Curse enthusiasts and other zanies who see the hand of the occult at work in the fortunes of the Cubs were relieved that Friday was an off day in the postseason schedule.
Oct. 14 was the 13-year anniversary of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, Cubs vs. Florida Marlins. No need to relive the events of a night that lives in infamy in Cubs lore, nor to point out that being five outs away from the World Series is as close as they’ve been in the 71 years since their last Series appearance.
Of course, Oct. 14 was also the 108-year anniversary of the last time the Cubs won the World Series. A 2-0 victory over the Tigers in the Game 5 clincher at Detroit’s Bennett Park drew 6,210 fans, roughly the same number of folks who were in line for a brew at Bernie’s before Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers on Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
Today’s Cubs have done a splendid job distancing themselves from billy goats and black cats and other nonsense that has served as lame excuses for bad baseball over the years. So maybe it’s telling that things that used to happen to the Cubs happened for the Cubs in their Division Series victory over the Giants.
Kris Bryant’s game-tying homer in the ninth inning of Game 3 left the ballpark by roughly a fingernail. Brandon Crawford’s blast in the fifth inning of Game 4
stayed in the yard by approximately the same margin. The ninth-inning implosion by the Giants’ bullpen in Game 4 was a flashback to Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, with the Cubs as perpetrators rather than victims. Five Giants relievers failed to protect a 5-2 lead, and the Cubs were on to the next round.
Their drive to end 108 years of futility has become the dominant narrative of the postseason, with each of their games drawing a prime-time TV slot … and some grumbling from the Dodgers that the Cubs’ TV ratings were the impetus for some bizarre and taxing adjustments to the schedule for their division series with the Washington Nationals.
“I went through that with the Red Sox in ’04,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It seemed like the whole country was pulling for us to end our curse. It doesn’t affect us.”
Roberts is a first-year manager, but he surely won’t shrink from the moment after pulling off the most brazen move of the postseason and getting away with it. With the Dodgers leading 4-3 in the seventh inning of their series-deciding game with the Nationals, he went to Kenley Jansen for 2⅓ scoreless innings, requiring 51 pitches — an unheard-of workload for a modern-day closer. His choice to get the final two outs was staff ace Clayton Kershaw, who had thrown 110 pitches in seven innings of the Dodgers’ Game 4 victory two days earlier.
“Using a closer early is really not outside the box,” Roberts said. “It makes sense.”
And it helped get the Dodgers here. But it still feels like Cubs in five, maybe six.