By: Anthony Del Fiacco
Not that it had an especially difficult hurdle to clear, but October 13, 2015, was doubtlessly the best night of the 18 seasons I have spent as a Cubs fan.
Before I start, I just want to say I will not waste precious font discussing the extent to which this team blew past preseason expectations. After all, they are far from the only team in this 2015 postseason to do so. The Astros and Mets also moved their rebuilds ahead of schedule. The Rangers went worst-to-first in the American League West. The Blue Jays, only one game above .500 on August 1, are playing deep into October for the first time in 22 years. (And they certainly wasted no time giving a new generation of Ontarians their own “Touch ‘em all, Joe!” moment.) Even the defending AL pennant winners in Kansas City surpassed the predictions of “experts”—exactly zero FanGraphs writers, for example, pegged the Royals to even make the postseason.
So, instead, I will just fast-forward to Tuesday and the two big firsts in franchise history the Cubs accomplished that night. First, they finally clinched a series in Wrigley Field. Second, and more importantly, they finally got the best of the St. Louis Cardinals.
And it wasn’t enough that they simply beat their rivals in the first playoff meeting between the two. After St. Louis took the opener 4-0, Chicago dominated them in three straight wins.
They did it with greater power: 10 combined home runs in the three wins. Jorge Soler got the party started in Game 2 with a three-run shot off Jaime Garcia, which busted open a 5-1 Cubs advantage. The next six all came in Game 3, a postseason record, with the winds blowing out towards Lake Michigan. (Here’s a video of all six for your enjoyment.) The final three, in Game 4, were each uniquely painful arrows through the Cardinals’ hearts.
First, Javier Baez erased an early St. Louis lead with an opposite-field three-run homer.
(embed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHcd8G8gX7M here)
Next, Anthony Rizzo put the Cubs ahead for good in the sixth inning.
(embed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpEJ5R7HwzY here)
Finally, for the coup de grâce, Kyle Schwarber tore a baseball-shaped hole in God’s blue sky.
(embed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlJJfyatUNo here)
They did with a greater performance from their bullpen. A group of castoffs and bargains, the Cubs’ relievers tossed six combined innings of solid work in the clincher. Trevor Cahill, Fernando Rodney, and Clayton Richard were each designated for assignment at some point this season. Yet here was Cahill, earning a 2.34 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 28 K in 19.2 IP with the Cubs (including playoffs), as well as the “W” in Game 4. Here was Rodney (0.75 ERA, 15 K in 12 IP), defiantly firing one of his signature arrows as he came off the mound, that he did it in the middle of the inning be damned. Clayton Richard hadn’t even pitched since 2013 before he joined Chicago. Yet here he was, striking out Cub-killer Jason Heyward in the seventh with two out and two men on.
They did it with greater depth. Soler, who sat out Game 1, reached base in his first nine postseason plate appearances (another record.) In Game 4, he made the defensive play of the series throwing out Tony Cruz at the plate, stopping him from grabbing the lead. Baez, who battled through both tragedy and injury this year to earn his September call-up, relieved Addison Russell at shortstop when Russell strained his hamstring in Game 3. Though not as prolific as Russell on defense, the upgrade on offense he provided manifested itself in that aforementioned home run.
They did it, amazingly, without either of their aces, Jon Lester and destroyer of worlds Jake Arrieta, earning a win in the series (Though Lester certainly earned his hefty paycheck in a terrific Game 1 outing).
They did it because, simply put, the Cubs were better. Full stop.
It feels good to finally beat St. Louis. The cloying, intolerable nature of the Best Fans in Baseball* is well documented, but they’re not the ones on the field. For most of this young century, and certainly for almost all of this decade, the Cardinals’ success has been as much of an autumnal constant as the changing of the leaves. It certainly helps to have the amazing player development system they have in St. Louis. If anything, the Cardinals organization inspired the blueprint Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wrote up for the Cubs when they arrived in Chicago.
(*- Out of fairness, I will say the Cardinals fans I personally know here at MU have been great sports about this loss. Some are even pulling for the Cubs! Every fan base has its bad apples, blah blah blah.)
Four years later, the players Epstein and Hoyer developed for their own project finally ripened. More than that, they kicked the collective ass of their longtime tormenter, and celebrated that ass-kicking by stomping all over the ridiculous notion of “acting like you’ve been here before.” To hell with that. These Cubs literally haven’t been here before. And because they’re so young, so talented, you have to wonder how many more times they’ll be here in the years to come.
And you know what will happen each time? They’ll still act like they’ve never been here before. One of the greatest joys in life is when you love your job, when you enjoy what you do every day you clock in. And if there’s one thing these Cubs are better at than playing baseball, it’s enjoying what they do. Your unwritten rules—your antiquated notions of “respecting the game” through sucking all emotion the life out of the sport—have overstayed their welcome. This is the era of bat flips, tilted caps and pimped out homers now. This is the era of the game actually being what games are supposed to be: fun.
This era will need a new standard bearer. What better candidate for the job than arguably the best team left in the field?