Rozner: Lessons learned will serve Cubs well
The Cubs broke many rules in 2015 en route to the National League championship series.
Baseball is supposed to be a game of steps, sometimes tiny, as you build toward greatness, and the Cubs skipped several on the way to winning the wild-card ganme and then beating the Cardinals in the NLDS.
They were fearless and unpretentious and no one could be blamed for thinking they might just take a ride to the top without stopping to realize how unlikely the journey would be.
And then they ran headfirst into the immovable object, brilliant young arms backed by terrific defense, opportunistic baserunning and one incredibly hot hitter who did things that no one but Daniel Murphy has ever done in postseason history.
So the lessons the Cubs never had to learn during the season were handed to them by the Mets, who worked counts better, held baserunners better, caught the ball better, ran the bases better, made pitches better and generally did little things better during this series.
"You don't always win your first time at a level in the postseason," Cubs president Theo Epstein said Thursday. "I was part of a team (in Boston) that went to the LCS and lost, and then came back better, stronger, hungrier and more focused the next year and won."
The Red Sox lost the ALCS to the Yankees in 2003 and returned the following season to take out the Yankees in the ALCS and win the World Series.
"It's just an invaluable learning experience for these young players," Epstein said, "and I'm really glad they had that."
But for those who live in the black-and-white world of numbers, there is no way to measure that, right?
"I disagree," said veteran Jon Lester. "I've seen it. I've seen the difference between players who have never been on the stage and players who return to the stage.
"There's a difference in how they approach an at-bat or a certain pitch. There's having the knowledge of how it feels to be there. You learn to manage that moment differently through experience.
"You feel different and that's how you measure that. Calm and confident instead of guessing or being unable to handle that feeling."
It doesn't mean the Cubs weren't angry about falling short. Sure, it was an unexpected gift of a season, but the desire to win now was no less than it will be next season.
"I'm sure we're all gonna go home and sit on our couches and think about the pitch that got away or what we could have done better," Lester said. "You know, 'I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that.'
"You have to move on. Worry about what you can control. Joe (Maddon) has preached it all year. Be upset, be mad and then move on.
"We got beat by a team hotter than us. They just pitched a little better, hit a little better, did everything a little better.
"But we have a great group of guys who know now a lot of things they didn't know before about what it takes to get here and how to move on from here.
"The future is bright."
And while being disappointed, Lester said part of the process is reflecting on the good things and understanding the accomplishment, even if you fall short of the ultimate goal.
"I don't think you can fully enjoy the moment until it's over," Lester said. "You don't have time to step back, look around and kind of soak everything in. Guys get to enjoy it after we all settle down in the off-season, and you can look back on things and really relish those memories.
"The playoffs are such a blur. The further you go, the faster things pick up with more travel, later nights, getting up earlier. So I really don't think until it's over can you look back and enjoy the moments."
Kyle Schwarber's been here for about 15 minutes, but he spoke Wednesday night postgame like a 10-year veteran.
"I was watching Dan Haren after the game and thinking about him a lot," said the 22-year-old Schwarber. "This is it for him, his last day in a big league uniform. That really drives it home. That puts it all in perspective. You have to enjoy this ride.
"But it feels bad now. I have a sick feeling in my stomach. We were four wins away from the World Series and it hurts. There's a lot of what-ifs that go through your mind.
"Gonna start thinking about the off-season and working hard and getting in shape, but before you know it, spring training will be here.
"We know what it takes to get here and we know what it takes to go further. I know we don't want to feel like this again."
About an hour after the game, Haren sat in the stands behind home plate, watching the Mets continue to celebrate at Wrigley Field. He spoke to his wife on the phone, talking about the next chapter in their lives after spending the last 30 years immersed in baseball.
It's never easy for any player to walk away, but one certainty about baseball is the game moves on from every player and every team, just as the World Series will be played without the Cubs.
The harsh truth is the game waits for no one.
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