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Sports Saturday

Shock, awe, pain and emptiness are all that’s left of the Cubs as we knew and loved them

Extend? Spend? Contend? Nope — just the end. So long, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and others. It was pretty damn special.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Baez, Rizzo and Bryant in the best of times.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

ESPN called it the “wildest [Major League Baseball] trade deadline in years.”

But wait: This was on Thursday night.

Then came Friday, when, shoot, maybe it would be easier to just list the things that didn’t happen. For example: The Cubs’ front office didn’t dispatch minions to drop sticks of dynamite into the mailboxes of every fan of the team. That was really nice. And — unless we missed something in all the deadline tumult — the Cubs didn’t raise ticket prices in the soul-sucking moments after trading away a bunch of the best players in club history. That was super thoughtful.

Look, I know gallows humor isn’t for everybody. But sometimes it just feels like the only way to go.

Not to be confused with Gallo humor, by the way. That’s what some Rangers undoubtedly are dabbling in after the deadline trades of All-Stars Joey Gallo to the Yankees and Kyle Gibson to the Phillies. How sad for them, but — come on — it’s nickel-dimer stuff compared to the suffering in Cubdom.

A trade deadline unlike any other will be memorable in part because the mighty Dodgers took pitcher Max Scherzer and infielder Trea Turner from the white-flag Nationals, turning a championship-caliber roster into a truly all-time-great one.

In New York, the headlines are as big and bold as it gets. Lefty boppers Gallo and Anthony Rizzo have arrived to take aim at the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium in pursuit of World Series title No. 28. The inimitable Javy Baez is incoming to join forces in the middle of the Mets infield with superstar and longtime friend Francisco Lindor.

And here, of course, we have our World Series-or-bust White Sox, who added Craig Kimbrel to a bullpen so ferocious, and second baseman Cesar Hernandez to a lineup so deep and dangerous, that we soon will experience three months — and potentially years longer than that — of the goings-on at Guaranteed Rate Field thoroughly overshadowing those at Wrigley Field.

And we’ll spend much time relitigating the trades of late July 2021 between the Sox and Cubs, much as we have their rare but notable past deals. Veteran reliever Ryan Tepera for left-handed prospect Bailey Horn? Sure, fine, whatever. Elite closer Kimbrel for injured second baseman Nick Madrigal — a former first-round pick who has hit over .300 in the big leagues — and power-armed reliever Codi Heuer? It’ll be fun to keep score. (Either way, Chicago got fleeced!)

But before all that: the shock, awe, pain, misery and emptiness felt in some combination and measure by anyone who rose and fell, celebrated and stewed, and most of all deeply enjoyed and appreciated the last half-decade-plus of the Cubs. This is what stands out — above and beyond anything else in baseball — at this monumental moment.

Rizzo, the first key move former Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and current one Jed Hoyer made together when they traded for him in 2012.

Baez, a hugely important first-round pick made in 2011 — before the arrival of the Epstein regime — who would spearhead a prospect core that won it all in 2016. A player so talented, so magnetic, so thrilling, so frustrating, he was the most unique of all the Cubs since the run of winning began in 2015.

Kris Bryant, the cornerstone of the franchise. The best all-around Cubs player since Ernie Banks? I’ll let you fine folks chew on that one. But Bryant’s trade to the Giants minutes under the 3 p.m. gun Friday was a haymaker Cubs fans knew was coming but still couldn’t have been completely prepared for. As excited as they are in San Francisco — and, goodness, they should be — this was the knockout blow in these parts.

The televised video of Bryant finding out in the dugout at Nationals Park that he’d been traded, and then dissolving into tears, will stay with us. The images of Rizzo walking the grounds at Wrigley with his family Thursday, soaking it all in one last time, will, too. Not to mention Baez’s tags, elusive slides and all this historic Cubs trio accomplished together.

To lose them all at once? Plus Kimbrel and several other veterans, leaving the current team a who’s-who of “who?” (And in case Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber think we didn’t notice them move to the Cardinals and Red Sox, respectively: Oh, we did.)

What a whole hell of a lot.

As it turned out, Epstein didn’t have the stomach for this part of the process. He probably knew it was inevitable.

Say this for Hoyer: He dove right into the deadline bloodbath. He bears some scars now. His career won’t ever be the same, but his story is far from over.

Feel free to be as ticked off at the Rickettses as you wish. They’ve got all they could count stashed under the family mattress now. Not that responsibility for some terrible free-agent signings and an organizational inability to develop starting pitching belongs in their laps.

Understand: In the end, the Cubs didn’t choose to go in the opposite direction of “going for it.” They didn’t give in. They got buried. Even before they put a joke of a pitching rotation out there for 2021 — to name just one serious team flaw — they were as close to the Dodgers, as close to another World Series, as the Mitch Trubisky-led Bears were to a Super Bowl.

The Cubs didn’t extend the right guys, didn’t spend in the right places and didn’t legitimately contend for as long as most of us hoped and thought they would.

Extend, spend, contend — too late for all that.

All we’re left with is the final three letters of each of those words: the “end.”