Spiegel: Why Cubs fans have little to fear
The elation was mixed with a great deal of relief.
There was a cleansing power to the wild-card win in Pittsburgh, with good reason.
These are not your parents' Cubs. Or their parents' Cubs.
The laundry is the same. The ballpark still rests on concrete they once walked upon.
But the foundation of this current organization is unlike the ones that have let so many generations down. It's a calm, experienced front office full of winners. You've watched them for four years and appreciated the design of their plan, the patience of their expectations.
You heard this manager was different, too. This season you noticed his strategy, his leadership, his communication skills. You watched him move a three-time all-star to the bench, then to a new position and an offensive rebirth. You grew to believe this guy is indeed special.
And Wednesday night you found out the players are unlike the ones who haunt your memories.
These Cubs actually showed up and played like they have; they played like you hoped they would, like you thought they should.
The best way to describe the brilliant dominance of Jake Arrieta is to say that he was his usual self. The best remain themselves, as situations around them intensify and pressure mounts.
The kids stayed calm … and delivered.
Kyle Schwarber went opposite field for an RBI single in the first. In the third he got ahead in the count with the same approach he has had since Indiana University. That set up a monstrous blast into the river, and a glorious bat flip that read like a microphone drop.
Kris Bryant played an extremely aggressive third base once he was moved there for defense in the fifth, and he shined on three big plays.
Addison Russell could not cradle a hot grounder that was ruled an error, setting up the most tense moments of the game in the sixth. Your anxiety climbed. But Russell was given another hard-hit opportunity. A 6-4-3 play, an Anthony Rizzo fist pump, and the inning was done.
It's one thing to make it. It's another to enter the Cardinals series without the soul crushing fear that pain and failure are inevitable.
Wednesday validated what you've wanted to believe about this bunch. Be it this year or any of the next few, championship possibilities in October are real.
The Cubs you grew up on were sometimes mishandled by overmatched managers. Jim Frey wanted to save Rick Sutcliffe for Game 1 of the World Series. Dusty Baker went to the bullpen for Dave Veres while Jack McKeon called on Josh Beckett. Lou Piniella sat idly by as Ryan Dempster melted down.
This team will not implode from the top. Just look at Joe Maddon's Wednesday night.
The lineup was aggressive, stocked with the eight best bats possible for this particular matchup. The goal was to survive on defense for five or six innings while grabbing an early lead.
Cubs runners attacked as they have from Opening Day. Dexter Fowler's stolen base enabled that early lead, and the Cubs dictated the rest of the night.
When it came time to reshuffle and protect the lead, Maddon worked fast. Bryant went to third, with Austin Jackson taking his place in the awkward left field of PNC Park. Even with Schwarber due up first in the eighth, Chris Denorfia went to right field in the seventh. Maddon tried to get the baby Babe one more AB, but it was time.
This guy's maneuvers are smart, researched, well-reasoned and decisive.
MLB and its broadcast partners want the Cubs alive as long as possible. The market size is one factor. But they also want to taunt you, and tempt new viewers, with goats and curses. It will be ghosts and goblins in pregame shows all October.
But you don't have to fear that this playoff fate will fit their storyline.
It is now easier to let go of the irrational angst and soul-crushing fear of the past.
This is a different bunch.
• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.