CHICAGO — The New York Metropolitans claimed decisive possession of the National League base-ball pennant on enemy turf here at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night, sweeping the Sisyphean Chicago Cubs in four games to earn their ducats to next week’s World Series championship.
The Metropolitans – also known as the “Mets” – sent six safely across the plate before the third inning, mostly as a result of the derring-do of their Bunyanesque first-sacker, Lucas Duda. The mighty Californian smote a home run and a double to tally five of those six runs before the Cubs seemed to comprehend that a game concerning their possible erasure from the 2015 field was well underway.
The ignominious rout of the valiant but overmatched hometown squad turned the deafening cheers of the Chicago multitudes into plaintive keens, for now their agonizing wait for another championship – the last in 1908, during the presidency of the rough-riding Theodore Roosevelt – must continue.
The final numbers to adorn the forest-green Wrigley scoreboard in center field announced a New York score of 8 and a Chicago score of 3. But the game – indeed, the entire National League Championship Series – between two great American burgs was never as close as these numbers might suggest.
Perhaps the Cubs took some measly comfort in not allowing that Metropolitan miracle, the ginger-haired second-sacker Daniel Murphy, his customary home run until the eighth inning. Still, the game and series has caused the broad shoulders of this muscular city to sag in the familiar repose of defeat.
Observers perched on saloon stools from Lake Michigan to the Hudson River might argue that the New York manager Terry Collins had simply out-generaled his Chicago counterpart, Joe Maddon. But, in truth, this match came down to the New York twirlers — deGrom and Syndergaard, Harvey and Matz, Colon and Familia – who are writing their names alongside those who have stood on the Long Island slab before them, Seaver, Koosman, Darling, Gooden, Hampton, Leiter…
The Chicagoans, meanwhile, must wait again to add more names to the pennants that flap in honor upon the yellow poles demarking fair and foul. In left hang the great surnames of Banks, Santo and Jenkins, and in right, those of Williams, Sandberg and Maddux. None of these greats, alas, ever tasted the nectar of champions while in Chicago.
Illuminated against the dark by the wonder of electrification, this was New York’s night in Chicago, so much so that the “Let’s Go Cubs” chants at the beginning of the game had morphed, 3 hours and 32 minutes later, to intonations of “Let’s Go Mets.”
In the giddy hours before this game of destiny, the hometown boys and their visiting enemy engaged in the limb-loosening exercises peculiar to their chosen trade. As the men of Chicago took their swipes in the batting cage, fielded daisy cutters, and danced to unusual melodies – music that, to this correspondent, was unnecessarily emphatic in its bass – they seemed altogether unperturbed by the prospect of their long winter on the verge of commencing.
Meanwhile, outside the Wrigleyville cathedral, the congregants of Cubdom thronged in the streets, creating a jostling sea of humanity along Addison and Clark that was fed constantly by streams cascading down from the elevated trains above. The fans – short for “fanatics” — wore their boastful Cubs regalia, sang their secular hymns, and held aloft hopeful signs saying, “Looking for Tickets.”
The signs of others reflected alternate states of desperation. “I’m Just Hungry,” said the placard of a woman apparently seeking sustenance from something other than victory in a sporting endeavor. Another, held by a man as thin as his pen’s scrawl, said, “Help the homeless, please, I’m a Cubs fan.”
The ceremonies leading up to the main event fueled the ardor of the hometown enthusiasts. The former Cubs twirler Rick Sutcliffe, known as the Red Baron for his fiery tonsorial hue, who toiled on these grounds for eight years, threw out the first pitch. And singing the national anthem was a long-haired duo who go by the soubriquet “Stolen Silver” – an appropriate choice, given the last-ditch larceny on the minds of Maddon’s determined men.
By game time, ivy-festooned Wrigley was loaded to the gunnels, more than 42,000 strong, their spasms of joy and anticipation such that a detonated stick of dynamite would not have been heard. Fans laughed and cheered like college undergraduates.
But Chicago’s starting twirler, the right-hander Jason Hammel, soon tempered the enthusiasm of the home-towners with his lackluster showing. Curtis Granderson, the pesky right-fielder who bats first for the Metropolitans, poked a one-bagger into left field, and so it began.
David Wright, New York’s valiant third baseman who has come back from chronic woes of his broad back, perished on a third twirl, and the multitudes celebrated. Following him was the second baseman Daniel Murphy, whose sudden habit of walloping home runs has earned national attention, foul-popped to the loud relief of locals.
Larcenous Granderson swiped second base, though, and up to the plate strode Yoenis Cespedes, the grand swatter of Granma, Cuba. With the count full, the crowd rose as one and waved their white flags in encouragement, only to release a collective sigh of disappointment as the pitcher Hammel gave him a pass to the first cushion.
Then Duda, who had struck out 13 times in 27 postseason trips to the plate. Again the count went to the brim, again the crowd rose, again the towels were waved, in vehement opposition of surrender.
