If you’ve been a Cubs fan long enough, you saw the road ahead and knew that it would inevitably lead to this exact point. It had to be the Mets.
This 2015 Cubs team has been battling only one opponent all season long. No, it wasn’t the Pirates. Or the Cards. Or even the Mets.
It’s been history, the ghosts of all that came before them. The goat, the black cat, Bartman. The ghosts of Cubs’ teams past. The franchise’s own ghosts have always been their toughest opponent. For 107 years, those ghosts have beaten them silly.
That all changed with this new crop of young studs, led by an old magician with more tricks up his sleeve than Houdini.
Lesser Cubs teams have all been slayed by the franchise’s history of losing. They crumbled under its immense pressure. The simplest of plays turned into high-wire acts where all balance is lost. Like in 1984, when a ball rolled right between Leon Durham’s legs. Or in 2003, when sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzales made an error on an easy grounder, a play that he makes with ease on 99 out of 100 chances.
In 1969, it was Don Young, a rookie centerfielder for the Cubs. On July 8, the 23-year-old lost a shallow pop up in the sun for an instant. Later in that same game, he catches a towering drive only to have it roll out of his glove when he bangs against the outfield wall. Two miscues. That’s all the opening the New York Mets needed to come back with three runs in the 9th inning to beat the Cubs 4-3, cutting Chicago’s lead in the National League East to four games. Fiery third baseman Ron Santo went off on his teammate, almost as if he knew that the errors would come back to haunt them.
Two months later, on September 9, a black cat ran onto the field as the Cubs played a crucial series, again against the Mets, at Shea Stadium. After running circles around a bemused Santo in the on-deck circle, the black cat disappeared underneath the stands. Never to be seen again.
The Cubs lost the game 7-1 and saw their one-time 9-game lead in the division drop to a mere half game. The very next day the Cubs would surrender the divisional lead to the so-called Miracle Mets, who would never look back. The Cubs ultimately lost 17 of the last 25 games of the season, while the Mets went 23–7 to overtake the Cubs and finish eight games ahead of them. It was one of the most astounding late season collapses in history, with the seventeen-game turnaround being one of the biggest ever. The Cubs finished 92-70, while the Mets won the National League East and would go on to win the World Series. The Cubs won nothing.
Santo, the future Hall-of-Famer and Cubs broadcaster, never could let go of that season. He wore his hatred for the Mets on his sleeve. “It’s not New York. It’s mainly this ballpark,” he said in reference to the old Shea Stadium.
Shea was torn down in 2009, the land where it once stood now a parking lot for the current Mets’ home ballpark, Citi Field.
But the memories of that epic collapse in 1969 have weighed heavily in Cubs’ lore. Longtime Cubs’ fans don’t easily forget. Santo was haunted by them all the way to his grave.
These ghosts weigh like heavy chains on Cubs fans, who couldn’t forgive the poor bespectacled fan who reached out for a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, when the Cubs were a mere five outs away from going to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The team went on to lose seven consecutive postseason games after that Game 6 loss.
Until this year, when the team not only defeated the Pirates in a one-game wildcard game, but then decisively knocked out the archrival Cards, three games to one in the NLDS, clinching their first-ever playoff series at Wrigley Field. Finally, the Cubs and their loyal fans could put to rest the blame for the team’s postseason failures on poor Steve Bartman.
From that point, it became abundantly clear that the 2015 Cubs and their young sluggers were out to slay the franchise’s long history of futility. And when longtime fans looked at which team they might face in the NLCS, there was little doubt which one it would be. So-called baseball experts might have predicted the Dodgers and their one-two pitching punch of Greinke and Kershaw to mow down the Mets. But Cubs fans knew. We knew it would be the Mets. It had to be.
There have been all kinds of reasons given for why the Cubs’ chances against the Mets are better than they would have been against the Dodgers. Those same so-called experts point to the Cubs perfect 7-0 record against the Mets this season. There are other advantages that seemingly weigh in the Cubs’ favor in the Mets-versus-Dodgers debate: the travel distance between ballparks; the time zone change; the Mets having to travel back home; the Mets having used up their best pitchers to defeat the Dodgers.
But Cubs fans know that none of those things matter. Because it’s not really the Mets the Cubs are trying to beat. When the Cubs walk onto Citi Field on Saturday, they will be facing their biggest foe and trying to vanquish another one of those ghosts that have haunted them for so long.
Bring ’em on. This team has proven over and over again, it ain’t afraid of no ghosts.