I’ll be the first one to admit that I miss the days of afternoon baseball exclusively at Wrigley Field. But that’s a bit like saying I miss carbon paper and 8-track tapes. They’re gone, and they aren’t coming back, either. Ballgames at Wrigley, at least on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, are strictly an evening affair anymore.
Be that as it may, night baseball does set up some interesting possibilities. And as Bruce Springsteen once observed, there’s magic in the night, or at least that was the case on Monday night at Wrigley Field.
Being swept by the Phillies over the weekend hurt, a lot. No only did it knock the Cubs out of the second wild card spot in the National League, but there was something extra in it was done at home, by the worst team in baseball–and the team that drove Ryne Sandberg away. And the fact that the weekend was a no-hitter sandwich, with one slice of bullpen collapse and one slice of blowout humiliation nestled around Cole Hamels’ streak-defying no-hitter on Saturday and well, it just felt like an all-too-familiar sense of defeat for this long-suffering fan.
So when Jason Motte, in another bad outing from him, surrendered a leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, that old feeling started to come back. The end of the Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella eras, and the entire Sveum/Rentieria experiment, had nothing on what seems like the second or third coming of Carlos Marmol on the mound.
Who else but the Cubs could give away a big three-run lead in the top of the ninth? We’ve seen all that before, countless times. We have all had our numbness over losses like that, because we don’t have a choice. It’s the occupational hazard of being a Cubs fan.
But the Cubs sure flipped that old script on Monday night. Two outs, tying run on first, and Kris Bryant at the plate. We all love Kris Bryant, who went from Triple-A to the All-Star team in just a few months this season. But the truth is that he’s a rookie. A rookie who might get to 100 RBIs this season, but a rookie all the same.
John Axford–or even just Ax, if you want to call him that–is anything but a rookie. He’s now in his seventh season, and even if he’s not the lights-out guy that he once was in Milwaukee, he knows how to finish out a ball game. And he had two outs already in the bank when Bryan stepped to the plate. It was the veteran against the rookie, with the game on the line.
And unlike those dozens–and perhaps even hundreds– of nights in the past, where Sammy Sosa struck out or Derrek Lee hit a fly ball to short left field or Jeff Blauser just did what he naturally does, Kris Bryant came through. Did he ever. One mighty swing, and one majestic fly ball that Wrigley Field just couldn’t contain, and that was all it took. The drama of baseball struck again, with a potency that reminds us all of why this game is so special.
Thanks to fan videos on the Internet, we’ll always be able to relive the moment in the future. But for now, let’s soak up the sweet nectar of doing this to somebody else, for a change. It’s time to realize there are still two full months of baseball ahead of us, at least.