By Shane Nicholson
That already steep mountain the Cubs had to climb after dropping the first two in New York just became Everest.
The Northsiders fell 5-2 Tuesday night to the Mets at Wrigley Field and now trail the NLCS 3-games-to-nil. Wait ’til next year is now a sudden reality for a Cubs team that bashed its way to the third best record in baseball.
The Mets jumped out 1-0 in the first, only to be answered by a Kyle Schwarber solo home run in the bottom of the inning, his fifth of the postseason. Telling of the hurdle the Cubs are trying to overcome, that now puts the rookie in sole possession of the franchise’s all-time playoff home run record, only 69 regular season games into his major league career.
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy – he of now Ruthian or perhaps Beltranian efforts this postseason – found the bleachers in center in the top of the 3rd, his fifth straight game with a home run in these playoffs, tying the major league record. Jorge Soler came back with the game-tying effort just an inning later, a line drive shot to right-center off starter Jacob deGrom.
His opposite number, left-hander Kyle Hendricks, was chased after 4 innings. It slid downhill fast for the Cubs from there, despite every effort from the baseball gods to save them from themselves.
With Michael Conforto on first following the wild pitch, Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores lined a ball to shallow right. Soler dove in vain and the ball skipped to the wall where it became buried in the ivy. As any good outfielder patrolling the Wrigley green knows, Dexter Fowler threw his hands in the air signifying that the object had been lost in the dense cords.
Conforto, sure to score, was sent back to third. Flores, himself with every chance to come all the way around for an inside-the-park job, went back to second. The Cubs escaped by the grace of Wrigley’s decades-old ground rules. Baseball-stupid commenced with commentators and social media giants saying that the rules should be re-evaluated, as if the guidelines applied in unequal measure to both sides in a given situation.
The feeling was that the Cubs had finally gotten the break they needed to get back into this series. But it was not to be.
Yoenis Cespedes made it 4-2 on a single to left in the 7th. Lucas Duda then sent that man Murphy across the plate with a ground out to first. 5-2. Closing time.
A steady New York bullpen saw out the lead. These hopeful and exciting Cubs are left to do the unthinkable: match the similarly “cursed” 2004 Boston Red Sox and come back – against all odds, from three games down – to clinch a World Series birth.
It’s a shame. This team has been thoroughly entertaining to watch for much of the season, a collection of youth never before seen in the majors slugging their way to 97 wins, their workhorse Jake Arrieta putting on a legendary show of pitching perfection in the second half.
It was a year ahead of schedule for the Cubs, the clock moved forward by the acquisition of Jon Lester last winter. But it was exactly the brand of season that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Tom Ricketts have set out to see year after year for many to come: give yourselves as many chances to win a World Series as possible and eventually the odds break in your favor.
This team, led by their 26-year-old veteran first baseman, will be back. They were good; they will be better. Barring all the worst things possible happening to this Cubs crop of youngsters, they will be back here many more times to come.
This was a team stacked with exciting rookies and brilliant pitching; that played some of the best baseball Wrigley Field has ever seen; that clinched the first postseason series for the Cubs that Wrigley Field has ever seen. For anyone downtrodden over what appears to be the final result just remember where this project stood a short time ago.
The playoffs are a crap shoot. This we know because of the 1997 Marlins; or the 2003 Marlins; or the 2004 Red Sox; or the 2010 Giants; or the 2014 Royals who came from the wild card game to take a World Series to seven games, only to fall short by a single Madison Bumgarner; or even this 2015 Mets team, riding the hot bat of their go-lucky second baseman.
The Cubs threw the dice; the Cubs came up short. But that doesn’t undo just how fantastic this team was, and how fantastic they can be for many more seasons to come.
Barring a miracle, we’ll soon see the last of the 2015 Cubs in this NLCS, and that is a terrible pity for baseball fans everywhere outside of Flushing.
But given the show on display while they were around, and lessons learned from this postseason for Joe Maddon‘s youngsters, the tried and true Wait ’til next year doesn’t seem such a terrible proposition.