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 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 leaped ahead one quick burst toward its end, leaves tumbling onto the warning track, heralding 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 it’s 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.

Outside, across the street from a jam-packed Murphy’s Bleachers on Sheffield after the game. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose on the Fox Sports set behind the bleachers, 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.

You might remember 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 the eighth inning, that frame so cruel to the Cub fan memory.

The one that brought out the big bats of the ’03 Marlins lineup. 

Number eight. The penultimate. 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 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 for relief.

Strop walks Utley, in to pinch hit for Kendrick.

Justin Turner hits sharp bouncer on the ground to third. Bryant gloves it, dashes to the bag for the force-out, but late. Everybody safe. No outs. Bases loaded. Wrigley mired in quiet doubt. Hopes for the lucky break compete with 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 bullpen 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. And hope, with all you’ve got, for the best.

 

 

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

He 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 is tied. The score 3-3.

 

 

The diehard lady next to us 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. Who had bragged about attending 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 Jon Lester’s one earned-run for the night.

She slouches deeper into her bleacher seat as Gonzalez touches home.

The novel resumed from its prior chapter, this Cubs book that ends ugly or doesn’t end at all.

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.

And Yasmani Grandal grounds out to short, as they head to the bottom of the 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 moves 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. Addison Russell grounds out to third base, for the first out.

 

Joc Pederson Cubs NLCS Double

 

Then: things get weird.

The chess match of over-managed tinkering begins.

The twiddling of thumbs picked up to dangerous levels, as Dave Roberts decides to walk the bases loaded to usher Aroldis Chapman out of the game.

“Think of this,” the bench coach must be saying to him. “Chapman will be done. Which will surely lead to a win. If Chapman’s done, we’ll win. Trust the charts. Trust the logic. Trust not the convention—but trust this beautiful, blameless idea.

Blanton walks Jason Heyward.

He walks Chris Coghlan. Bases loaded.

 

 

“All according to plan,” the bench coach says.  “And a good plan, indeed. Think of how cool it’ll make you look. How ballsy, how daring. You can Maddonize with the Maddon. You can have the October magic too. But the bases, I say, they must be loaded.”

Miguel Montero comes in to pinch hit for Chapman. 

The wind is blowing wild to dead center, 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.

Now, no one’s thinking home run. No one. Maybe hoping for a patient laboring back into a 2-2 count. 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 and 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, 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 jumping.

 

 

And on the very next pitch, Blanton still in the game, Dexter Fowler homers. Like we’re still watching the 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 we’d seen go dead cold in the middle innings.

Wildness, in this Wrigley Field eighth.

And Cub fan relief at its all-time peak. 

Yes, they say, it’s Game One. Yes we still could very well lose. Yes I know what every year brings out in this team. But damn!! they shout, it feels good to make another team hurt!!

 

As Joe Blanton comes off the mound, out of the game. Traumatized.

 

 

The best party Wrigley’s seen all year. A Game One win.

A pinch-hit grand slam. Montero making Dave Roberts pay.

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

 

 

Comments