Sports

Goodbye to all that

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, November 4, 2016

Aroldis Chapman stood on the mound with a 6-4 lead. He pitched to Rajai Davis. A few seconds later, the game was tied.

After that game, how can you not love baseball?

Two teams entered the night with a combined 176 years without a championship. Nine innings would decide who would celebrate and who would go home empty-handed — or so we thought. That just goes to show you how little we know, even when we think we know everything. Or as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Looking back on the game, it seemed inevitable: Nine wouldn’t be enough. It’s 2016, the year of the unexpected.

After the eighth inning, pretty much no one though that the game would ever end without extras, nor the forces that control the universe. Because 68 or 108 years of history don’t go down easy.

It was raining. It had already been raining, but now, it seemed, it was really raining. In the ninth, Terry Francona came out to challenge a slide. After review, the slide was legal. And, the commentators noted, it had started to rain even harder.

The Cubs went out in the ninth, and we were headed to extras. A gift from the Baseball Gods.

Well, a reluctant gift, apparently. Viewers came back from the commercial break for the top of the 10th and were treated to the sight of the grounds crew pulling the tarp out over the infield. History would be made, but it would have to wait a little longer.

Twitter reacted characteristically. “We’ve learned curses control the weather,” one tweeter wrote. “Well, at least baseball season will extend a day longer than we all anticipated it would go,” wrote another.

Indeed it did: The baseball season extended one additional day, or, to be precise, 47 minutes. In the top of the 10th, Kyle Schwarber led off for the Cubs. Before the World Series, Schwarber hadn’t played a game since April 7. He had returned improbably, with only grudging approval from his doctor. And just a week after returning from a six-month absence, Schwarber singled to lead off the top of the 10th and put the go-ahead run on base for his team.

In an ordinary game, this would have been the story of the night. It hardly bears mentioning, but this was no ordinary game.

With two men on and one out, it was Ben Zobrist. Zobrist had just won the 2015 World Series with the Royals, and he was going for his second in two years. He lined a shot down the left field line, and the Cubs took the lead.

A close friend of mine follows sports only for their narratives. “I’m rooting for the Indians,” he told me after Davis’ game-tying home run in the eighth. “Nothing better than a walk-off win in game seven.”

I disagreed. “Better narrative: Cubs going for their first World Series win in 108 years; someone besides Aroldis Chapman comes in for the save,” I said. He may have agreed. He wasn’t sure.

After the Cubs brought home another run, making their lead just that much safer, the Indians came up with three outs to work with, three outs to save their season, three outs against Carl Edwards Jr., not the Cubs’ closer of choice, but a formidable opponent nonetheless.

If he got the outs, I told my friend, he would never pay for a meal in Chicago again. And before my friend could say “we’re literally watching the Cubs win the World Series,” Edwards had gotten two of them.

But I sensed some trouble, as did all of the baseball world, when he fell behind 3-0 on Brandon Guyer. Why was I just slightly unnerved? I didn’t know at first. Then I noticed the man in the on-deck circle. Davis, hero of the eighth inning, shining star of clutch moments, hitter of improbable two-run homers.

As far as narrative goes, it doesn’t get any better than that.

But sports don’t always go according to narrative. Sometimes partially, but rarely perfectly. And this proved the case, as Davis singled into center, doing his part but still not quite enough. Guyer came home. Davis turned first and held on. One run game, tying run on base. Joe Maddon coming out to the mound to make a pitching change, Mike Montgomery coming in.

Michael Martinez, the .197 hitter who had been double-switched into the game what seemed like days earlier, stood at the plate. He saw two pitches. The first was a strike. On the second, he swung.

Kris Bryant fielded the slow grounder. He threw across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo. And with that, 108 years of torture and pain no longer mattered.

And that’s how baseball season ended. Now, for the first time since April 3, there’s no baseball in the immediate future. And to be sure, that’s nothing to celebrate. But it was a hell of a way to go out.

James Schapiro ’19 is counting down the (150) days until the Mets play again. He can be reached at james_schapiro@brown.edu.