108 years beats even-year magic

By Scott Nicol

DeKALB | The last two Chicago Cubs games prove why fans need to believe in this team and forget the curse of the billy goat.

Entering the ninth inning of game four Tuesday evening, with the series tied at two games a piece there was a 97.5 percent chance of a game five occurring Thursday in Chicago, according to ESPN Baseball Tonight.

Yet, Chicago scored four runs to come away with the series victory and advance to the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row, proving 108 years is greater than the even-year magic.

The Cubs did not make it easy on its fans’ hearts in the series.

In game three Monday, after gaining an early three-run lead against starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the Cubs led 3-2 in the game and 2-0 in the best-of-five series against the even-year San Francisco ‘Giants’ when the game headed into the bottom of the eighth inning.

Until this point in the series, there had been no doubt in my mind the Cubs were going to defeat the Giants and advance to the NLCS.

The team hadn’t trailed in the series, and its pitchers, who had two home runs and six RBI’s in the series, were outscoring the Giants’ hitters.

San Francisco mustered even-year magic and scored three runs. This sent Cubs fans to assume the worse; relinquishing the series to the Giants was inevitable. 

Chicago tied the game in the top of the ninth on third baseman Kris Bryant’s two-run home run, his first of the postseason, giving Cubs fans a sense this may not be the same team as year’s past, but the Giants eventually won the game in the 13th inning on second baseman Joe Panik’s RBI double.

Tuesday was a nerve-racking day – nerve-racking because the curse was alive again; nerve-racking because the sleeping ‘Giants’ had woken and the Cubs most successful season since 1910 was going to be defeated by the even-year magic.

The game began exactly the way every Cub’s fan assumed it would; with the Giants jumping out to an early lead after a first inning run.

Chicago tied the game in the third with a solo home run from catcher David Ross, but San Francisco scored two in the fourth inning and two in the fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead, but to me it felt more like a 50-2 lead.

The momentum in the series had shifted completely towards the Giants and the Cubs team that had a plus 252 run differential during the regular season witnessed their bats go dormant. The team had one hit, Bryant’s game-tying two-run home run, in its last 27 outs of game three and had only two hits through the first eight innings of game four.

At least we’d have starting pitcher Jon Lester going for us in game five, and thought maybe he could save us from being defeated. Then Matt Moore, San Francisco’s starting pitcher in game four, was removed from the game after throwing 120 pitches in eight strong innings, giving Cubs fans a shred of hope near the end.

Bryant led off the ninth with a sharp single and fans slowly started to think, ‘maybe they can tie it.’ After drawing the count full, first baseman Anthony Rizzo drew a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate with nobody out and the Cub’s finally seemed to wake up.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist roped a double down the right field line, driving in one run and putting runners on second and third, still with nobody out.

Using their fourth pitcher in as many batters, San Francisco watched their three-run lead dissipate as pinch-hitting catcher Willson Contreras hit a poke up the middle, driving in Zobrist, to tie the game at five.

Then on the next pitch, right fielder Jason Heyward bunted the ball too hard back to the pitcher setting up a possible double play, but a rare, errant throw from San Francisco’s shortstop Brandon Crawford put Heyward on second with one out.

The Cubs scored on another clutch hit from utility man Javier Baez to take their first lead since the eighth inning of game three.

Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth inning, officially breaking the even-year magic and giving fans a sense of relief, for now.