McKnight: Cubs making meaningful baseball
Saturday morning, Cubs fans woke up to a feeling they've not felt since 2008.
There would be meaningful baseball in October.
The Giants were never going to catch the Cubs; not since sweeping a four-game set at Wrigley back in early August and effectively forcing the San Francisco faithful to wait for the next even-number year. No, the Cubs have long known they'd at least be in a one-game playoff.
Friday, fans and players alike had a taste of what Oct. 7 will bring. Gerrit Cole and his nasty fastball were back. Cole, seemingly tired of holding onto a 4+ ERA through his previous four September starts, fanned eight in seven innings and could have had more if not for a fairly tight strike zone.
While Friday's loss increased the Pirates' lead on the top Wild Card spot and made it more and more likely that the Cubs will be on the road for their first playoff game in six seasons, it may not matter.
David Ross, for one, said as much. "How important is home field," he was asked.
"It's not, in my mind. That's my personal opinion," he responded. As a matter of fact, he continued, "We've played well at their place. We play strong in Pittsburgh."
Posting a 6-4 record at PNC helps back that statement. As does the confidence in throwing Jake Arrieta in that game.
Friday was a moment of realization for both fans and players. It was one in a series of moments throughout the season that have continually supported the now popular hashtag Miguel Montero happened upon via Twitter: We Are Good.
There was Addison Russell making a spectacular diving play up the middle to win a ballgame against the Cardinals in a game the Cardinals should have, and always used to, come back and win.
There was the jewel in Arrieta's magnificent season; a no-hitter against the Dodgers. Just one in a string of starts that's marked him as near-equal to the unmatched Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
There was the Month of Schwarber. He announced his presence with authority. The kid had people only half-kidding when they called him Babe.
There were Starlin Castro's big hits early. Then his seeming demise, demotion and disgrace. Then his rebirth.
Make no mistake. If the Cubs to make a run in the post season, Castro will play a huge role in it. Whether it's off the bench or platooning, he's found a calm, I think, that's eluded him for a while now. Calm helps in October.
A season that had many merely praying that the kids could play turned into one of expectation. It's a season that has the spoiled lamenting the one-game playoff as beneath a team this good.
A one-game playoff is full of the beautiful randomness that is baseball but, perhaps after this one, the Cubs can give feelings they've not felt in a long, long time.
• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM and is a cohost of The Beat, the station's sports talk show on the weekends. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN