TOP OF THE FOURTH: CUBS 4 (0) – 0 DODGERS
A scoreless game, a fourth inning beginning, a one-game NLCS lead, 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 the sight of a giant lightbulb flicking on, floating overhead 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 home, the third night in a row. You’d let the stubborn virtue of the ever-believing Cub fan slip back into sin. Into doubt. Beyond doubt. Way past it. Into I know what this is. It’s that thing again. That season-ending Cubs collapsing thing again. So help me God, you say, it’s that thing again.
You’d watched the Cubs get shut out in Game 2, after the instant-classic Montero winner in the first of the set. You’d watched them go out to L.A., blown out in the third game.
You’d said what no Cub fan ever wants to say, but thinking it all the time—“This happens—I mean—this stuff happens every time. Cubs go down three straight. Loss, loss, another loss. And done. I mean, think of it,” you say, as you whip out the fingers on your left hand as if it’s the great Cub abacus, slapping your off-hand against each digit in a row—“think about it—You’ve got, you’ve got 1984. One. 1989. Two. 1998 doesn’t quite count, but then you’ve got the big one. 2003. Three down in a row: loss loss loss, and the season ends. ’07, ’08—three-game sweeps off the bat. Last year, the Mets come through and go four straight. They go down,” you say, with each finger marking the annals of Cub fan agony—“they always go down like this. Always like this. A string of bad seasons, before the eventual great one, until the eventual three-game collapse. 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 quick one-way 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 some deep unwelcome corner of thought, throw the lock on, cover your eyes, fiddle in a new passcode, 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. There’s something change-making about it. Something. I see… I see… the lobby of Ghostbusters headquarters, no calls coming in, a fledgling business going under. A secretary twiddling her thumbs. The gang sitting around idle upstairs, eating Chinese food, twiddling their thumbs too. No business at all. 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-breaking curse-breaking they go. Zobrist at the wheel.
They’re in business.
Baez steps up against Urias and knocks a cheeky single off the end of the bat into left, dropping in front of Toles.
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.
In the stands, the fanfare jukebox is switched to another track, another album, a whole new machine brought in from the road. “Let’s go Cub-bies!!” booming out in rounds in the air above Chavez Ravine—roars from travelling fan blocs, quiet nods from the newly converted.
Jason Heyward steps up and knocks an RBI groundout to second. Baez scores. Cubs lead 2-0.
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 put interview questions in each batter’s ear, leaning in to Russell—Did you guys have to break out of this old slump? Did you have to? I’m trying to enjoy a ballgame here.
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 light-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.