Oh, well. Cinderella learned the hard way that fairy godmothers have only limited extra dispensations. Joe Hardy learned the harder way that you can fool the devil only once, after you were fool enough to cut a deal with him in the first place.
And if Applegate needed any way to hammer the point home, he couldn’t have chosen better than Clayton Kershaw looking like near-vintage Clayton Kershaw when he needed most to look that way in a postseason game.
Or, turning the Cub bullpen into arsonists.
Or, Enrique (Kike—pronounced “key-kay”) Hernandez, going from nothing special to never better, with one swing in the top of the second, a second one in the top of the third, and a rather cruel exclamation point of a swing in the top of the ninth.
A drained Cub Country could only sing No, Cubs, No! The Cubs’ reign as defending World Series champions ended with a whimper because the Dodgers ended it with a big bang or two before National League Championship Series Game Five’s fourth inning was over.
The same Cubs who fought tooth, fangs, and claws to win the 2016 World Series looked spent, drained, and wrung out in this NLCS. Maybe that insane in the brain division series cage match with the Nationals spent, drained, and wrung them out to a particular extent. But who expected the Cubs to look this futile, even allowing that these Dodgers, top to bottom, played and pitched like the immovable force?
Bad enough Hernandez hitting Cub starter Jose Quintana’s first pitch of the second inning over the center field wall. When he swung on Cub reliever Hector Rondon’s first pitch to him in the top of the third, with the bases loaded and nobody out, and drove it into the right field bleachers, Wrigley Field performed a perfect impersonation of a graveside service.
No wonder it barely registered when Hernandez hit reliever Mike Montgomery’s 2-0 meatball down the pipe over the center field wall with Yasiel Puig aboard. Corpses don’t cry. But Puerto Rico probably cheered through their devastation—Hernandez and the Dodgers’ ownership are said to have had a deal to donate mucho dinero to the ravaged island based on Hernandez’s performance.
“Obviously, people back home are having a really hard time right now. For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special,” Hernandez said. “My body’s here, but my mind’s kind of back home. It’s hard being away from home with what’s going on. To be able to do this on a stage like this and against the Cubs that beat us last year and to get us to the World Series, it’s amazing.”
You expect to get beaten, if you’re going to get beaten, by big sticks. If it were Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, or Yasiel Puig destroying the Cubs so explosively Thursday night, it might have been comprehensible.
A .215 hitter in 2017 isn’t the man you expect to become the first Dodger to drop three atomic bombs in a postseason game and the tenth in major league history, even if he did hit eleven out on the regular season. Or, the Dodger who’d tie the National League record for runs batted in in a single postseason game.
And, if this can be believed, Hernandez was a three-run homer shy of homering for a cycle. Obviously, the kid just wasn’t consistent.
Compared to Hernandez’s demolition, Cody Bellinger’s RBI double scoring Chris Taylor in the first, Justin Turner’s RBI single earlier in the third, and Logan Forsythe’s two-run double in the fourth seemed almost incidental.
No, Cubs, no!
Maybe a few Cub fans tipped their beaks to the Dodgers finding ways to get back to the World Series for the first time since the end of the Reagan Administration. (Kershaw, for trivia experts, was born that year.) And maybe a few surrounding them demanded their arrest and prosecution for treachery.
The Cubs looked like they were rising from the dead in Game Four. The Dodgers in Game Five made then look like the fish who has a few hops and slaps and jumps in him before expiring after being hauled up aboard the fishing trawler.
The Dodgers’ pitching staff, effective enough starters and a bullpen behaving like arresting officers at the scene of anticipated crimes, plain outmatched the Cubs. If you didn’t count Kris Bryant’s almost excuse-me blast over the left field wall with one out in the bottom of the fourth Thursday night, the Cubs seemed lost for solving the Dodger arms.
