Game 93 // Eighth Inning, Chicago // The Montero Slam

CUBS 8 – 4 DODGERS


I’m three beers down.

It’s 3:00 AM.

I barely remember the night that was.

The Cubs win that was.

The Miguel Montero grand-slam home run that was.

The bedlam insanity hugfest mad jumping screaming whooping dancing hollering crying smacking yelling wild scene that Wrigley Field was.

 

Dodgers Cubs Grand Slam Game 1

 

The 8-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Joe Blanton slider lob to Montero.

The ball landing in the seats, some fifteen rows deep.

The press box shaking. The bleachers shaking. The ivy leaves quivering on the outfield wall as if the fall season jumped ahead one quick burst toward its end, leaves tumbling onto the warning track heralding in some new era of Cubsdom. Some sign that the billy goat of lore has migrated on to different, faraway pastures. Turned merciful or distracted. For long enough that this team might just sneak in while they’re away, for the big one. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Rub the lucky rabbit’s foot. Hold the lucky socks. Send the magic finger-fluttering juju out onto the field. Pray and pray. And pray and pray and pray.

 

NLCS Playoffs 2016 Dodgers

 

On the TV back home is MLB Network. Bill Ripken and Preston Wilson, on endless loops until dawn recalling what a game it was. Reenacting the Javy Baez steal of home.

The scene was a jam-packed Murphy’s Bleachers on Sheffield after the game. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose on the Fox Sports set at the intersection behind the bleachers, across the way, done-up and spotlit, reveling in what could only be the wildest baseball postgame scene they’ve seen.

 

 

The Cubs won a playoff game. An NLCS Playoff game. That won’t ever feel anything but abnormal to say.

They won a very big playoff game indeed.

This eighth inning at Wrigley, it was what less proper men might call fucking insane.

That ninth inning, out in San Francisco. It was great. Wonderful. Surreal. The—quoted right here—“the one…this was the big inning.”

I may now apply butter and a fine sauce to my words. Fold my napkin into my lap. Eat those words. Prepare to very well maybe eat them again.

For THIS. This! Was the big inning. The great one.

Eighth inning, Wrigley Field. October 15.

 

 

TOP OF THE EIGHTH: CUBS 3 – (1) 3 DODGERS

 

What else but the teasing ruse of a collapse?

In that frame so cruel to the Cub fan memory. That brought out the big bats of the ’03 Marlins lineup. The eighth. That late-inning momentum freeze that halts all out-counting, boozing revelry out at the ballpark.

Number eight. The penultimate. When born-to-botch setup men come in and, well, botch. When Joe Maddon pushes past the conventional logic and brings in Aroldis Chapman one frame ahead of schedule. After being burned on the same move out in San Francisco. When no-name Conor Gillaspie claimed household notoriety with a go-ahead triple into the gap. That pesky, stubborn, conniving eighth inning of baseball.

 

Dodgers Bleachers Wrigley Playoffs

 

The starting chain of events, long and frightening, went like this:

Toles hits a lead-off single off Montgomery.

Pedro Strop comes in to replace Montgomery.

Strop walks Utley, in to pinch hit for Kendrick.

Justin Turner then hits sharp bouncer on the ground to third. Bryant gloves it, dashes to the bag for the force-out, late. Everybody safe. No outs. Bases loaded. Bryant mired in regret. Wrigley mired in quiet doubt. Hopes for the lucky break abound. Fears of its opposite just behind.

Joe Maddon calls for Chapman from the bullpen. Strop comes out. The closer in. Striding in from the third-base ‘pen to the mound. Rage Against the Machine plays on the speakers. “Wake Up”. Pulsing out around the ballpark as the rest of baseball-rapt America goes to commercial break.

And the Cubs go anti-Showalter, into the Dave Roberts school of bullpen management. Put. Your best guy. In. Against their best. Guys. Now. Hope, of all hopes, for the best.

 

 

Chapman strikes out Corey Seager. Big-time whoops from the crowd. One down.

Chapman strikes out Yasiel Puig. Bigger, swaggering whoops from the crowd. Two down.

And then, what was bound always to happen, in the even the most optimistic of Cub-fan minds. The Dodgers make the late-game push. Adrian Gonzalez lines a rocket shot up the middle for a two-run RBI single. The game goes tied. The score 3-3.

 

 

The diehard lady a seat over buries her face in her manual scorecard. She that had flashed her hall-of-fame Cubs signatures on her old-school windbreaker, earlier in the game. She that had bragged about attending (and leaving early) the “Sandberg Game” of 1984. She that had kept each bit of the game pencilled into little diligent boxes. The Javier Baez steal home. The bloop double. The Heyward triple and the one-run line of Jon Lester’s night.

She slouches deeper into her bleacher seat as Gonzalez touches home. The novel resumed from its prior chapter, a decade earlier, the book that ends ugly or doesn’t end at all.

And the mood changes. Not to the dread that’s become typical, but a sort of apprehensive What now? How do we win now, when do we win now? We still win now, right? Everybody cool? Waiting, more quietly waiting, for these 2016 Cubs to do one more unthinkable thing.

Yasmani Grandal grounds out to short, as they head to the bottom of this eighth inning.

 

 

BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH: CUBS 8 (3) – 3 DODGERS

 

Joe Blanton trots in from the bullpen to pitch—with a face like a serial killer, my sister says, looking up at the jumbotron.

 

 

In the field, Utley goes to second, Toles to left, Hernandez out from second-base to right. Puig comes out.

And Ben Zobrist steps up and hits the second biggest double of the year into the gap in right-center, Hernandez and Pederson converging in full sprint under the basket to field it, kicking up divots in the grass, throwing the ball in to the cutoff man. Milling around after the play, packing upturned grass back into its spot, striding back to set spots in center and right.

No outs, man on second. And Addison Russell grounds out to third base.

 

Joc Pederson Cubs NLCS Double

 

Then: things got weird.

The chess match of over-managed tinkering began, the twiddling of thumbs picked up to dangerous levels, some no-fear stats consultant leaned over and said: Dave, Mr. Dave Roberts, I think you should walk the bases loaded here. Y’know, so that Chapman will come up to bat. Which will surely lead to a pinch hit. Chapman will be done. Which will surely lead to an eventual win. If Chapman’s done, we’ll win, surely. Trust the charts. Trust the logic. Trust not the convention—trust this beautiful, blameless idea.

Blanton walks Jason Heyward.

Baez flies out to right, Chris Coghlan comes in to pinch-hit for David Ross.

Blanton, with two outs, walks Chris Coghlan to load the bases.

 

 

Yes, Mr. Roberts, you’re doing just fine. All according to plan. And a good plan, indeed. Think of how cool it’ll make you look. How ballsy, how daring. How that first-year managing pedigree means nothing, you can Maddonize with the Maddon. You can have October magic too, you’ve had it already. No, I’m not a double agent for the Cubs. No, no no. This is the right thing for us. The bases, I say, they must be loaded. Definitely not a double agent.

Miguel Montero comes in to pinch hit for Chapman. Last year’s starting catcher, this year’s background contributor. Slumper with a highlight every month.

The wind is blowing wild to dead center, harder than anyone’s seen it—the flags nearly off their poles.

“He can hit a deep fly ball,” we all think, “maybe more than anyone we’ve got.” The master of the 370-foot fly-ball out, the sac fly, the near home run that’s brought his average way down but his potential sky high, here on this windy night at Wrigley.

Montero goes down 0-2 in the count, a big whiff on a slider.

No one’s thinking home run. No one. Maybe a few pitches low, maybe a patient laboring back into a 2-2 count. Maybe a single for the winning hit. Maybe some sort of luck. Maybe he does get one up in the air. Just not right here, not down 0-2.

Then Blanton sets, delivers home, another slider, hanging over the middle. And Montero clobbers it nearly onto the street, fifteen rows up into the right-field seats, soaring under the lights as if up to the foggy moon above us. Carrying, carrying, drifting further back with the wind, and it comes crashing down with the ball invisible behind a whole ballpark of arms shot up into the air. A showering of beer we hope will become annual, sloshing around airborne cups and splashing down onto the field, trickling down the aisles, into the hair and onto the jerseys, some forty-thousand pairs of feet jumping and jumping and crushing spilled peanuts under the seats like a mass production line.

 

 

And on the very next pitch, Blanton still in the game, Dexter Fowler homers. As if we’re still watching some sort of replay. No one quite sure what’s going on. What cheat-code got entered. What door opened and what magic just settled in, into the bats of a Cubs team gone dead cold in the middle innings.

Wildness, in this Wrigley Field eighth.

And Cub fan relief at its all-time peak. Yes, it’s Game 1, they say, Yes we still could very well lose, Yes this series is not even the last, Yes yes yes I know what every year brings out in this team. But damn!! they shout, it feels good to make another team hurt!!

Blanton, coming out of the game, traumatized.

 

 

The best party Wrigley’s seen all year. A Game 1 win. A pinch-hit grand slam. Montero made Dave Roberts pay, big time. Cubs win, 8-4.

Oh what a night,

Late October, back in ‘16…

 

 

Previously:

Inning 91: The Great Cubs Miracle

Inning 90: Thank You, Jeff Samardzija

 

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