Release.
If I had to describe Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 22 in one word, that’s the one I’d choose. Because that’s what was broadcast into millions of homes across the country: the release of nerves, heartbreak and angst — seven decades’ worth built up in Chicago’s North Side — on one of baseball’s most legendary stages.
And so, here’s a sentence I thought I’d maybe never write: The Chicago Cubs shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field and advance to their first World Series since 1945.
Before that, they took down the venerable San Francisco Giants in four games in their National League Division Series matchup.
Here’s a fun bit of perspective: The last time the Cubs went to the World Series, both teams they beat along their path to the 2016 National League pennant were based in New York City.
But that’s nothing compared to what’s happened since the Cubs last won a World Series.
Jazz was an underground genre known only in New Orleans. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky had begun making a name for himself in St. Petersburg. Flight was still a human curiosity. The Titanic hadn’t sunk because it hadn’t yet been built and the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Romanovs still reigned over their empires because World War I hadn’t yet been fought.
And here’s a real kicker: The Cubs didn’t even call Wrigley Field home the last time they claimed the Fall Classic, because like the Titanic, it too didn’t exist.
The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series was 1908.
The way they played in the NLCS finale made it look like they are four simple wins away from breaking the longest drought in American sports, and their performance added to the hype and the legend of their extraordinary season.
Winds blew in from the north at the start of the game, chilling the mild 55-degree night. The breeze traveled from Lake Michigan and over the ivy covering the outfield wall before reaching the pitcher’s mound.
Thus, the wind blew in Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks’ favor.
Sure, Dodgers outfielder Andrew Toles drove the first pitch into right field, just out of reach of Cubs second baseman Javier Baez’s outstretched glove. But in the next Dodgers at-bat, Baez vacuumed LA shortstop Corey Seager’s grounder, tagged Toles out before he could safely reach base and chucked it to first for the double play.
No other Dodger would make it to base safely until the eighth inning.
Never before have I witnessed such a dominant defensive performance in a baseball game. Granted, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a shutout go down in real time, but this was special even in the realm of shutouts.
Hell, it might’ve been the greatest defensive performance I’ve seen in any sport.
As leader of this withering last stand, Hendricks delivered what can only be called a masterpiece.
He’s nicknamed the Professor due to his Ivy-League education at Dartmouth College, but he ran a clinic against the Dodgers’ batting order. He was in complete control during his tenure, cool as a marble cucumber, a strike machine with any pitch he hurled, recording six Ks over 88 pitches.
All the while, Dodgers lefty ace Clayton Kershaw floundered, allowing five runs, including two in the first inning and two solo homers.
Hendricks’ mound convo with Chicago general manager Joe Madden following that second base hit in the eighth inning was short, and I imagine it went like this:
Madden: “You wanna rest?”
Hendricks: “Why not?”
Madden: “Cool.”
But everyone in Wrigley Field gave him the drawn-out standing ovation he rightly deserved.
After closer Aroldis Chapman took the mound, the Cubs performed another double play to retire yet another side.
Chapman, not to be outdone, threw fastballs at hapless Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez in the top of the ninth that only accelerated: 101 miles per hour… 102… 103… swinging strikeout, clocked at 102 miles per hour.
At that point, the electricity surging through the stands transmitted over the airwaves.
I’ve never seen fans so close to the verge of tears while their team inched closer and closer to victory. All cameras caught an anxiety foreign to those loyal to the Loveable Losers, deep-set eyes wide and watery in the faces of all men and women, everyone on the verge of nervous collapse. It was a look of cognitive dissonance spreading through the Cubbies’ collective consciousness — both the thought painted on signs, “IT IS HAPPENING,” as well as the nagging question, “How are they gonna screw it up this time?”
One foul ball came too close for comfort and a bad case of déjà vu..
Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz popped it into the far reaches of left field’s foul territory, near where Cubs fan Steve Bartman deflected a similar foul pop in 2003 and ruined the Cubs’ last closest chance of reaching the World Series.
Fans dove away from the area; I swear I heard a man scream, “DON’T F***ING TOUCH IT!”
History would not repeat itself in that fashion.
Ruiz reached first on the only walk of the game. But it was all for nil.
Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig smacked a high-bouncing grounder to Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, who leapt and dished it to Baez, who launched it to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the double play — 27 up, 27 down.
And the Friendly Confines exploded. I burst into tears.
Release — at long last, release.
Yet the ultimate release is only four wins away.