BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: CUBS 5 (2) – 4 MARLINS
Sunny afternoon at Wrigley. The dog days of early August. Just out of a mid-season slump. Playoff race unsettled. Season awards unsettled. Onto the stretch before the home stretch. Looking for a win streak, out of the momentum of a wacky three-set against Seattle. Down two runs here now against Miami. A win in doubt amid the Ichiro 3k fanfare. And Miguel Montero leading off with a double, ‘buggy-whipped’ to right, Giancarlo Stanton running it down in the corner. Hustling into second, geriatric joints impeding speed on every step. We are good, he says. We are good. Hashtag we are good. Very good. I am good. All is good. Good and very good.
There’s a Jewel-Osco ad on the green-screen behind the plate, with a Guthrie-esque slogan all appropriate for the occasion, this ninth inning here at the friendly confines: Your Moment Is Our Moment. Not quite sure of the meaning, but sounds fitting. Pro-Cub. Baseball-y. Would work well tweaked for the Marlins, down at a Miami home game. [Justin] Bour’s moment—it would say—is your moment.
Javier Baez comes up next for the Cubs, with eyeblack smeared across the cheek like a giant, misplaced brow. And he’s brushed back by the first pitch from A.J. Ramos, almost hit on the shoulder. Wild again, missing way high. And then a single, hard hit past Martin Prado through the infield hole, shot on the ground into left-field.
Javier Baez trying to hide from the Predator monster // Jim Deshaies: “A little crazy w/ the eye black today!” pic.twitter.com/RGPjx8tPpe
— The Big Inning (@big_inning) July 15, 2016
Matt Szczur steps up, setting up into a confident crouch, carrying the single best pinch-hit batting average in the league (.343). A breakout season.
Let’s Go Cub-bies!! pours out loud and clear from stadium-wide singing crews. No outs. Rojas holding Baez on at first. A covey of old Cub fans perform the “raise up!” gesture, rousing still-seated neighbors. A 3-1 count to Szczur, with the crowd on their feet.
The pitch from Ramos comes inside, Szczur bends away. Ball four. Bases loaded. Rally caps converted, donned by kids in the front row. High fives all around. No pressure. First place still on lock.
The four-m poetry of a Miami Marlins mound meeting. Mathis and Mattingly. Some sort of instructions, a strategy. A quick discussion. And then, lots of nods. Lots of emphatic nods. The meeting dragging on, with manager and pitcher unable to say goodbye.
“Yeah, got it.”
“Alright. Go get ‘em.”
Dexter Fowler steps up, half-swinging on the first pitch for a strike. He scored, an inning earlier, on a wild pitch walk from ex-Cub Fernando Rodney, a foreshadowing moment of breakdown that cut the deficit down to two. Days after a historically zany win against the Mariners. This team, evidently, thrives on all thing “Mar-“.
Full count to Fowler. All fans now with hands on their hips, nervous behind the brick-wall backstop at home. Ramos grabs for the rosin on the mound as he paces around as sets up, as if the bag contains one grantable wish.
The pitch comes in and Fowler lifts a sac fly to right, Stanton wending through sunny glare and hauls it in. Montero tags and scores. All runners advance. One out. 4-3, Marlins still ahead.
Gary Pressy does a call-and-answer routine now with the fans, on the organ, the sounds of vintage baseball pumping out of the Wrigley speakers. Chord chord chord // Clap clap clap // Let’s go Cubs!
— Gary Pressy (@GaryPressy) August 3, 2016
Kris Bryant up next, showing restraint on an 0-2 pitch. And again. Twice. Then a full count. Low. Aroldis Chapman warming up in the bullpen for a very possible tenth. Don Mattingly chewing gum in the dugout. And strike three called with Bryant on his way to first, the miscalled ball missed off the plate. Ramos cringes having missed his spot, then pops up in glee. Bryant strides to first in glee, cringes once he’s called out.
A quick protest, and then the reality of the second out. Still down a run. Anthony Rizzo up to bat, looking for a hit. Ben Zobrist on deck, bat against his shoulder, weighted donut on the barrel.
Intentional walk to Rizzo.
And so with the bases loaded, Zobrist. First pitch missed for a ball. Second pitch missed. 2-0 count and Jim Deshaies in the broadcast booth sending pressure down to the mound—“high anxiety here, for Ay Jay Ray-mos.”
3-0 count, the third pitch nowhere close. The whole of Wrigley Field whoops, intimate like a high school gym. Come on come on come on come on, sending incanted hexes out toward the mound. Zobrist takes a strike, locked in a sports strategy unique to baseball. Do…. nothing. Just stand there. Take. Take. Don’t swing, and you might just win the game. Don’t hit, don’t miss, just anti-do. Wait and let them falter. The tactic of little-league strugglers everywhere, with a knack for striking out, and a desperate need for a backdoor way to first base.
Zobrist sticks to his guns. Ball four from Ramos. Tie game.
Baez walks home, literally walking the length of the baseline, a swaggering cat-walk down the third-base runway. A flourish at the end, tapping home and tying the game. And then, pure fear in the heart of A.J. Ramos. The soundtrack to 1950’s film horror, remixed into ‘90s hip-hop boast-rage, blaring out on all sides around him, as Willson Contreras steps up to bat and the whole house sends out composure-melting juju to the mound, mind-controlled into a blown save. His walk-up music the theme, Godzilla remixed into “Simon Says,” Pharoahe Monch–(Get the f*** up!! Throw a wild pitch!! Simon says get the f*** up!! throw a wild pitch!!)
Fans outside stare unmoving at the TVs, the bartenders await the giddy rush of patrons. The fans inside refuse to blink. The pitch comes. And Simon Says, indeed. It’s way wild. “Juusssst a bit outside.” A slider—if that thing could even be given a name. The ball slams into the Jewel-Osco sign with a thud, kicks off the brick backstop, a pinball alleyway of unfieldable bounces, off Heyward’s foot in the on-deck circle as he throws his helmet up in the air.
The fans all hug. The Cubs all hug. The comeback win fallen into their lap, Wrigley Field dressed up into a pressure cooker no other team can handle. Ramos does his best Carlos Marmol impression, with fans joy-crying at the change in fates. A group of the bleachers all in matching tye-dye, singing along—“Go Cubs Go~”
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 3, 2016
Zobrist runs to tag second base, as if that’s necessary, a Merkle’s Boner precaution, and then runs in to join the party. A team win. No winning hit, not throw beat out at home. The right place at the right time.
And a W flag, blue and white, flying in the breeze above center field. Their moment, is our moment.