THE CUBTOBER DIARY: Here we go again
WASHINGTON D.C. – “Ladies and Gentleman, get your stress balls and heart pills ready, as we present to you another edition of playoff elimination theatre.”
If Pat Piper, the legendary Cubs public address announcer for many years, was still alive, he might have made these changes to his traditional starting lineups introduction.
Hope you heart had the 11 months and ten days to recover from the stress of the last Cubs’ elimination game, because here we go again.
For the second time in as many playoff series, Joe Maddon’s team has needed the full allotment of games to decide a winner in the series. You know the last time – November 2, 2016 – when the Cubs blew a five run lead by allowing the Indians the game with three two-out runs in the eighth inning. There was a ninth inning, 17 minute rain delay, two runs in the tenth by the Cubs, one by the Indians, and then a dribbler to Bryant that was thrown to first to end 108 frustrating years.
That’s the simple way of breaking it down. The emotions were much more complicated, and they figure to return tonight as the Cubs’ title defense comes down to one contest.
“Honestly, I don’t say a whole lot. I actually don’t say anything. I just want them to go and prepare like we normally do. Like I said, we just have to be offensively a little bit better tomorrow. They have been really good,” said Maddon of his approach to his fourth elimination game with the Cubs since 2015. “We have been really good. Listen, they got a Grand Slam.
“Otherwise, its kind of like the same game both sides.”
But there is nothing like an elimination game. There is nothing like winning it, either. The Cubs have done so in the 2015 NL Wild Card game in Pittsburgh and Game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland, with their only elimination game loss coming in Game 4 of the 2015 NLCS against the Mets.
It’s a pressure-game tested team with a pressure-tested pitcher on the mound in Kyle Hendricks – who starts the second elimination game in his last three playoff starts.
“He’s not shy to it. He’s no stranger to these situations,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo of Hendricks. “We’ve got to score some runs for him, plain and simple, he’ll be ready to go and we’ll be ready to go and just go from there.”
Oddly enough, pressure may actually be on the Nationals tonight more than on them. It certainly is for Dusty Baker, who has lost his last nine closeout games as a manager – three games in the 2003 NLCS with Cubs, three in the 2012 NLDS with the Reds, another with the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game the next season, then in 2016 when his Nationals lost Game 4 and 5 of the NLDS to the Dodgers.
Meanwhile the Nationals have never won a playoff series since their move to Washington in 2005, losing three times in the NLDS and two of them were in Game 5.
Not that the Cubs are sympathetic in any way.
“It’s either exultation or being a bug on a windshield; it’s one of the two things,” said Maddon, who has seen his fair share of victories and defeats in You feel great and it’s euphoric, it really is, when you win that game and you move on to the next round. Just to get to the playoffs in the first place always feels that way, too.
“So yeah, it’s all about that, but then when you don’t get ‘er done, it’s abrupt. It’s very abrupt.”
Along with being quite stressful for those who’ll watch tonight like they did 11 months ago.