Or, their own. The Cub bullpen’s postseason ERA this time around: 6.16. Its NLCS ERA: 5.75. Having Davis wasn’t half the issue that getting a game to him was. And after he was drained for a six-out Game Four save after being ignored when needed most in the ninth of Game Two, Cub manager Joe Maddon couldn’t even think about him for Game Five.
Maddon, unfortunately, made sure he wouldn’t have to. With righthanded hitters due up after Puig’s bases-loading single in the third chased Quintana, Maddon reached for his weakest possible righthanded pen option in Rondon—who’d been left off the Cubs’ division series roster and had a 4.24 regular season ERA. The good news for the Cubs was Forsythe striking out swinging. The bad news was Hernandez coming up next.
While the Dodgers wrung the Cubs pitching staff with protracted at-bat after protracted at-bat, the Cubs’ hitters looked mostly as though patience was a vice at the plate. The not-so-big men looked like big men in isolated spots, particularly Javier Baez and his two Game Four bombs, but they reverted to their not-so-big-men status almost in an overnight blink.
There was no Grandpa Rossy this time around to offer up that veteran’s calming voice and hand, the way David Ross did with Anthony Rizzo last year. Nobody this time seemed to step up in the dugout and deliver the pep talk that was only too badly needed too early. It was almost as if the Cubs unknowingly told each other, We got back from almost slipping away mid-season without any big spiritual help, and we can do it again.
No, Cubs, no.
Not on a night Kershaw finally beat his postseason demons, never mind that Dodger manager Dave Roberts could afford to give him a break and get him rested for the World Series with an eight-run lead after six strong innings. With a bullpen like the Dodgers’, these Cubs could have come up to the plate swinging aircraft hangar doors and done nothing much substantial.
They scored eight runs all series long and every one of the eight crossed the plate courtesy of home runs. They never figured out how to pressure the Dodgers at the plate, they forgot how to build and manufacture runs, and they acted as though compelling even the Dodgers’ howitzers to throw pitches they really wanted was an exercise in compromise.
Small wonder Bryant went 4-for-20 in the NLCS with one solo homer providing his only RBI. Smaller wonder Rizzo went 1-for-17 with a walk, a plunk, and no RBIs. Small wonder the Dodgers out-walked the Cubs, drawing 28 to the Cubs’ five. Smallest wonder that the heart of the Cubs order suffered cardiac arrest.
During Game Four, Kershaw was a kind of divided mind. “I can’t assume we’re going to win and then it just so happens I have to pitch,” he said after the Cubs surprised them by staying alive and ducking the sweep. “I have to expect to pitch and then be surprised when we win.”
Maddon—whose turn to John Lackey instead of Davis in a tied Game Two produced the Turner three-run bomb that just might have turned the NLCS away from the Cubs irrevocably—could only be gracious. “The better team won over the course of these five games,” Maddon said after it all ended.
For three consecutive seasons the National League pennant has been won at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the one in the middle, at the Dodgers’ expense. For the Dodgers there has to be something satisfying about exacting vengeance in the home of the guys who done you wrong the last time out.
For the Cubs? It’s no crime to run into a steel wall, both the one built in Los Angeles and the one built of their own making. The core of the club is still young enough to learn that patience in the defense of a title, any title, never mind a World Series title, is no vice.
They may have to find a substantial replacement for free agent-to-be Jake Arrieta, and Lackey may be at the end of a fine career whose final turns as a Cub weren’t even close to his former best, but a bullpen overhaul wouldn’t be out of order, either.
Assuming these Cubs are held together with most of the key parts intact and those aforesaid adjustments made, another run in 2018 is not unrealistic. But it sure was fun being the defending World Series champions, wasn’t it?
And, what the hey, it took the Red Sox three years to claim a second World Series title after they, too, busted their actual or alleged curses in 2004. Boston learned to live with it. Chicago can, too. After getting over he saddest joke that’ll be thrown Cub Country’s way this winter, of course: “Ahhhhh, wait till last year.”