Game 28: Chicago Cubs
We repeated our trip of last week, but this time with a new player. Eric, Bill and Kathy’s son and Kitty’s nephew, decided to come for the ride. He said it would be un-American not to come with us. He is a real character and I think it was Eric who put the red into red neck. The logistics were the same except this week we went the opposite direction on the Red Line of the “L”, to Addison instead of 35th Street station. Then out into the bright sunshine and one of the real palaces of baseball at the famous intersection of Clark and Addison. The area outside the ballpark was strewn with people and bars as everyone was enjoying the atmosphere of Wrigleyville.
It is difficult to know where to start when describing the spectacle that is Wrigley Field. There is the huge green hand operated scoreboard (reminiscent to me of the old manual black beast at Lancaster Park – I always wanted to work on that scoreboard). The ivy growing on the outfield wall. The “Dutchman’s” stands built on the neighbouring business and the “bleacher bums” soaking up the sun (and beer) in the outfield. There is the “W” and more frequent “L” flags that fly on top of the scoreboard to indicate whether or not the Cubs won or lost on that day. The sign on the top of the visitors dug out that reads “Welcome to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field”. There is all of this and more, this surely is baseball heaven.
Eric knew where we had to start though – The Cubby Bear Bar.
Pittsburgh Pirates…………111 300 100 – 7
Chicago Cubs…………………001 020 012 – 6
This game seemed to be synonymous with the last 103 years of Cub baseball history. Close, but no cigar. I became one of the long legend of tortured Cubs fans who were lead to the brink of the Promised Land, only to have the final ecstasy snatched away at the last moment – this time by Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. He had entered the fray in the ninth innings with a three run lead and he allowed two runs before striking out Chicago’s Dave Sappelt with the bases loaded, to secure the victory for Pittsburgh.
Hanrahan had opened the ninth by allowing a double and a walk before Alfonso Soriano hit a single to bring in the first run. With two outs and two men on bases he issued consecutive walks to score another and leave the bases loaded – ducks on the pond – as we say. My rally cap was working a treat at this stage, but then Sappelt swung errantly at a wide pitch and the dream was shattered.
The day started ominously for Chicago as starting pitcher, Jason Berken, hit Starling Marte, who advanced to third on an errant pick-off attempt by catcher Wellington Castillo. Marte scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Garrett Jones. In the second Pedro Alvarez made it two nil when he scored on a Rod Barajas single off the wall. Andrew McCutchen hit his 28th home run of the season as he lead off the third. This bumped his average up to .341 so he is catching the disgraced Melky Cabrera. The fourth innings was the big one though for the visitors as Clint Barmes reached first base on an error by Cubs third baseman Josh Vitters. Then the Pirates rattled off four straight hits, including RBI hits by Marte, Travis Snider and Jones. Barmes solo home run in the seventh completed the Pirates seven runs.
To be honest the Cubs were always playing catch up after being down 6-1 and 7-3 at various stages of the game. To get within one hit of pulling the game out of the fire was more than most would have anticipated. The win edged the Bucs closer to the second NL wild card spot as they sat two games behind the Cardinals and Dodgers who were tied in second spot after Los Angeles defeated St. Louis last night. For the Cubs though it confirmed another poor season and they still need to win six of their remaining 17 games to avoid a 100 – loss season.
Eric, Kitty and I re-boarded the “L” at Addison Station and this time we got off at Grand. We thought it would be compulsory to visit the Billy Goat Tavern, so we walked the eight blocks to 430 North Michigan Ave. The sign outside said to “Butt in any time” so we did. I would have to call the tavern and grill something of a dive, but there was plenty of memorabilia and Eric enjoyed his goat burger. I settled for a couple of quiet Buds and a chat with a guy who said he knew Billy Sianis. He told me of a few attempts to break the dreaded curse.
Apparently Sam Sianis, nephew of Billy, tried many times to break the curse: on Opening Day in 1984 and 1989 (in both years, the Cubs went on to win their division), in 1994 to stop a home losing streak and in 1998 for the wild card game which the Cubs won. In 2003 (incidentally, the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Goat) a group of Cubs fans headed to Houston with a billy goat named “Vigil Homer” and attempted to gain entrance to Minute Maid Park, home of their division rivals the Astros. After they were denied entrance they unfurled a scroll that proclaimed they were reversing the curse. The Cubs won the division that year and then came within five outs of playing in the World Series but were undone by the Florida Marlins eight run rally immediately following the Steve Bartman incident. They then lost the following game and with it the series.
While the Cubs won the NL Central division title in 2007 they were eliminated by the Arizona Diamondbacks on October 6, the same date that the original goat appeared at Wrigley Field in 1945. There have been other futile attempts to put an end to the spell by groups known as Reverse the Curse and Crack the Curse, but it obviously still exists. My reliable source explained that the Curse of the Billy Goat can be dispelled only by the Chicago Cubs organisation showing a sincere fondness for goats and allowing them into Wrigley Field because they genuinely want to and not simply for publicity purposes.
After an interesting hour we realised that it was time to catch up with the South Shore on Randolph Street. Eric and I again did the patriotic thing and grabbed a dozen Buds for the trip home and settled down in the back seats. We made it back to South Bend in time to watch the second half of Notre Dame defeating Michigan State. Bill and I had a quiet drink to celebrate while Eric snored contentedly on the couch.