Constable: Why Cubs fans should embrace tension of pennant race
One year ago, delirious Chicago Cubs fans packed Wrigley Field on a Thursday night expecting to see their team clinch the Central Division crown with a win at the Friendly Confines. Instead, the Cubs' bullpen gave up a couple of runs late and the Milwaukee Brewers held on for a 5-4 victory that spoiled the on-field celebration. Disappointed Cubs fans trudged home.
It would be another 90 minutes before we learned that the St. Louis Cardinals had dropped a 6-2 game on the West Coast to the San Francisco Giants, allowing the Cubs to back into the 2016 division title.
A couple hundred fans did stick around in Wrigleyville and ran over to snap photos of that news being flashed on the Wrigley Field marquee, but the celebrations certainly lost a little something.
There will be no anti-climactic, late-night clinching Thursday night for the Cubs, who are in a dogfight with those Cardinals and Brewers to win the division and make the postseason. And that's great.
Some pessimistic fans already fell back into their old lovable loser mindset and are waiting for the Cubs to blow it. Others are a bundle of nerves, just hoping the Cubs can hold on to the slim lead, especially with the Cubs still facing the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend at Wrigley, a four-game series in Milwaukee and another four-game set in St. Louis.
I'm pumped because I figure the Cubs' mediocre play of late could postpone the clinching until the end of the month when they close out the season with three games against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, allowing fans and players to celebrate together in style.
The Cubs, as star slugger Anthony Rizzo politely pointed out, are the reigning world champs and in first place. So why blame those of us fans who just want to see our Cubs give us some celebrations in Wrigley Field?
In 2015, when the Cubs caught fire and earned a wild card spot, the team again backed into the playoffs by dropping a Friday afternoon game, 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, forcing bummed fans to stay up late to discover the San Francisco Giants' 5-4 loss to Oakland propelled the Cubs into the playoffs.
Even last year's greatest Cubs season in our lifetimes (and several lifetimes before us) reached its Game 7 pinnacle in Cleveland, which, wonderful as it was, can't compete with a World Series celebration in a packed Wrigley Field.
In 1984, the Cubs returned to the postseason for the first time since World War II. But the clinching moment for most fans came from watching their non-HD TVs on a Monday night as ace Rick Sutcliffe struck out Pirate Joe Orsulak in Pittsburgh to send the Cubs into the postseason as Eastern Division champions. I take extra care when I hang that ornament, declaring the Cubs winners of a division to which they no longer belong, on our Christmas tree every December. But it would have been more fun to see the Cubs clinch in Wrigley Field.
Last year, Cubs manager Joe Maddon told his players to "embrace the target" and "never let the pressure exceed the pleasure." Fans need to remember that advice this season. You can never give up on these Cubs, who have a nice track record of not giving up.
After compiling the best record in baseball last season, the Cubs were up two games to none in the division series against the San Francisco Giants when they lost a heartbreaker 6-5 in 13 innings. The next night, the Cubs were down 5-2 going into the ninth inning, seemingly facing a loss that would drop them into a final game against Giants' ace Johnny Cueto. Instead, the Cubs staged the greatest comeback in postseason-clinching history by scoring four runs to win 6-5.
In the best-of-seven National League championship series, the Cubs were down two games to one against the Los Angeles Dodgers, only to rally for a 4-2 series victory.
Of course, they were down three games to one in the World Series before miraculously winning the final three games, the last in extra innings, to become champions.
So a little drama is good for these Cubs. I just hope that the Cubs find a way to win the World Series in Wrigley Field this time.