautiful of the newer ballparks. Over the right field fence is San Francisco Bay, where people hang out in any number of different types of seaworthy vessels, hoping to catch a home run ball in their fishing nets. Looking in the other direction, you can see the Bay Bridge and the city skyline. Our seats were on the upper deck, between home plate and 3rd base. To my right was an older woman who was wearing a Cubs jersey and hat, so we began to talk. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the team, and as we talked, I saw Richie ambling up the stairs. He had a big smile on his face. He had made it before the first pitch.
The Giants had their stud pitcher, Madison Bumgarner on the mound, while the Cubs had last year’s Cy Young Award-winner Jake Arrieta. Lately Jake had not been Jake, so going against the Giants’ best pitcher was not the ideal matchup. As it turns out both pitchers put in great performances. Jake not only pitched well, he also hit a 3 run home run, which put the Cubs out in front. It was yet another great hitting performance by a Cubs pitcher in the series, and at this point Cubs pitchers had knocked in the majority of the runs scored.
The Score was 3-2 Cubs in the 8th inning, and it looked like they were heading toward a series sweep, when the Giants loaded up the bases. Madden decided to bring in Chapman, the Cubs closer to finish out the inning. It was a strange move, given that Chapman has made it known that he doesn’t like to pitch the 8th. And sure enough Chapman gave up 3 runs and the Giants took the lead 5-3. It was a devastating moment, the kind of moment that brought back some of the ghosts of Cubs playoff history. Would this be the turning point toward disaster?
Top of the 9th inning began with a Dexter Fowler walk and then a 2 run blast by Kris Bryant. We were tied 5-5. Wow. Maybe these Cubs don’t believe in those turning points. The game went into extra innings and the emotional roller coaster was on hyper-drive. In every inning, it seemed like there was some kind of trouble, only to have a well-placed strikeout or a spectacular defensive play save the game. But then finally, in the bottom of the 13th inning, the Giants scored the winning run and it was over. The Giants had won their 10th straight game when facing post-season elimination, and the Cubs sorry history of closing out post-season series was front and center again. But Richie and I, and the other Cubs fans around us were feeling pretty good. The Cubs had played a great game, and win or lose, we had just seen one of the most exciting games of all time.
Game 4, Cubs at Giants, AT&T Park, San Francisco
The next night, we were at the park early. Our seats were in the upper deck, all the way in the left field corner. From the moment we got into our seats, we were being harassed by two female Giants fans, who were taunting us with the Cubs curse. They kept making goat noises at us, and yelling, “your team is cursed.”
As the game began, it seemed that perhaps they were right. First the Giants were leading 3-1, with the only Cubs run coming from a solo home run by David Ross. Then after 5 innings, it was 5-2. It seemed that the vaunted Cubs offense was nowhere to be found. The prospect of going back to Chicago to play a decisive game 5 was not fun to contemplate. After tying up the series, the Giants would have all the momentum.
I was also thinking about my travel arrangements. Was I going back to Chicago, or was I going home? It was looking like Chicago. I was pretty bummed, but Richie kept saying, “they’re going to win this, they’re gonna do it.”
Meanwhile, Giants fans started to leave in droves, including the two women who had been taunting us. As the crowd thinned out, it became clearer that there were a lot of Cubs fans in the crowd, and a chant of “Let’s go Cubbies” started up. I was waving my Cubs rally towel (imported from Chicago) and invoking the baseball gods.
The 9th inning began with a Bryant single, then a Rizzo walk. And then Zobrist hot a double down the right field line that scored a run, followed by another hit by pinch-hitter Contreras, which tied up the game. Wow. Can I say that again? Wow. The Cubs fans were screaming, the players were pumped up, and frankly I was kind of in shock. Richie started chanting “send Ira back to New York.” The Cubs scored another run and were leading 6-5. Then Chapman struck out the side and the Cubs had won the series.
Richie and I wished that those two women had not left, so we could taunt them back. We imagined them sitting at home, watching the end of the game and wishing they hadn’t been so cocky.
It was the most amazing comeback I’d ever seen, and proof that this team never quits. I still can’t believe it. Richie and I hung out at the ballpark for a while, along with a couple hundred other Cubs fans. We stood by the Cubs dugout and chanted the names of the players as they came out to do interviews with the sportscasters. There were many choruses of “Go Cubs Go” sung, and many photos taken. It was pure bliss.
On the way back to the hotel, I changed my plane reservation to head back to New York early the next morning, for a well-deserved rest and a couple of days with my wife.
Part 3 of this series can be found here.