But Duda swatted Hammel’s next serving over the center field ivy, some 400 feet away, for three runs, stunning the raucous crowd into silence. Not one to be outdone, his teammate behind the plate, Travis D’Arnaud, planted another white spheroid amid the unappreciative crowds, this time in right-center field.
With that, a pall began to descend upon Chicago’s north side, along with the boos and razzes of those who, moments earlier, had cheered the sight of Hammels on the mound. It was 4-0, and the pre-game dancing to pulsating sounds seemed a distant, taunting memory.
The Cubs organist began to play “Hey Look Me Over,” an incompatible choice save for its line: “The only way is up.”
Occupying the slab for the Metropolitans was Steven Matz, a freshman southpaw from eastern Long Island. He greeted the first Chicago batsman, center fielder Dexter Fowler, with a fastball strike that today’s technology indicates was traveling at 95 miles an hour. Fowler groundered to the Bunyan at first, after which two of his Cubs teammates were compelled to submit to the indignity of strikeouts.
The second inning only intensified the ursine pain, as it carried what our French friends across the pond call “déjà vu” – or “already seen” – as Granderson again led off, the Metropolitans having batted around.
At first Hammel seemed to have taken himself by the proverbial lapels and said, “Steady man.” But after inducing Granderson into rainbowing a fly-out to left, he granted a pass to Wright. His commanding officer, Maddon, had seen enough, though, and derricked him for the southpaw Travis Wood. Hammel headed to the clubhouse with his shirt pulled over his nose, as if the stench of his own performance was too much for him to bear.
Woods’s first adversary, though, was the gingery Murphy, who appears in the midst of a feature article in Boys’ Life magazine. Murphy slapped his bat squarely against a ball he liked and copped a straight one for a single, just beyond the reach of Cubs shortstop Javier Baez.
After Cespedes, a man of formidable power, returned to the bench after seeing a third strike sail past, Duda knocked a two-bagger to right-center, sending two more teammates to safety at home.
From then on, the events unfolding on the diamond-shaped greensward were nothing if not anticlimactic, as the Metropolitans had already stored away enough runs to ensure victory. Things were so bleak for the home boys that the Chicago crowd seized on anything remotely positive to raise a ruckus: one fan’s fine athletic catch of a foul ball, for example, and the magical appearance of former Cub Billy Williams, an inductee of the Hall of Fame, on a large movie-screen device, proffering the wave of a monarch weary of adulation.
The diamond athletes of Chicago, a city’s hopes upon their pinstriped shoulders, did their best to reclaim some semblance of dignity. They scored a run in the fourth (albeit a poor showing for an inning in which they had men on all three cushions without an out.) And they scored twice more in the eighth, when outfielder Jorge Soler set his teeth and lashed the ball for two bases, after which third baseman Kris Bryant pounded a terrific fly into the left-field stands, sending the home crowd into what would be their last joyous paroxysms of the season.
The New York faithful, though, have much to remember and cherish as they await the naming of their American League adversaries, either the Blue Jays of Toronto, Canada, or the Royals of Kansas City, Missouri.
The boys and girls of Queens, Long Island, and its environs will not soon forget the sight of the burly twirler and game winner Bartolo Colon – at 42, superannuated by baseball’s time clock – throwing sinking balls that dropped to the shanks of confounded batsmen. Or the sight of Wright at third and Wilmer Flores at short stop, firing the base ball across the lot to get their men.
Or of Murphy, later voted the most valuable player of this series, and no wonder. In the eighth inning, he thumped a home run worth two tallies over the head of center fielder Fowler. Though not a player known for his power, this was his seventh home run in the postseason, and he has now homered in six consecutive games, a record for these major leagues.
A joyful but humble Murphy, a man known for his commitment to his Christian faith, said after the game that he just swung. “And then when I hit it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness,’” he recounted. “Then Dexter went after it, I thought he was going to catch it, and then the netting caught it. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
An inning later, Murphy and his teammates were the ones dancing on the diamond.
Ever the embodiment of class, the vanquished manager Maddon crossed the darkening field to shake the hand of Collins, his old friend and counterpart, a Lee greeting his Grant. “They were just that good for four days,” the snow-haired Cubs leader said. “I’ve got to give them credit.”
Collins, the oldest manager in the major leagues, and with locks just as white, sang the praises of his brawny lads, Duda and Murphy in particular, but also paused to applaud Maddon as a base-ball gentleman. “I knew one thing,” Collins asserted. “He would not leave tonight without shaking my hand because he’s a pro.”
It was after midnight by now, and nearly all the Cubs fans had left the ballpark, bound for elevated trains, bound for establishments in which to eulogize and toast their freshly dead season. The guardians of Wrigley dimmed the lights and covered the mound with tarp, but, ever the good hosts, they allowed a raucous clutch of New York fans to linger in the gloaming to savor a moment only dreamed of in these parts.