Inside the Cubs’ Game 5 clubhouse: Champagne? Nope. Beer and goodbyes.
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All Willson Contreras could do was clap his hands in congratulations and appreciation. His line drive found shortstop Charlie Culberson’s glove, the National League Championship Series was over, the Cubs’ reign as world champs was, too, and so Contreras paid the Dodgers a gesture of the respect they’d so earned. The catcher clapped his way back to the home dugout and into the offseason.
As the Dodgers piled onto the pitcher’s mound, the fans in Section 213 at Wrigley Field joined together in a chorus of “Let’s go, Cubbies!” Their hearts were in the right place — hell of a three-year run these Cubs treated us to — but the chant didn’t spread and died a quick death.
A dejected young woman peeled out of her row and mumbled, “They didn’t deserve it, anyway.”
The Cubs didn’t and the Dodgers did, and from here to eternity no one will dare suggest otherwise. We could pick dozens of stats to illustrate this, but here are a few: Ben Zobrist .000, Anthony Rizzo .059, Addison Russell .125, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber .167 each. Oh, and only seven times in 58 at-bats did the Cubs reach base against the Dodgers’ bullpen.
What’re you gonna do?
Into the clubhouse, where Kris Bryant was the only star player waiting at his locker — accommodating to the end — when the media flooded in. He took everyone back to the All-Star break, when the Cubs were under .500 and none of this NLCS business seemed the least bit likely.
“There were a bunch of doubters out there,” he said, “a lot of people saying things we knew weren’t going to be true. We ended up proving a lot of people wrong — and that’s a little satisfying. A satisfying piece to take into [next] season.”
As Bryant spoke, Jon Jay, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Leonys Martin and Game 5 starter and loser Jose Quintana sat together, chairs scooted over from far-flung locker stalls and haphazardly arranged in a circle. They spoke in Spanish and roared in the universal language of laughter. This was no funereal scene.
There were cold beers everywhere, bottles and cans, and across the room relievers Mike Montgomery and Justin Grimm sat back in their chairs and talked about the first things they were going to do this offseason. It’s not all bad when it ends, that’s for sure.
Manager Joe Maddon, oft-criticized and always kind, walked in, found a young clubhouse attendant and gave him a firm handshake, an arm around the shoulders, a warm smile and then a kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you,” Maddon said, and he meant it.
John Lackey, in baseball pants and shirtless, looked like a man with a weight off his shoulders as he stood in a hallway inaccessible to reporters, slapping hands with teammates and Cubs employees as they passed and offering goodbyes.
Jon Lester met the eyes of reporters and said — good-naturedly — “Get Lackey in here. I’m not doing this [expletive]. I’ll see you at spring training.”
After which Lackey poked his head into the main room and grunted, “Yeah, good luck.” Happy trails, old fella.
Two of the Cubs’ youngest players — holding three beers between them, one in a back pocket — giggled quietly to each other about who-knows-what. Up to no good, maybe.
At the 11th hour — literally, it was 11 p.m. on the dot — Bryant at last stopped answering questions. But he shook hands with every one of the Cubs beat writers in this crazy town. He looked each in the eye and said thanks.
Thanks for what? It’s hard to say. Maybe we’ll ask him in Mesa.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.