Cubs ‘Clinch’ as Architects of Rebuild Look on From Bleachers

The Cubs were already NL Central champs regardless of the outcome, but there was still a palpable sense of expectation from fans who wanted to see their team legitimize the accomplishment with a win.

It was looking for a while as though they’d end up disappointed, what with Joe Maddon rolling out a lineup more evocative of 2012 than a World Series contender. I mean, Chris Coghlan at first base? Really?

One group that had no problem reveling in the meaningless absurdity of the game and the security of the Cubs’ situation was the front office. As the afternoon wore on, social media was flooded by pictures and reports of a disguised Theo Epstein partying in the bleachers while rocking a Try Not To Suck shirt and fake facial hair.

I mean, of course that’s Theo Epstein. My favorite part of the whole deal was how some guys in the national media began picking up on BoT’s viral tweets and thinking that Epstein was really trying to go incognito. Because, you know, being surrounded by the rest of the baseball ops crew wasn’t a dead giveaway.

Yep, there’s Jed Hoyer. And Jason McLeod, future Minnesota Twins GM. And Jaron Madison, the director of player development. And assistant GMs Shiraz Rehman and Randy Bush; pro scouting director, Jared Porter; baseball ops director, Scott Harris; and special assistants Kyle Evans and Louie Eljaua.

I guess we can forgive someone for thinking this was just another group of aging frat-bros reliving their salad days. After all, their ringleader is so well known that he kinda overshadows the rest of the brain trust. It’s like failing to see a leprechaun, a sasquatch, and a yeti, not to mention various other figures from myth and legend, because you can’t take your eyes off of the centaur with Brad Pitt’s torso.

The game itself was kind of an incongruous juxtaposition as well, a collection of leading men taking their bows only to exit stage left while their understudies read their lines. Thus the afternoon consisted mainly of falling action as anti-hero John Lackey took his lumps. Vexed as he was by bit players like Orlando Arcia and Grown Man Named Scooter, the Cubs starter could only shake his head as walked off the mound after 7 innings of work.

Meanwhile, the poster boy for the Trying to Make the Playoff Roster Players, Coghlan, collected three hits. Other troupe members Albert Almora and Tommy La Stella contributed three combined hits, with the former picking up two knocks and a pair of runs batted in. In a move reminiscent of Kris Bryant, Almora even got thrown out after taking a wide turn around second.

The real show, however, remained in the bleachers, where Tom Ricketts had joined the rest of his staff. I’m not sure how many times a billionaire team owner has posed for a picture holding a fake mustache that had fallen off the face of his top employee, but we now know it’s happened at least once.

The weirds weren’t limited to the bleachers, though, as the emotional dichotomy among fans swirled faster with each inning. On one side, those shrugging with a sort of IDGAF resignation. On the other, those who refused to accept the reality that their JV squad wasn’t even trying to beat the Brewers, themselves little more than a cover band for an actual major league team.

And then the Cubs’ scrubs managed to come back behind a mix of grit, moxie, and Brewerific play. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the 9th, Willson Contreras led off with a double and scored on a Coghlan single. After Almora lined out, La Stella smashed a ball down the line to Chris Carter, who muffed the play near first base to put Cubs at first and second with one out.

Munenori Kawasaki took one for the team, hopping around like the victim of a Greg Maddux hot-foot when he was hit on the toe by an errant Carlos Torres pitch. Addison Russell, apparently one of the few Cubs regulars who hadn’t actually celebrated Thursday night, came on to pinch hit and grounded weakly toward GMNS at second. In one of the rare cases in which it’s okay to slide into first, Russell dove for the bag and made sure to avoid contact en route to an infield single that allowed Cobra to score. Tie game.

Matt Szczur lined out to shallow center and then Javy Baez had a pretty brutal at-bat that ended in a soft come-backer to Torres. Fffffaaaarrrrrtttt.

Sure, it was great that the Cubs had tied the game. It’s just…ugh, that anti-climactic AB. The rising action of the unlikely heroes banding together had all the hallmarks of a walk-off that would provide the satisfaction that even a Cardinals loss could not provide. Alas, the show would have to go on.

The Brewers went down in order, striking out three times against Aroldis Chapman. Leadoff hitter Jake Elmore might as well have left his bat in the dugout for as much good as it did him. He watched two balls pass out of the zone before the next three found it. Ryan Braun managed to foul a pitch off before taking a slider for a strike and whiffing at a change. Chris Carter took a 103 mph fastball and then made like the frenetic crowd around him and fanned.

Cue Miguel Montero.

Remember that whole thing about Coghlan’s big game? When I first looked at the likely playoff roster a little while back, I had opted for Cobra over Miggy. The latter, I reasoned, looked hobbled and wasn’t producing on either side of the plate. He’s only made eight starts since August 20, and one of those was as a DH. Five other appearances in that time, including Friday, have been as a pinch hitter. The diminished role could be indicative of his expendable nature, but his production has been anything but.

Coming into Friday’s game, Montero was slashing .387/.457/.581 with a wRC+ of 181 in his last 35 plate appearances. That might be something you’d like to have on the bench come October, huh. ¬†Or in September, for that matter. Especially when he makes like Fat Joe and leans back.

And…scene.

Man, could Aaron Sorkin have written a better screenplay? Well, I’m sure if you asked him he’d say so. Even absent the weight of consequence, this game and the resultant celebration provided a fitting capstone for what has been a pretty incredible regular season. There’s certainly more to do, more magic numbers to extinguish, but I’ll forgive you for taking a few minutes to revel in the excitement of a division title.

If you missed it, or if you’d just like to watch it a few more times, here’s some footage of the postgame party. You can find kinds of beer-soaked clips at MLB.com as well.

Enjoy it, my friends, the real work is about to start.







Back to top button