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Dear Cubs Fans: Hang In There

OK, Cubs fans, I'm setting up a nice low bar for you to clear in the early stages of the 2016 postseason: Do not abandon ship en masse, instantaneously.

There will almost certainly come a time in the first two games at Wrigley on Friday and Saturday when the home team will face real adversity for the first time in months. The players will then either make plays or not, regardless of how many goofs stand and wave their arms to try to force fellow fans to make more noise. The arm-wavers won't matter.
But a massive wave of pessimism might.

In the 2008 Divisional Series pitting the Cubs against the Dodgers, Ryan Dempster started Game 1 on the mound. His team had entered the playoffs after cruising through the last month of the regular season on its way to a comfortable Central Division title and 97 victories. The title was their second in as many years, which meant they were in the postseason for the second straight year for the first time since 1908.

Dempster's control was shaky but he worked into and then out of trouble a few times in the first four shutout innings. Meanwhile at the plate for the Cubs, Jim Edmonds reached and Mark DeRosa launched a two-run home run to give the home team the lead. The home fans were loving life.

In the fifth it seemed like more of the same. Dempster walked the bases full but he had done that before and gotten out of it. All that was needed was a double-play ground ball. But that didn't happen this time.

This time Dodgers slugger James Loney stepped up and launched a grand slam. It was the worst thing that had happened to the Cubs since . . .

I was there for Game 7 of the NLCS against the Marlins in 2003. Game 6 was the Bartman game (it should be the Gonzales game for the easy double-play ground ball that went through shortstop Alex Gonzales' legs shortly after Steve Bartman's blunder but at some point you have to give in to history and history says it is the Bartman game). But Game 7 had its own telling sequence.

Fans went into that game shell-shocked. What had been a 3-1 series lead had disappeared. But there was still hope - Kerry Wood was on the mound and the Cubs still needed just one win at home to go to their first World Series since 1945.

The Marlins took an early 3-0 lead but then the Cubs rallied. When Wood stepped up and launched a home run as the team tied it up in the third inning the roar of the crowd was as loud as any I had ever heard anywhere. And then in the fourth, Moises Alou jacked one out to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead. Euphoria!

But we know how it went from there. Wood couldn't hold the lead and the Cubs eventually lost the game 9-6 and the series 4-3.

The Bartman game featured the worst incident of scapegoating Cubs fans have ever seen. When things go south, the human instinct is to zero in on a specific cause and Bartman was perfect. He was driven out of the ballpark by fans who in their dim-witted fury didn't even target the right guy (I think I mentioned him before, didn't I?).

In 2008, Loney's home run (which I also witnessed, to my dismay) set off something similar. But in this instance the anger wasn't directed at anyone in particular (although it wasn't a pleasant walk back to the dugout for Dempster shortly thereafter). The anger, and more accurately the resignation, was diffuse. But it was powerful.

Everyone in the park had been optimistic about the Cubs' chances until that moment. But when Loney's long fly disappeared over the wall, everyone's mood flipped exactly 180 degrees. Every fan there was immediately convinced the Cubs were going down again. And as the series played out, it sure felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Carlos Zambrano started the next game on the mound, the Dodgers won 10-3 and shortly thereafter completed the sweep. The Cubs haven't played a playoff game since.

They will on Friday. Fans, you have your marching orders.

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Comments welcome.

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