I read this the other day, a throwaway line that made me do a double take: The Cubs have never won an NLCS. Well, sure they haven’t. League championship series have only been around since 1969, and the Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945. It’s a useless, obvious bit of trivia—barely a factoid—but it’s a good example of how, when we’re talking about the Cubs and their historic dearth, we’re working on timescales beyond the individual. This requires institutional memory, civic memory. Saturday will be Game 6 of the NLCS, the Cubs up 3-2, at Wrigley. That, at least, sounds sorely familiar.
Before last night’s 8-4 win in Los Angeles, the first pitch was co-thrown by Eric Karros, a Dodger for life but a Cub for a single season, 2003, and Karros keeps a souvenir from that year: A Cubs cap with a World Series patch, put in players’ lockers for the expected pennant celebration before...things happened.
The Cubs’ mashers are too young to care about any of that, and it’s a glorious thing. Chicago has won two straight not because they’re beating back their past, but because they’re beating the shit out of the baseball.
There’s an old saw about momentum only being as good as your next day’s starting pitcher, and though that’s a little too neat, momentum definitely operates on scales of series and games and innings, not of centuries. In Games 2 and 3, the Cubs scored no runs on six hits. In Games 4 and 5, 18 runs on 26 hits. The most obvious difference is that for the first two, they faced Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, and for the next two, they didn’t.
You’re going to hear a lot about a certain fan over the next few days, a hapless guy wearing a blue Cubs cap and earphones. Forget it. I mean, enjoy
it as context—what is this sport without its history?—but discard it as actor. Curses aren’t real. Ghosts aren’t real. The Cubs are a win away from their first World Series since a month after the end of World War II because they’re the best team in baseball; they’ve got three very good starting pitchers, a solid bullpen with a closer who can throw 105 mph, and a lineup full of young dudes who can slap the soul out of a ball.
And now they have to face Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill again. If the Cubs lose, and they very well might, it won’t be because of mysticism or memory. It’ll be because baseball is a good, cruel, difficult sport, and every game is a new chance to break fans’ hearts, or to be great.