Tonight, after allowing a one out walk in the top of the ninth inning, Aroldis Chapman threw a fastball that Yasiel Puig bounced to shortstop. And the world changed.
The Chicago Cubs are going to the World Series. Usually that’s the kind of sentence that signals “You are about to read a work of fiction.” But you’re not. There were no twelve year olds on the mound. Michael J. Fox didn’t cruise down Clark Street on his hoverboard. This is real life.
We are living in a video game commercial.
In order to get to the Series, all the Cubs had to do was defeat the best pitcher on the planet. Who had just shut them down on two hits through seven innings in Game 2, sending the offense into a funk and the fanbase into the kind of panic usually reserved for a two game losing streak in June.
Not only that–once it became clear that the NLCS was moving to a Game 6 at Wrigley Field, the narrative machine fired up to deliver take after take flashing back to the 2003 collapse. Because as Joe Buck, Pete Rose, and the entire FS1 crew have repeatedly demonstrated, sports media will go to the farthest lengths possible to keep from talking about something relevant.
But despite all of this, the pennant clincher ended up defining the 2016 Cubs. Because after two days of worry and distractions that put the fanbase on edge, the Cubs went out and executed one of the most one-sided wins they’ve played all year.
Kershaw might be the undisputed greatest pitcher of our generation. But it was his misfortune to spend the night going up against a Goddamn cyborg. The only thing less likely than the Dodgers reaching second base tonight was Kyle Hendricks showing an emotion. All year long, Hendricks has evoked comparisons to Greg Maddux. Tonight, he pitched as if he was trying to make Maddux look like Carlos Zambrano.
The greatest night of our baseball lives started as inauspiciously as possible with Hendricks giving up a lead-off single to the sizzling hot Andrew Toles. But before anyone could complain about throwing a first pitch fastball to a hitter who has punished that pitch all series, Hendricks’s next one produced a bouncer to second from Rookie of the Year Corey Seager.
Javy Baez continued his seasonlong effort to make it look like his tags should be signed by Monet, extending as much as possible to nail an evasive Toles before firing to first to complete the double play. And just like that, the Dodgers’ single best offensive chance of the night was snuffed out.
In the third, Josh Reddick would reach on a Baez error. Hendricks took care of him with an inning-ending pick-off. And he would go on to face the minimum until a one out single by Reddick in the eighth. It wasn’t a perfect game. Except for the fact that it was perfect.
Offensively, the Cubs made it clear from the bottom of the first that tonight would be much different for Kershaw. Dexter Fowler began the greatest night of our baseball lives by blooping an outside pitch to right field for a double that landed about five feet inside the foul line. As if to say “what a great idea,” Kris Bryant immediately followed by dropping an outside fastball into right to send Fowler home.
After spending a year with Baseball Prospectus, I have been gifted with profound baseball insights like this: it’s usually a good sign when a team scores the winning run before they make an out.
Anthony Rizzo followed with a well-struck fly to medium deep left field. Toles camped under it and looked ready to make the catch. But as the ball descended, he apparently caught a glimpse of Bryant’s eyes and that was all it took to take all of his attention away and cause him to drop the ball.
And now we know that in spite of all the unexplained mysteries of the universe, we can safely conclude that Ron Santo is in charge of karma.
The error left runners on second and third with no outs. Even though this was a great situation, it was still conceivable for Kershaw to escape it. And sure enough, he quickly got ahead of Ben Zobrist with two quick strikes. But Zobrist proved up the test, making good contact on a pitch down in the zone and sending a sacrifice fly to center field.
Kershaw had to throw 30 pitches to escape the first, which was good enough for about four innings in Game 2. And the Cubs wouldn’t let him off the hook all night. Fowler delivered a two out RBI in the second to up the score to 3-0. Willson Contreras laced a line drive homer to left in the fourth. Imagine what he could do if he had more than three months of service time.
Rizzo completed the scoring in the fifth by launching a 1-1 fastball into the right field bleachers. In doing so, he became the first left handed batter to homer off of Kershaw since Daniel Murphy did so in Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS. And there is nothing better than this: that factoid is relevant in the 2016 playoffs but Daniel Murphy isn’t.
The sign on the right field rooftop now reads “AC OO OO 108.” And the clip of Harry Caray predicting that “sure as God made green apples, someday the Cubs are going to be in a World Series” sounds sweeter than ever.
The 2016 Chicago Cubs. National League Champions. It’s appropriate that it came against the Dodgers because I don’t believe what I just saw.
Lead photo courtesy Jon Durr—USA Today Sports.