These Cubs can handle the circus that will be Wrigley Field for Game 3
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Well now, what have we here?
Wrigley Field on an October day, its ivy red, its earnestness pure, its liver about to be compromised.
Wrigley on Monday for Game 3 of a National League Division Series against the hated Cardinals. The first home playoff game for the Cubs in seven years. Hope running crazy-legged up and down Clark Street. Did I mention the hated Cardinals?
“It’s going to be fun,’’ Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We’re going to enjoy it. We’ll be ready. Can’t wait to see what Wrigley’s like. It’s already crazy when Jake (Arrieta) pitches. I can’t imagine with the rivalry. There’ll be a lot of Cardinals fans there and a lot of Cubs fans there. It’s going to be a great time. It’s going to be must-watch television.”
And if the unsinkable Arrieta wins Monday and the Cubs can clinch the best-of-five series at home the following day …
Good Lord. Wrigleyville’s streets? Awash with beer and bros.
Cubs fans are not used to this. They have been allowed glimpses of playoff baseball over the years, though apparently for the sole purpose of haunting them all the way to the grave.
And here they are again, bowl in hand, asking for more. Could this be the year? Asking the question out loud means inviting a mental-health intervention.
Perhaps, but there’s something about this team. Previous versions have said they didn’t care about the club’s sad history, then ended up staggering into the offseason with vacant eyes. This team doesn’t stress out. When the Cubs lost 4-0 to the Cardinals in the series opener Friday, it wasn’t because of bats gripped too tightly or strange events that only seem to happen to Cubs teams. It was because St. Louis’ John Lackey was great.
So the Cubs shrugged. It happens, those shrugs said. Then the team bounced back in Game 2, the type of thing it has done all season.
And now Game 3 at Wrigley in the type of atmosphere that has brought past Cubs teams to their emotional knees. This one hugs it.
“I just can’t wait to get back and hear the crowd at Wrigley, with Jake on the mound,’’ Rizzo said. “It’s already electric. Us 1-1 coming in, huge game – it’s going to be electric there. I can’t wait for it.”
The moment is indeed massive, and it will be up to Arrieta to cut it down to size, to make it more manageable for his teammates. By the time he’s done Monday, it could look like a ship in a bottle. That’s how dominant he has been this season. That’s how cruel his fastball has been and how humiliating his sinker and slider have been.
In 2003, I was convinced the Cubs were going to the World Series for the first time since 1945, no matter what a lifetime of close observation had taught me. They had come back to Wrigley with a 3-2 lead over Florida in the N.L. Championship Series. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were on the docket for Games 6 and 7 at home, which is to say it was over for the Marlins. Until it wasn’t. Until, with five outs left in Game 6 … well, you’ve probably heard this one before.
You won’t see me with the same ironclad confidence again. Anything is possible, including a swarm of bees mistaking Arrieta’s beard for a hive Monday. But I don’t think so. If the Cubs lose, it likely won’t be because of pressure or historical weirdness. It will be because St. Louis proved it was the better baseball team.
The Cardinals are what the Cubs want to be when they grow up. They win year after year. Their fundamentals are always rock solid. They carry on no matter what. Injuries are treated as an opportunity, free-agent departures as a challenge.
The Cubs are as talented as St. Louis but lack the experience and the precision born of repetition. In their youthful rush, they have skipped a few steps. This was supposed to be a season with some growing pains. There was only growth.
The precociousness doesn’t mean that the Cubs have to wait their turn. They showed in the wild-card game in Pittsburgh that they believe their turn has arrived. They showed in their victory Saturday in St. Louis that they might be right.
Will they be? I have no idea. But I think – think — that the wild scene at Wrigley won’t be too big for them, which would be borderline amazing. I’ve seen a lot with the Cubs over the years. I’ve never seen that.