While I moved little last night, my mind trudged steadily toward sleep, perchance to dream. The game was supposed to be a tidy one, a nice debut that would end in victory in sufficient time for me to write a nice little post and get to bed before 2am.
But these are the Cubs, and little about them goes according to plan
By the time the 12th inning rolled around, I was fading in and out, seeing the game through flashes of the twin strobe lights of my eyelids. The announcement of the batter...the sound and the fury of the swing, right knee bending nearly to the ground...a ball lifted high into the thin air, carrying the hearts of millions of fans with it.
In the stands last night was little Arkansan girl by the name of Kelsie, having made the road trip with her father to hold her "It's Javy Time" sign and cheer on the Cubs. As the evening set in, she commented, "Pretty sunset, daddy," which was both accurate and profound in its brevity.
Little did young Kelsie know that while one burning sphere fell and was extinguished on the Western horizon, another would soon be launched into orbit, rekindling a fire in Cubdom's collective soul.
The stew pot of fans across the nation had been left to simmer for a little over 30 hours, from the time Ednel Javier Baez was called up to the Bigs to the time he'd actually make his debut. The anxiety was palpable, as friends and family gathered around the television, radio, or mobile device to find out what the young phenom would do.
A strikeout in his first at-bat was taken in stride, with most saying, "it's okay, that's his game; the kid is a swinger." Then a ground out in the 4th and another K in the 6th were met with similar caveats, though one could sense perhaps the slightest tinge of anxiety in the justifications.
Then came the 7th inning, a wild and wacky frame even by the Cubs' standards, and with emphasis on wild. Despite recording no hits and receiving no help from Rockies errors, the Cubs batted around.
After coming on in relief of Franklin Morales, Tommy Kahnle promptly walked Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro prior to striking out Justin Ruggiano. He then walked Luis Valbuena to load the bases, earning the hook from Rox manager Walt Weiss.
Nick Masset fared no better in his brief stint, walking Welington Castillo, whose mammoth blast in the previous inning had been the Cubs' only tally, to bring Rizzo home. Rex Brothers was then brought in to pitch to Chris Coghlan and, wait for it...walked him to tie the game.
Chris Valaika, the seventh Cubs batter in the inning, was the first to put a ball in play as his sac fly scored Luis Valbuena and gave the Cubs the lead. Arismendy Alcantara then worked a walk to load the bases and bring Javier Baez to the plate once again.
Bases loaded, 2 out, Cubs up 1, super stud power hitter up. Only edges of seats were being used, if people were sitting at all. Then Weiss made like Tony LaRussa, signalling for another pitching change, the fourth in the frame. Time stretched unnaturally as Baez awaited his turn.
Finally able to step in, Javy took a cut and sent an absolute laser into right, a liner that might have pierced the wall had it not been flagged down. The only good thing about the hit was that it was over so quickly that the collective breath fans had been holding was let out before anyone could turn blue.
It was also nice to see the young man make solid contact, to show even a glimpse of what that preternatural bat speed can eventually do for the Northsiders.
But alas, Cub killer Nola Arenado tied the came in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to deep left field. In the past several games against the Rockies, Cubs fans have learned to hate the slick-fielding third baseman for his glove, which has become a virtual cemetery for solid hits.
The 8th inning passed with little fanfare, but then LaTroy Hawkins came on in the 9th and promptly did LaTroy Hawkins things, proving once again that we can't do what he does. By that, I mean that we can't field a bunt from Luis Valbuena and fire the ball about a half mile wide of first base.
But it was all for naught, as the Cubs failed to capitalize. With the score still tied in the 10th, Baez came up again and whiffed for the third time. Fingernails were chewed, nervous facial tics began to develop, second guesses were made. On to the 11th.
The Cubs once again took the lead on a Ryan Sweeney single that scored Castro, but the real news was that Arismendy Alcantara made the last out. Fans were actually pulling for the Rockies to tie the game again so that Baez could get just one more shot.
Sometimes wishes do come true. Charlie Culbertson, who had come on to pinch run for Arenado earlier, drove in a run with a shallow single to right. When Justin Morneau struck out to end the inning, it was if fate had intervened on the Cubs behalf.
We deserve this, fans thought as one.
And that's about the time I started to fade, dropping into a half-sleep that put a wrinkle in time and a thin veil over reality. So it was that I believed I was dreaming when I saw the bright orb sailing over the 375 sign and into the wooded bullpen in right-center.
Fever-sick with anticipation, my mind had conjured an image of Javier Baez rounding the bases after giving the Cubs a lead with his first MLB homer, in extra innings no less. But as Len Kasper's voice sliced through my caul of sleep with nearly the same fierce violence of Baez's bat, I found truth to be better than fiction.
It was just one game, but for those who have been waiting and following, biding and buying time, this Javy Bomb was like the first dividend check from a from once-questionable investment. Baez is now part of a lineup with a lot of sex appeal, particularly at the top half of the order, where two members have combined for 4 All-Star Game appearances and none of whom are older than 24.
Fifth place in the division is a foregone conclusion at this point, but if they keep playing like they have been, the Cubs could mess up their draft slot. Then again, they could also wreck some playoff scenarios in the process, which could be fun in a sadistic sort of way.
And speaking of fun, that's what watching the Cubs was last night. When's the last time we could say that? Tom said it yesterday: Javy Baez has brought it back to Cubs baseball, and it's gonna be one hell of a ride from here.
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