Memories flooding back from Cubs-Dodgers 2008 NLDS

LOS ANGELES — Oh, it was an ugly night.

The weather was beautiful, don’t get me wrong.

It was a crisp, calm Southern California evening, dew just starting to collect on the flawless grass at Dodger Stadium.

But there was malice in the air. Malice all around.

Manny Ramirez slides past the tag of catcher Geovany Soto after James Loney doubled in the first inning of Game 3 of the 2008 NLDS. The Dodgers swept the Cubs.  |  Getty Images

Manny Ramirez slides past the tag of catcher Geovany Soto after James Loney doubled in the first inning of Game 3 of the 2008 NLDS. The Dodgers swept the Cubs. | Getty Images

From the Cubs. You could see it symbolically in the water that was getting deeper in their dugout, the result of a bat smashing an exposed pipe. Who did it? A Cub.

Was it Aramis Ramirez? Ryan Dempster? Starting pitcher Rich Harden, who was 5-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his previous 10 games before this 3-1 loss?

Or was it the ever-hot-headed and edgy Carlos Zambrano?

We still don’t know for sure.

I tried to head to the clubhouse after the game and was abruptly stopped from entering through the dugout, the way the print media usually entered. A Dodgers staffer pointed at the water, now maybe four inches deep.

“Go around, through the tunnel,” he said.

The Cubs had just been swept 3-0 by the underdog Dodgers in the 2008 National League Division Series, and everything they thought they knew, they didn’t.

“There are no curses here,” manager Lou Piniella had said many times. “I don’ know how many times I have to answer about curses.”

But something happened in that series that was stunning and almost incomprehensible: The Cubs had been crushed by a team that was not as good but had a charisma and focus and sense of timing that the Cubs were clueless about.

I bring this up because the Cubs have returned to the scene of that dreadful downfall for the first time in the postseason. Of course, there’s a whole new cast of actors on each side of the diamond, but the scenery will bring shudders to all Cubs fans who remember that debacle.

It’s now the NL Championship Series, and the Cubs and Dodgers are tied at one game apiece. The 1-0 loss to master lefty Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 at Wrigley Field had deflated the Cubs’ feel-good mojo the way a jackknife deflates a whoopee cushion.

The sound as fans exited the stadium was not one of near silence, as I expected, observing from one of the walkways, but of earnest conversation as fans talked to each other, trying to make sense of what had happened and what might possibly be unfolding.

Now the Dodgers are taken seriously. Sure, they play out west, and not many people in the Midwest watch their games. But they didn’t get 91 regular-season wins by dozing under palm trees.

Game 3 starting pitcher Rich Hill might not have been taken all that seriously when he was a Cub, but he’s a lefty who has refined his game this season, first with the A’s and now the Dodgers.

Back in 2008, Cubs ace Ryan Dempster was known for his glove waggle before each pitch and his excellent control. But in Game 1, he walked seven in 4⅔ innings, the last three of which came around on James Loney’s grand slam.

How did that happen? Nobody knows.

Earlier in the year Dempster, a fun-loving guy, had said boldly, “I think we’re going to win the World Series, I really do.”

Then he added, “Enough with all the b.s.”

Except it wasn’t.

That stuff still continues. But the Cubs can put it to rest once and for all in Los Angeles. Good luck.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.


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A surreal night of history, Kyle Schwarber and strikeouts | Chicago Sun-Times
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