I woke up Sunday morning to a text from a Chicago Cubs fan who had a sleepless night after watching their 13-inning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I guess the good lord doesn’t want the Cubs to win,” the text read.
He was referring to Harry Caray’s call of a 3-2 win over the Montreal Expos on Aug. 2, 1984, before any of the current Cubs players were born. Expos star Pete Rose hit a liner off closer Lee Smith that deflected into the air and was caught on the fly by shortstop Dave Owen, who threw to first for a game-ending double play.
“Cubs win, Cubs win, what a lucky break,” Caray yelled. “The good lord wants the Cubs to win.”
Flash forward 39 years later to Saturday night, when the Cubs were one out from beating the Diamondbacks in 13 innings before Emmanuel Rivera hit a line drive that deflected off reliever Hayden Wesneski’s right elbow and into the air toward shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Instead of running in and attempting a game-ending catch off the ricochet, Swanson inexplicably let the ball drop to try and throw Rivera out at first base. He couldn’t get a grip on it, and the tying run scored.
“Oh, no,” Marquee analyst Jim Deshaies said of the unfortunate turn of events in decibels much lower than Ron Santo’s famous “Oh, no” call during a blown game in the 1998 wild-card race.
The Diamondbacks then won 7-6 on Gabriel Moreno’s RBI single, sending the Cubs to their fourth straight loss, and followed up with a 6-2 win Sunday, sweeping the series and taking over the second National League wild-card spot. The Cubs were tied for the third spot entering Monday with the Miami Marlins.
“In hindsight, if I could have come in and tried to dive and caught it, that probably would’ve been the best move,” Swanson told reporters of the ball that deflected off Wesneski. “I was setting up to try and catch and throw to first base, but obviously, in hindsight, would have tried to dive and catch it in the air.”
Whether some higher power guided the deflection to Owen in ’84 or allowed the deflection off Wesneski to bounce Saturday is a question best left to theologians. But I do know the Cubs won the National League East by 6 1/2 games in 1984, so the wild win over the Expos in early August wasn’t crucial in the big scheme of things.
Whether the crushing 13-inning loss to the Diamondbacks affects the ’23 Cubs in the playoff push remains to be seen. But if they miss the playoffs by one game, it will be an easy one for fans to look back on in anger — having watched Cubs relievers waste leads in the 10th, 11th and 13th innings in an excruciating loss.
The Cubs can make it moot by making the playoffs.
They still have a good shot, albeit not as good as on Sept. 6 when they trailed the Milwaukee Brewers by 1 1/2 games in the National League Central and held a 3 1/2 game cushion over the Marlins for the second wild-card spot.
They begin their final six-game homestand of the season Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates and finish up over the weekend with three games against the Colorado Rockies, the worst team in the league. The ball is in their hands.
Marquee Sports Network postgame hosts Ryan Dempster and Carlos Peña pointed out after Sunday’s loss that if you told fans back in late June when the Cubs were 10 games under .500 that they’d be in the wild-card race with two weeks left, most people would’ve been happy.
That’s one way of looking at it.
The other way is the Cubs had firm control of the second wild-card spot before dropping eight of their last 10 games against the Diamondbacks and Rockies, scoring 23 combined runs in those eight losses.
Bellinger, their most valuable player, has hit .205 over that 10-game stretch with a .564 OPS. He carried the team in July and August, but needs to pick up the slack over the next two weeks if he plans to play in October. The championship vibes he and Swanson brought into the clubhouse in spring training will now be tested.
With the possibility of a wild-card series in Wrigley Field dwindling, this could be the final time Cubs fans see the team that’s provided them with the most entertaining season since 2018, when they battled the Brewers to Game 163 and then lost the wild-card game to the Rockies.
Kyle Hendricks, the last Cubs player remaining from the 2016 champions, could be making his final home start on Thursday against the Pirates. Hendricks has a $16 million club option for 2024 which could be picked up, but who knows? Hendricks’s comeback season proved to skeptics he was far from done, but he’ll be 34 next year and the Cubs have younger and cheaper options for the rotation.
It also could be the end of watching Bellinger and Marcus Stroman in blue pinstripes, so expect a standing ovation or two for a couple of fan favorites.
Bellinger, who came to Chicago with modest expectations and proved to be the best signing of Jed Hoyer’s presidency, clearly is headed for free agency and a huge payday. Whether Hoyer has the stomach to give him the biggest contract in franchise history — after doing so with Swanson’s $177 million deal last winter — is unknown. Rest assured Cubs fans will try to convince Bellinger this is where he needs to be.
Stroman, pitching in relief without any minor league outings after rehabbing from his rib cartilage fracture, also figures to receive a rousing welcome. The Cubs obviously would’ve fallen even farther than 10 games under .500 without Stroman’s dominating performance in the first 2 1/2 months, including the “Stropener” on Opening Day. With an opt-out clause he’s expected to exercise if he proves he’s healthy down the stretch, Stroman could be pitching at Wrigley for the last time as a Cub.
Also on tap this week will be the highly anticipated Wrigley debut of Bellinger’s heir apparent, Pete Crow-Armstrong, the most hyped Cubs prospect since Kris Bryant in 2015. Crow-Armstrong flashed some leather on his first road trip but is still seeking his first hit after starting out 0-for-8.
Recall that Ryne Sandberg started his Cubs career in 1982 hitless in his first 20 at-bats, and 1-for-32. Sandberg turned out OK, as will Crow-Armstrong.
Seasons come and go, each one leaving their own distinct mark on Cubs fans. Some end with promise, and others with pain.
Whether this one will be remembered as a new beginning or as an agonizing finish is why we can’t stop watching.