The Day After Clinching

The Day After Clinching

I bought two tickets for today’s game almost a month ago, long before I had any idea of what the postseason implications would be, but as September 26 approached and it looked increasingly like it would provide an opportunity for the Cubs to clinch on that day, I was really hoping for the opportunity to be there to celebrate when it happened.

When it became clear though that the Cubs could clinch the day before, on Friday, I certainly wasn’t about to root against that happening. However, when they lost Friday’s game and I realized that a Giants win would mean they would have to win today to officially clinch their playoff spot, I stayed up watching the Oakland – San Francisco game quietly hoping that the Giants would win. Of course, they did not, and that loss ensured the playoff spot for the Cubs, making my trip to Wrigley today a different kind of experience.

With that, I’m going to reflect on the day in a few different areas that stood out to me:

Atmosphere

I’ve been to late September games at Wrigley a few times before, and I had found that there was something about it that I really liked. Most years, the Cubs are long out of it, so the crowd consists of mainly die hards and season ticket holders. Most casual fans stop going to games after Labor Day, I suspect. I took the above picture from my seat  at today’s game, and as you can see, the place is packed. And it still had that mid-summer feel to the crowd in a lot of ways. One guy in the row in front of me was Facetiming a friend through 2 solid innings. Not to talk about the game or show his friend what was happening. Just to talk to each other. And my wife gets worried because I stop texting at all while I’m there.

But what was notable was that, even among the Carnival Crowd (as I have called them in my head for years now), there’s a different vibe. Not just that the Cubs are so much better and that they are headed to the playoffs, but in two other ways that caught my attention. One, no one around me expected to lose the game or was content with the Cubs playing badly. The fans expect them to be good. Even down 4-0 in the last two innings, no one was leaving, and there was an air of expectancy there. We all thought the Cubs were perfectly capable of overcoming that deficit, even with just a few outs left. Two, the conversations are different. One woman defended David Ross to her husband when he complained about his batting average, saying that his defense was vital to the team. Another fan was actively keeping track of Francisco Liriano‘s pitch count, hoping that the Cubs could get it high enough to run him out of there. I was surrounded by people keeping score themselves.

Even on the Red Line afterward, no one was celebrating the fact that we were in the playoffs, they were actually a little sullen because of the 4-0 loss. No one wants to just sit back and rest on those laurels anymore. Win, and keeping winning.

Game thoughts

I won’t get into a full game recap here because there are plenty of other places where you can find that, but there were a few things that stood out to me during today’s game that I’ll share here. There is something about being at the game in person that allows for different kinds of observations than you get from watching on TV (like watching Addison Russell at shortstop – it’s just not quite the same on the screen).

First of all, I had low expectations for Jason Hammel, and he both met and exceeded them somehow. Through the first 4 innings, he looked great. He was getting the Pirates hitters to ground out over and over again, and he was pitching very efficiently. He honestly looked like he could go 7, or even 8, solid scoreless innings and turn it over to the back end of our bullpen. Then the 5th inning came. We know that there’s something about the second time through the order with any pitcher, but this seemed to be especially glaring with Hammel today. The Pirates tagged him for 6 straight hits in a row, including a 3 run home run that was preceded by two consecutive singles. If the Cubs do make it to a playoff series, they have probably a serious problem here. If Hammel can’t be relied upon to go more than 3 or 4 trustworthy innings, then using him in the rotation might not be a possibility.

On offense, Kris Bryant was the only real spark, but I couldn’t help but notice that, with the wind blowing in, the Cubs had a few deep fly balls that could have ended up very differently with the wind blowing out. In all, our offense never stood much of a shot against Liriano. He was just too good today. Were he pitching against a different team, I would have taken great joy from watching him today. He was brilliant.

Building a tradition

For the second time in his young life, my 4 1/2 year old son came to the game with me today. His very first trip to Wrigley was on May 3 of this season, and he has talked non stop ever since about “going back to baseball.” He’s in love with it. He loves the adventure of the Metra train from our house in the suburbs, the noisy bus ride, and the walk down Clark until we can see Wrigley on our left and McDonald’s on our right.

I wasn’t sure if the shine would have worn off this time, him having gone before, so I was a little worried that he might not have the patience to sit through 9 innings like he did 4 months ago. I was totally wrong. He loved it even more. His face lit up when Kris Bryant hit a double, and he clapped loudly and said, “Daddy, I am so excited! I’m super happy!”

He stayed gladly through all 9 innings of a shutout, and then when it was time to leave after the final out, he didn’t want to go. I had to coax him out of the stadium and onto the street outside, and when I asked him if he was ready to go home, he said, “No. I want to stay here. With this.”

And he pointed up to Wrigley. “This,” he said. “I want to stay here for more baseball.”

He’s too young to understand the game fully, but something about it has taken a hold on him already. He asks to watch with me on TV, listen on the radio, and most of all, “go to baseball.”

Filed under: Cubs Thoughts

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