Cubs fans may be 90% scar tissue, to quote George Will, but now they are also 10% heartache.
The Chicago Cubs, with their National League best 97 wins, sterling roster of pitchers, and should-be live bats, were swept in the first three games of post season for the second consecutive year.
Until the last pitch, Cub fans hung on to hope. Alfonso Soriano, who was expected to carry this team to its first World Series in a century, was a dismal 0-for-5 in the Cubs' final game of 2008.
Not even a week ago, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other fans in Daley Plaza for the Cubs rally, where Derrek Lee and Ernie Banks were cheered, Governor Blagojevich was booed, and Ron Santo promised the crowd that this was our year.
From James Loney's Grand Slam in Game 1, our hometown heroes defeated themselves: Shoulders slumped, choking up so tightly they might snap, striking out and slamming down bats and helmets with a fury that, somehow, never manifested into that clutch hit or out of the park home run. The fans were angry, not because our guys were losing, but because somewhere along the way, the spark and passion the team showed when it clinched the division two weeks ago burned out.
You can lose Game One and still come back. You can lose Game Two and still come back. But not if you play to lose. Not if those "Not again" fears drown out the optimism.
You can't place all the blame on Lou Pinella. You can't place all the blame on any one player, either. Everyone gave up, collectively. I think the saddest sight in the dugout wasn't that no one cared enough to cheer one another on, but when Reed Johnson, our sometimes center fielder, was informed that he would not be pinch hitting in the eighth, after he had already put on his batting gloves and picked up his bat. Johnson batted .303 on the year. The guys around him were sullen and silent, but Johnson had a look of grit and determination on his face that actually lifted me up for a moment--a look that said, "I'll get us back in this"--until he was told to sit back down. He slowly peeled off his gloves and replaced his bat. He knew at that moment that he wouldn't be playing in this postseason.
My fiance, a lifelong Cubs fan, told me a few seasons back that if a particular all-star Cubs player got injured, they'd never make the playoffs. I told him, "If it all comes down to one guy, we didn't deserve to go in the first place." This year was different; this team pulled its weight together. And then they lost it all together.
This was our year for the fans; our year to learn that there is no perfect season. You don't deserve a World Series for having a great record, for pitching to 15+ wins, for performing well on the road and at home. A World Series isn't something to be deserved. It's something to be desired. The second a team loses that collective desire, it's all over.
The Dodgers are not a better team than the Cubs, but this season, they wanted it more than the Cubs did, and they took it from us easily. We didn't put up much of a fight.
I'm hopeful that this Cubs team, predominantly young players who are learning how to integrate their emotions with their talent, will have another great year next year. I'm glad we re-signed Carlos Zambrano, who is worth every penny. I hope that next year, the pressure to finally bring home a World Series win can be channeled into producing runs instead of panic.
George Will also said, ""The trouble with baseball is that it is not played the year round." For a Cubs fan, this winter just got a little longer.