In the 151st game of a season in which they were unofficially eliminated from playoff contention about 100 games ago, the Cubs found a reason to celebrate. With a runner of third base in the bottom of the 11th inning on Friday, David DeJesus slapped an infield single through the right side to beat the Cardinals 5-4 and Dejesus’ teammates mobbed him on the mound.
The players danced, hopped up and down and hugged as though they’d broken the team’s storied curse and when DeJesus finally broke free of the scrum, he raised his arms triumphantly like a televangelist who’d just healed a leper live on television before skipping off triumphantly, hand in hand with a teammate in a we’re-off-to-see-the wizard-like reverie.
The camera panned to the stands and small clusters of hardy fans who had braved the 50 degree chill and showers cheered or simply gathered their belongings as the P.A. system blared the anthem “Go Cubs Go” out across the nearly empty old ballpark. Winter is right around the corner here in Chicago and another season of Cubs baseball is almost over. The North Siders are in danger of losing 100 games, but you wouldn’t know it after seeing the players’ jubilant response to their extra inning triumph on Friday.
Despite the win, the bleak reality of the team’s situation was driven home during Comcast SportsNet’s postgame report. The network asked fans to weigh in on whether Cubs’ pitcher Chris Volstad had “earned” a spot in the team’s rotation in 2013. Asking Cubs fans if they’d like to see Volstad, who is 3-10 and has a 6.26 ERA, back in the rotation next year is roughly akin to asking campers if they’d like to see Freddy Krueger at their campsites, but the fact that the question was even posed is a sad statement on the state of the franchise.
A win over the hated Cardinals is always a cause for celebration but is there something unseemly about a terrible team staging a rowdy celebration after a win? You don’t see NHL players on a last place club throwing their sticks and acting like they’d just recreated the Miracle on Ice when they pull of an overtime win. NFL and NBA players on hopeless teams are also typically pretty reserved when their teams win meaningless games.
Baseball is different. Bad teams have to endure defeat upwards of 100 times per year, far more than any other sport, and all that losing must take a toll on the players’ psyches. The fact that baseball players can find joy even in a dismal season is yet another reason to love a sport where even a bad team has a 40% chance of winning on any given day.
As brutal as this season has been, Cubs fans will miss the team when the season is over in the same twisted way that battered spouses feel bad when their husbands go to prison. We’re just used to having them around every day.
This weekend’s series against the Cardinals raised a dilemma for Cubs fans. Many wanted the team to lose so the Cubs could clinch the #2 pick in the draft but also want the Cardinals to miss the playoffs. In losing two of the weekend’s three contests, the Cubs may have actually struck exactly the right balance and found a way to win while losing. Next season is already right around the corner.