TOP OF THE FOURTH: CUBS 4 (0) – 0 DODGERS
A scoreless game, a packed house at Dodger Stadium, a front row seat for one Larry King, slumped half-snoozing through the early goings. A 20-year-old dealing on the mound, a teamful of bats gone cold, a destined Cubs run teetering near premature collapse.
And a Ben Zobrist at the plate. A bunt on the first pitch of the inning.
Zobrist puts his elbows out, tucks the bat in up to his chest. And the ball’s knocked down the third-base line slow rolling to Justin Turner, palming it but can’t make the throw, his red hair flying behind him in the breeze.
The Cubs’ first hit of the night.
Larry King perks up, the rest of the ballpark behind him—as the Dodger mindset snaps back into worry. Sidelong glances exchanged beneath a giant lightbulb flicking on in the sky, three fat words painted on, illuminated in blue: Momentum shift—Cubs!
@CubsNoHitStreak That bunt changed everything, including my life!!!!!
— WiskyCubs (@Iceman18723) October 23, 2016
In the third inning, you’d started to lose hope. No runs, for the third night in a row. You’d let the hope of the ever-believing Cub fan slip back into sin. Into doubt. Beyond doubt. Into I know what this is. It’s that thing again. That Cubs collapsing thing. So help me God, you say, it’s that thing again.
You’d watched the Cubs get shut out in Game 2, after the Montero winner in the first game. You’d watched them go out to L.A., get blown out in the third game.
“They go down,” you say, with each finger marking the annals of Cub fan agony—“they always go down like this. Always like this. It’s happening.”
“It’s that Cubs slump again,” you’d said aloud, in conclusion. “I don’t see how they even can come back.”
Your dad turns around with a no-words look of letdown, as if some great honor has just been broken. Like you’d just said Christmas is joyless. That James Brown has no Soul. That baseball itself, like everything else, is no fun at all.
We never leave a man behind, his look seems to demand, the face of Bluto smacking sense into the entire Delta Tau Chi fraternity: “What the fuck happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh!?? This could be the greatest night of our lives… I’m not gonna take this! Wormer Urias, he’s a dead man! Marmalard Seager, dead! Niedermeyer Pederson…!”
You snap to. You clear your eyes. You make one move and don’t glance back, storming out of Delta believing only in win. You move your chair closer to the TV and forget each bit that came before. You raise a fist and squash all doubt with a thud—stuffed down in an unwelcome corner of thought, throwing the lock on, covering your eyes, fiddling in a new passcode.
And you jump back to baseball without looking back.
In inning four, you’re back, you’ve eaten your Snickers bar, you listen to good sense and you reform. You’re not you when you’re hungry your Cubs are losing. You repent. You slap yourself on the cheeks. You watch the replay of Zobrist’s bunt.
There’s just something about it. Something miraculous.
You see yourself in the Ghostbusters’ office, no calls coming in, a fledgling business going under. The secretary twiddling her thumbs. The gang sitting around idle upstairs, eating Chinese food. Nothing going. All things dead.
And then, a call.
A proud yell from downstairs: “We got one!!!”
And down the firemen pole they go. Into the seats of Ecto-1 they go. Onto a series-flipping rally these young Cubs go. Onto ghost-busting curse-breaking they go.
Ben Zobrist at the wheel.
Baez steps up against Urias and knocks a single off the end of the bat into left.
Contreras steps up and rips another base hit to left, smacked in the air over short. Toles throws lamely to home, Zobrist rounds third to score, Cubs lead 1-0.
Jason Heyward steps up and knocks an RBI groundout to second. Baez scores.
Cubs lead 2-0.
In the stands, “Let’s go Cub-bies!!” booms out in rounds in the air above Chavez Ravine—roars from traveling fan blocs, quiet nods from the newly converted.
And in steps Addison Russell, across the grass to the batter’s box, Larry King lurking behind—praying, if only he’d had the energy, for this flood of Cubs energy to halt. Close enough to sneak interview questions in each batter’s ear.
Leaning in, and saying to Russell: “Did you guys have to break out of this old slump? Did you have to?”
Urias digs into the mound dirt, looks ahead for the sign from Grandal, delivers on a 2-0 count.
Fastball on the outside corner. Russell hits it deep. Pederson tracks it. Tracks it. His hat flies off. He slams into the centerfield wall, empty-handed. The ball flies over the blue fence. Home run. Russell spreads his wings and pumps his fist, an emphatic point back to his dugout. The breakout game-winning end to a slump, the end to the chip on his shoulder. Or the elephant in the room. Or the monkey off his—and John Smoltz chimes in on cue:
“An elephant just came off his back.”
Mom, going Biblical at the sight of the Addy home run: Lazarus has returned from the dead!!
— The Big Inning (@big_inning) October 20, 2016
You run around like you’ve just won some sort of war. 4-0 Cubs. Russell taps the plate to a hug from Baez. His hands come together, up to the sky in thanks. Urias comes out, skipping over the foul line and off into the dugout. Pedro Baez in from the bullpen and they head to commercial.
“Series like this can turn quickly,” Smoltz says on the broadcast, “if somebody does something.”
Looks like somebody did something.
A five-hit inning out of nothing before. And a jolt to the ignition of a team that never quite looked back.
A doubt shamed into re-belief. A born-again hymn that goes, I’m desperate I’m desperate I’m desperate desperate desperate. We need something need something need something something something.
We got something.