BOTTOM OF THE SECOND: CUBS 4
(1) – 0 GIANTS
Our good friend Jeff Samardzija. Football son of Notre Dame. Chicago Cubs draftee. Starter for the 2015 Chicago White Sox. And finally, finally!, he’s stepped up big for this city. Brought home the big one. Poised atop the mound for playoff baseball, the league-best Cubs at home, at old Wrigley, the fans in eager hope of a deep run, our good friend Jeff Samardzija—stepping up to do his part. Bringing home that win he was drafted for, just like we all hope he would.
Thank you, from the bottom of this Cub fan’s heart, for shitting the bed in Game 2 for these San Francisco Giants. You’re the hero this city deserves.
It’s the bottom of the second at chilly Wrigley, the Giants down a run, the Cubs bats back up in search of a 2-0 NLDS lead. We’re sitting in section 413 in the upper deck, Friend Jack and I, with someone two seats to our right, taking in the scene he’d never quite seen himself: this ballclub winning, in this calendar month.
“I think that’s Sean Marshall,” I say quietly.
Jack rises as if to look at some distant clock for the time, peering around at the aisle and rows behind. Glances down sidelong and signals the slight nod of an 80-percent-sure conclusion.
“How the hell…?”
“I know a bygone Cubs long reliever when I see one.”
S-e-a-n M-a-r … and the images pop up in a kind of bright mosaic on his phone. Sean Marshall in Reds caps, Cubs caps, in-game photos and headshots. We look over again. His female companion glares back at us, as if we’ve both just thought something untoward. As if she’s about to get, well, Sean Marshall to come have a word with us.
“We’re not that kind of guy,” I want to explain. “It’s just that, are you, is that Sean Marshall with his arm around you?”
We’re a few inches from his foot-wide palms (he’s 6’7”, keep in mind), with ten bright images of his own face shining in front of us, shining over at him, with playoff baseball roaring on below and a question unanswered up here in the second deck. His knees extend out pushing into the seat-back ahead of him, a beanie pulled low over his head, unsure whether he’s there to cheer or there to contemplate the passage of baseball-time.
“Tweet at him,” Jack says.
But alas, a search reveals he has no active Twitter account.
I think I’m sitting next to ex-Cub Sean Marshall at Wrigley but I’m not sure, googling him and seeing if he eyes my screen and nods “yes”
— The Big Inning (@big_inning) October 9, 2016
So we’re left with a void, an uncertain tingle in the air if this is indeed Mr. Sean Marshall: Is this some harbinger of jinx? The ghosts of the 2008 Cubs back now to bite us? OR some reminder that those dark days are over, pushed way past the sidelines even, crammed into upper-deck obscurity. Gone. A new era in and the bad years of an entire childhood erased. This means we’re safe, right? We’re clear?
The 2008 Cubs bullpen, for reference:
We look back down at the field, rising up out of our seats with the whole crowd now standing. Jason Heyward’s on second base with a leadoff double down the right-field line.
And Javy Baez steps up, a huge ovation for the Game 1 heroics. Samardzija’s pitching cutters that just don’t cut, sliders that haven’t quite slid. The mood at the ballpark all go. No nail-biting. Confidence, certainty—every seat in the house pouring out faith in this pinstriped hometown team.
Baez draws a walk on a fastball inside. No outs, and two men on.
Bob Costas: “Heyward can’t hit” *double*. “Baez never walks” *walk*. Keep it up Bob we love it!#GreatChatter
— Kert Woods (@kert_woods) October 9, 2016
“This has kind of a turning point feel to the game,” says Pat Hughes on the radio. “Right now.”
And just then Willson Contreras lines a sharp single in the air to Pence in right-field. Three Cubs base-runners advancing around the infield. Loaded up. Heyward smiling over to Baez on second.
Then, the speakers around the ballpark. Aerosmith. “Sweet Emotion”. Kyle Hendricks. Stepping up with his Greg Maddux gait, calm. No real threat on the way but the groundout RBI, the sac-fly chance. But the sure feeling of a thing about to happen. Something. Anything. A run due home in some way, some form, somehow.
I find it pleasantly ironic that Kyle Hendricks has “Sweet Emotion” as his walk-up song when he’s so utterly emotionless out on the mound.
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 6, 2016
Hendricks lifts the first pitch onto the grass in center field, just ahead of Denard Span charging in.
Baez sprints all-out around third, almost crashing into Jason Heyward holding up in case of a catch. And he slides in like a waterpark ride gliding 30 feet across the dirt with chalk and dust flying up in the air, popping up miming a home-run swing with his arms.
Two runs score, Cubs lead 3-0. Hendricks breaks out the slightest, slightest of smiles on first base.
“Well you talk about turning points,” says Ron Coomer on the radio. “And it’s turned.”
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 9, 2016
Samardzija walks back up to the mound with no plan to consult but the hope of lucky-break damage control.
The ballpark bouncing with the obvious sight of runs still to come. Dexter Fowler lining sharp line drives foul down the line. Samardzija fooling no one. And the flakiest of playoff bullpens set to debut here on the way.
Samardzija wanted out of Chicago because he always dreamed of pitching 2 innings in a playoff game.
— Fake Joe Maddon (@CubsSkipper) October 9, 2016
Kris Bryant steps up. Another line drive, another ball to right field. Sliced the other way between Hunter Pence and the wall. He sprints over, beard fraying in the wind, hat flying off, diving the dive he’s dove all year, just short of the catch, the ball in and out of the glove, his teeth slam down into the dirt, his beard streaked green sliding through the grass, the entire crowd above cheering pure baseball-happines out onto the ballfield as another run scores.
4-0 Cubs. The organ plays. Samardzija fumes. Bruce Bochy chews gum in the dugout. The three-time World Champs blown out in this second inning.
And for all listeners who’ve abandoned MLB Network, Pat Hughes goes full homer on the radio: “If there’s another sports franchise on the planet that has better support from the fans, I have no idea who it is!”
In the 4th inning, Travis Wood went on to hit the historic, surreal home run into the left-field bleachers, pushing the score to where it would stay all night—a 5-2 Cubs win. And, well, about that guy next to us?
Sean Marshall, if that was you up there, thank you. I think. Our boys in blue won the big one. You were there. You brought us Travis Wood. You brought us good fortune all game long. I’ll take that alone for causation.
And Jeff Samardzija, as that definitely was you, Thank you, too. Thank you forever. You played the long con. Meandered around the majors in search of a better contract, a better ballclub, a winning tradition. You stumbled back onto it tonight at Wrigley, from the other side of the infield. Wearing orange and gray, serving up batting practice liners to the best team we’ve ever seen play.
You finally brought home Chicagoland a win.