It’s a movie you’ve seen a million times but just can’t seem to tear your eyes away from. The Cubs, trailing by several runs in the latter stages of the game after yet another uninspired performance, suddenly find their groove and begin to show signs of life. They’re Rocky fighting Apollo Creed for the first time, the Spartans holding off Xerxes armies.
You shift to the edge of your seat, haphazardly tossing popcorn at your mouth like Starlin Castro with a handful of seeds as you await the conclusion. And even though you know what’s coming next, you maintain the inexplicable hope that this time it’ll be different. This rally will actually result in a win.
But it doesn’t. Leonidas and the Spartans still fall, Rocky can’t overcome the champ. It’s exactly this pattern of doing just enough to inspire hope of a comeback before dashing it against the jagged rocks of defeat that gave birth to the term “fake rally.” When it comes to writing screenplays for that particular brand of disappointment, the Cubs are Quentin Tarrantino.
That’s exactly why they set about bringing some new producers on board, then going after the best director in the game. Joe Maddon, after all, doesn’t believe in hope. Just like what they make in Hollywood, he knows that with the right cast and script, it’s absolutely possible to create a little bit of magic. And not the dark sort they practice a few hours to the southwest, either.
When you have the sort of rosters the Cubs have been working with over the past few years, you’ve got little other than hope to carry you along. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, but they gave themselves precious few chances to make luck, which is kind of a form of magic, happen.
The margin for error was so slim that to achieve any measure of sustained success, even if that meant coming back from a 3-run deficit, felt like an impossible task. Anything less than a pristine effort from the whole team was likely to result in a loss. At the end of the day, despite your most ardent wishes, you just knew the Cubs were going to lose.
That’s what bad teams do, what they inspire in their fans. For too long, Cubs fans have lacked any real confidence in their team’s ability to win games. So you can’t blame folks for flying the fake rally banner when Arismendy Alcantara walked and Welington Castillo then drove him home. That’s what the Cubs do.
The next batter would strike out or hit a weak grounder to the second baseman and the Cubs would tuck their tails between their legs and shuffle home to try again another day. But the next batter in this case was Dexter Fowler, a new addition who hasn’t been a party to recent failures and was apparently unfamiliar with the script. God bless his improvisational skills.
Fowler lifted a home run to right off of frequent Cubs foil LaTroy Hawkins, thus sending viewers from resignation to a rushed elation. This isn’t what the Cubs do though, not the team we’ve grown used to. Right? Rocky doesn’t land that shot. Unless we’re not watching the same movie anymore; maybe this is Rocky II.
Kyle Hendricks, who started Sunday’s game, certainly believes there’s something different about this team. “Honestly, I don’t think we win this last year,” the second-year pitcher said. “Just the confidence factor, all the new guys coming in here with the winning attitude, the winning ways. These guys know how to win. And it just showed right there. I think there’s going to be a lot of those this year.”
Listen, it’s still too early to go writing sequels and planning this thing out like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start changing the way we watch the Cubs and how we expect their conclusions to play out. It’s time to throw out the defeatist mentality that gave birth to the fake rally concept and adopt a new, positive, paradigm.
Because good teams set aside all the reasons they shouldn’t win and they focus on the one reason they will win. At the risk of sounding a little hokey, there really is power in positive thinking. Good teams make their own luck, but sometimes they get the benefit of a few breaks along the way too.
Or maybe they don’t get breaks, as was the case with Mike Olt, who, after being drilled in the wrist by an Adam Ottavino heater in Saturday’s victory, was active for Sunday’s game. It’ll be little more than a footnote by next week, like an extra with just enough screen time to earn a credit, but it’s those little twists of kismet that go the way of good teams.
Don’t get me wrong, this team is still going to have its share of bad luck this season too. But they’re already proving that this isn’t the same old predictable movie we’ve seen one too many times. And word has it they’re looking to hire one more leading man, if not two.