At the current rate, the Cubs may spend the final half of this season hearing one after another whisper, sometimes elevated to a shout, saying, “Ahhhh, wait till last year!” Team president Theo Epstein isn’t willing, however. And Sunday afternoon may have made him even more resolute.
If you predicted entering spring training that the Houston Astros would be a) the team to beat, and b) next to impossible to beat, they would have wrapped you in a straitjacket and sent you on a one-way trip to the Delta Quadrant. But when not rubbing its eyes over the Astros’ 1986 Mets-like ownership of the game thus far, baseball spent the first half of 2017 wondering about certain rule changes actual or to be, wondering whether the baseballs themselves were given shots of rocket fuel (total Show home runs in May and June: 2,161; or, one homer plus per game of Lou Gehrig’s former consecutive-games played streak), and wondering whether the unwritten rules needed to be overthrown post haste.
Once upon a time, Cliff Robertson, playing cartoonish Western villain Shame on the cartoonish television series Batman, barked at one of his henchmen, “A big mouth works best when it’s kept shut!” Miguel Montero, backup catcher whom the Cubs now wish to make a former Cub, is learning the hard way.
It figured. Really. Who else but the Cubs could come home from a season-opening road trip, prepared to hoist their World Series championship flag, and have it delayed by rain?
This rain delay lasted a lot longer than the one during which Jason Heyward pulled his mates to the clubhouse for the pep talk that led to the Cubs breaking the Game Seven tie and holding on to win game, set, and Series five months ago.
It looked innocent as the Bad News Bears Thursday afternoon. Brett Cecil, the Cardinals relief pitcher, threw a fastball to Cubs pinch hitter Matt Szczur opening the top of the seventh that hit the dirt and disappeared, allowing Szczur to reach first despite the stickout–er, strikeout.
Except that the ball didn’t disappear. It bounced into catcher Yadier Molina’s chest protector. And stayed there. Cecil had to shout, “Chest! Chest!” before Molina realised where the ball was. And the amusing mishap, over which even the Cubs had to laugh, proved to be the moment that turned toward the Cubs a game the Cardinals led 4-2 at the time.
Dallas Green, who died today at 82, once told his players he was the toughest sonofabitch for whom they’d ever play. Whether leading the Phillies to their first World Series title or surviving the furies of George Steinbrenner with the 1989 Yankees or the planned obsolescence of the early-to-mid 1990s Mets, Green’s kind of tough let him survive the kind of times that could break the toughest of birds at a moment’s notice.
Dexter Fowler, who hit Game Seven’s fourth pitch over the center field fence? He’s a Cardinal now, having signed with the rivals during the offseason. Aroldis Chapman, gassed at last and serving Rajai Davis a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth? Back to the Yankees from whence he came.
David Ross, who atoned post haste for a wild throw and a run-scoring bounce off his catcher’s mask by hitting one out on Andrew Miller’s dime? Retired. Jason Hammell, the missing man of the rotation with an elbow issue? Free agent, not likely to return, joining a small pack of marksmen who think Joe Maddon doesn’t really know as much about handling pitchers as he thinks.
The next time the world champion Cubs see Aroldis Chapman will be either in regular season interleague play or in the World Series, assuming the Cubs return within the next five years and face the Yankees. Not that they’re complaining about dealing for Wade Davis, but you suspect in their hearts of hearts the Cubs knew Chapman was a second-half rental.
Once upon a time, Motown included a venerable songwriting and production trio, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland. Colloquially, they were known as HDH. Half a century later, the Royals had a late-game bullpen corps of Kelvim Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Also known colloquially as H-D-H.
Somewhere up from the depth of Chicago’s loud, raucous, bigger-than-Woodstock celebration of the Cubs’ transcendental triumph there came a small voice of dissent. Miguel Montero, the no-questions asked hero of National League Championship Series Game One and the man who drove home the eighth and final Cub run of World Series game seven, was not amused by his usage during the Cubs’ postseason run.
Beneath the big smile he flashed during the Cubs’ celebrations Friday beat the heart of a man who believes he could have and should have been allowed more chances to contribute more.