Hell freezes over: Cubs win the pennant

A commentary on the Chicago Cubs’ entry into the World Series

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Photographs courtesy of photo courtesy of Cubs.com

Alexander Camp, Assistant Editor for Sports

9:44 p.m., Oct. 22, 2016. One out. One on. Aroldis Chapman, the fireball closer who flings 100+ mph heaters like Rodney Dangerfield dealt one-liners, on the mound.

First pitch. 102 blazing mph on the radar. The best Dodgers batter Yasiel Puig can do is graze a slow, rolling grounder to shortstop Addison Russell, who flips it to Javy Baez to second, around the horn to Anthony Rizzo at first. And just like that, it happened.

The Chicago Cubs won the pennant. The first time since 1945.

Think about that for a second. 1945. Truman had been in office for all of six months. Gas cost 21 cents. The NBA didn’t exist. Perry Como’s “This is the End of Time” was the number one song.

This was the kind of America we were in the last time the Cubs sniffed the Fall Classic. And here we are, live and in living color in 2016, the Cubs are once again World Series-bound.

Indeed, there are still four more games to win. By the time you read this, the World Series will be well underway.

Best case scenario – depending on the day you read this – is the Cubs are either one or two games up on the Cleveland Indians, a team itself looking to end a drought that has spanned decades. Worst case scenario, we’re down a game or two.

But, no matter the outcome, what transpired Saturday night transcends baseball; transcends sports itself.

This was an once-in-a-lifetime moment. I keep pinching myself because this is surely a dream, right? Any second, I’ll wake up, and it’s Game Five.

I can’t convey to you how preconditioned I am to the inevitable sense of dread it came to be a Cubs fan. Or maybe I can.

For the generations before me, I couldn’t imagine how 1969 felt. Or 1984. Or 1989.

And in my lifetime, I had my share of disappointments. I remember 1998. I remember 2007. 2008. Last year. Close, but no cigar.

And then there’s 2003. I wish I didn’t remember that.

Oct. 14, 2003, to be exact. Five outs away, 3-0 in the 8th inning, a young ace in Mark Prior pitching the game of his life. And one Steve Bartman, Alex Gonzalez bobble, and eight-run Florida Marlin outburst later, it was gone.

Fast-forward 13 years later on Saturday night, and in the words of the incomparable Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again.

A 5-0 lead in the top of the 8th inning. After giving up just his second hit of the game, Kyle Hendricks was replaced by Chapman, who had given up three runs his last outing, and blown three saves this postseason alone.

I just knew the baseball gods had one troll left in them. And with one pitch, eerily foreshadowing the in-game events of the next inning, the Cubs got a tailor-made double play to get out of the inning. Right then and there, I realized, “God, this is going to happen.”