These are not good times to be a Cubs fan, as those of you who regularly read this space are all too aware of late. My partner in this space, who self-describes as a Die Hard Fan and an Optimistic Realist and our contributor whom he classifies, subtly though distinctly differently as a Die Hard Fan and a Pessimistic Realist are hurting big time.
They have lost all four road games this week by a total of five runs to teams that had previously wrapped up division titles and had little to play for. They have forged comebacks only to self-destruct in the later innings. In Atlanta on Tuesday night, with an inning-ending fly ball all but caught, Seiya Suzuki evoked the distant memories of Brant Brown at the least desirable time, allowing the Braves to rally for a lead that they eventually forged an extra-inning win out of. Last night, after spotting the Brewers a 3-0 lead, they were able to pull off late-inning rally to force another extra-inning affair before the Manfred Man rule and one ill-fated pitch sealed their fate. I don’t need to provide you with more details than that–if you’re cut from the same cloths as they are, you already do and you’d probably prefer I’d shut up at this point.
Here’s all this die hard and pessimistic realist who roots for the team that swept you out of the 2015 National League Championship series can say in response: In 2007, the same year you all pulled off the transcendent free agent signing of Ted Lilly from a hospital bed and won YOUR division, we were virtually wrapping up the defense of our division championship–our first in 20 seasons–and were seven up on the Philadelphia Phillies with 17 games to play. I had FOX tickets for the Division Series and a fully justified business trip already booked. And for those who may have forgotten, right then their fortunes reversed, the Phils stormed to a miraculous comeback that reversed their own memories of blowing the 1964 pennant to St. Louis with a similar advantage (6 1/2 up with 10 to play), set the stage for an equally disappointing 2008 season where the Mets couldn’t quite get over the hump a mid-season letdown that cost manager WIllie Randolph his job (right after he split a doubleheader with Texas that turned out to be the last-ever games I saw live in Shea Stadium and then boarded an overnight flight to Anaheim where he learned of his fate on the tarmac), and it took the team until that miraculous 2015 season to redeem any sort of hope of us pessimists. I know THEY know what happened to their team the year after that.
Which is why even amidst all of this heartbreak and tumult it’s important to take note of exactly what has happened in the last couple of nights with the Miami Marlins. If you are one of their fans, well, you’re a relative rarity. This is a 30-year-old team that hasn’t been anywhere near a post-season berth in a full season with fans in 20. They changed their name and colors with little success (ironically, this year in honor of the anniversary they have been playing select home games wearing the lighter teal shade and the “F” cap they somehow stole two World Championships in their first 10 years of existence with, only to see previous ownership conduct historic fire sales to gut those teams of their veteran leaders soon afterwards). Their best young prospect, fireballing pitcher Jose Fernandez, was killed at age 24 in a tragic boating accident. They chased Derek freaking’ JET-AH out of South Beach.
And yet, last night, against an admittedly inferior but pesky Pirates team (ask any Cubs fan, pessimist or optimist, how last week’s results against them mattered; their manager certainly had some thoughts), this happened, as the ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Will Graves told the world:
The Miami Marlins arrived in Pittsburgh bleary-eyed. There’s an increasingly good chance they’ll leave it a playoff team.
Josh Bell’s two-run double keyed a four-run, eighth-inning rally and the surprising Marlins moved closer to a postseason berth with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.
“I don’t even know what to say,” first-year manager Skip Schumaker explained. “Those games happen, it feels like every other day. And it’s just fun to watch.”
Miami’s magic number to earn the third and final wild-card spot in the National League fell to one when it surged past the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs fell in Milwaukee in 10 innings.
Oops, I promised to leave out that last point. Sincere apologies, Die Hards.
But, if anything, it was a reinforcement of the kind of resolve the Marlins displayed the night before in New York, where a ninth inning rally started off against Cubs castoff Anthony Kay was producing a similar outcome, until fate not seen by New Yorkers and Mets fans in 40 and 50 years respectively intervened, per SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Emma Baccellieri:
The Marlins came from behind to grab a one-run lead over the Mets in the top of the ninth Thursday. But with four outs left to play, the game was put in a rain delay, leaving the teams to watch and wait for three hours. (That included one particularly maddening stretch where the weather looked ostensibly agreeable, but the window passed before the umpires made a call to resume play, much to the chagrin of Marlins manager Skip Schumaker.) Finally, around 1 a.m. ET, the game was officially postponed.
What looms if somehow the Cubs beat the Brew Crew and the Fish drop their last two (and assuming somehow Cincinnati, now tied with the same record with the Cubs doesn’t complicate things further), is a potential event not seen in New York since the Kansas City Royals returned to finish a game they thought had ended when Yankee skipper Billy Martin convinced an umpire that George Brett had an illegal bat, only to have it eventually allowed upon appeal:
It’ll most likely be resumed Monday, four days after the game started, requiring the Marlins to fly back to New York after spending the weekend in Pittsburgh, so they can play four outs the day before the playoffs begin.
It would also evoke memories of when a crazy fall comeback by Mets–in last place, 6 1/2 games out of a six-team National League East division lead on August 30–and bad fall weather required them to fly to a dreary Wrigley Field the day after the season had ended for makeup games against a Cubs team that clearly this year’s Mets–not just Anthony Kay–will identify with should this occur.
But thanks to last night’s results, the chance of that silliness has been reduced to a bare minimum as play starts today.
And for any Cubs fan who somehow thinks it’s their fault, or that of someone like Ross, that they’re in the place they’re in today, I’d recommend rereading the words with which Baccellieri began her recap:
The Marlins have built an incredible habit this season of coming from behind.
They have 40 comeback wins—nearly half of their total victories involved falling behind first. They have been at their best when the margins are slimmest: Their 32–13 record in one-run games is not just the best of any team this season but the best that baseball has seen in years.
These close games are supposed to be statistical tossups, more or less, and Miami has made them look like something close to guaranteed victories. The result is a team most effectively described not with a summary of its strengths and weaknesses but with the simple fact that it has been profoundly weird.
In short, they’ve been doing what the Cubs were supposed to be doing themselves. And lately have been doing the exact opposite to themselves.
And they’ve been doing it under the stewardship of Schumaker, an out-of-the-box choice and a recently retired player who theoretically was capable of bonding better with the young, emerging Marlins team being fielded expertly by former Yankee and White Sox official Kim Ng, the game’s first female general manager. Ng was seen passionately and stoically swallowing her words of frustration as Mets and league officials attempted to explain the myriad of acts of God and crew f-ck-ups that made their final trip to Queens this year a misadventure.
So, colleagues, try not to lay this squarely at the feet of Rossie? He’s had an awful lot of help in creating the situation optimists and pessimists alike find themselves is today. Take notice of what a Miami team is capable of pulling off, and even if they somehow do blow this opportunity what they’ve done so far cannot be dusted under any rug.
Potentially, should this run of luck extend into the post-season, some actual South Florida sports fans might just do that themselves. It won’t be easy for these Fish to be noticed. The NFL team that most know as the Fish (actually, they’re mammals) are 3-0 and just put up 70 on an opponent for the first time in their history. Hockey and basketball teams that each reached their league finals last summer are kicking off their seasons. The U hasn’t lost a football game yet, either.
But that’s their problem, not to mention that of their own set of Die Hards, scant few as they may currently be.
Wouldn’t be the worst thing to do during the likely interminable off-season to see how they did it. And you might want to urge Rossie, Jed and whomever else your vitriol is focused on to do the same.