A loss to the Brewers, and what Theo’s up against

The walking on water thing has yet to begin for Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein.

If you ever want to know what being a Cubs fan feels like, I offer Thursday’s game in Milwaukee as Exhibit A. It was the third and final game of a series in Milwaukee, and the “rubber game” to determine who claimed the series victory. But really, the game meant nothing to the Cubs. The only drama left for this year won’t even be losing 100 games. To steal a phrase from the now-reviled Ryan Theriot, “It’s gonna happen.”

No, the only drama left in this season for the Cubs is whether they or the Padres or the Royals or the Twins will end up as the Worst Team In Baseball. Yes, it really is that bad. And yet, somehow, I was still interested in how the Cubs fared. I’m fortunately not addicted to anything, but that sense of not-being-able-to-keep-away is something I can relate to. And so it was when I left work Thursday afternoon.

I have about an hour’s commute through suburban Chicago in order to get home. Some days I have my colleague Josh alongside to help pass the time. If you’re on this website and you don’t know about CardboardGods, go there now. And you’re welcome.

Josh is a baseball guy, and I’m a baseball guy, and so most of the time we talk about baseball players and games from long ago. But today was different. The Cubs were playing in the late innings, and I wanted to find out how the game was going to end up, so I turned on the radio. This was baseball in the now.

In all honesty, I knew how the game was going to end, before it ever did. As the Cubs and Brewers went into extra innings, I lamented that the story always seemed to end the same way. As a Red Sox fan, Josh knows this, too. There’s always a play, a moment or a critical juncture where things just seem to go the other way. But then Theo came to Boston and undid all that, or at least was there as it came undone. And now he’s supposed to undo it all over again in Chicago. Nothing less than a complete undoing will do. I wish I could phrase it more artfully than that, but it’s the truth.

And in the top of the 10th inning, I went and got my hopes up. A Cubs batter – it doesn’t matter who it is anymore – lifted a long fly ball to the outfield. Pat Hughes, the Cubs’ announcer, made it sound, for a brief shining moment, like the ball had a chance to leave the park. And then, just as quickly as hope sprouted up, it was crushed by a Brewers outfielder. Again, I could look up who it was, but that’s really not important to the story here.

Once the catch was made, I recall slamming my head backward into the head rest a couple of times. I’ve never done that before, and it was a complete reflex move on my part. I think the all-too-brief appearance of  hope played a part in it. I thought, in that one split-second, that the ball was gone, and the Cubs had taken a lead. But no, it was back to the same old same old.

I turned off the radio, unable to listen to any of the commercials between innings. I told Josh that the bottom half of an inning is always the worst time for a visiting team, since every pitch could literally end the game. Josh replied that only bad things could now happen for the Cubs. And perhaps they already had by the time he said this.

I turned the radio back on, and was greeted by Pat Hughes reciting the Cubs’ line for the game. I had missed hearing how many runs they had, but the fact that it was being said at all wasn’t a good thing. And sure enough, the Cubs had put in a reliever who served up a home run to the first batter he faced. I could look up the names if it was important, but the broad brush story of the game would be the same, no matter what the names are.

And so the beat goes on for this year’s edition of the Chicago Cubs. I followed the game because I had to know, but in hindsight it appears that I already knew. And just in case Theo didn’t know exactly what he’s up against, he must know it now.

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