CHICAGO — The lines to get into the Wrigleyville bars weren’t as long, the woo-hoos weren’t as organic, the high-fives less automatic. Before the game, the ticket prices on the secondary market were a little depressed, the patios weren’t overflowing quite in the same way, and the pre-game shrieking was somewhat muted. Chicago was finally down to a "normal World Series host city" level.
Maybe that’s because it was a football Sunday, or maybe it was because it was a work night, or maybe it was because sustaining that kind of three-day revelry is impossible for anyone, even Cubs fans hopped up on fermented pennant juice.
Or maybe it was because everybody was worried about the Cubs finally bringing the World Series to Wrigley Field and not winning a single damned game.
There are levels to the Cubs being lovable losers, their attempts to escape from the gulag of low expectations, and there’s something about them going oh-for-Wrigley that would have been especially cruel, even by Cubs standards. If they lose the series in tough, tightly contested seven games, hearts will still be broken. But I’m not sure any fan base since the advent of divisional play has been better equipped to appreciate the pennant than this one. And they really wanted just a reason to cheer at Wrigley and sustain a Lakeview bonfire for a night.
But you have to throw the fans one moment in the World Series, one meaty bone. You have to let them walk out of that ballpark after a World Series game at least once as they think about how it’s really going to work this time.
A list of the last time a team won a World Series game at home before Sunday night:
There are four teams who haven’t ever had the molten thrill of 40,000 throaty fans screaming for the final out or run in a World Series game. I’m always loathe to count the Nationals in this tally, considering that their fans don’t care about Montreal and vice versa, but they still deserve a place in the conversation. Those four teams have some World Series demons to exorcise.
The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series game since any of them existed, though, and that counts for all the bonus points. Look at the gap between them and the next team. Dave Parker wasn’t born when the Cubs won their last World Series game, but he was a part of the last Pirates win. It’s a long time to go between at least one lousy World Series win at home.
More than that, even, the Cubs hadn’t even given their fans an excuse to cheer much in this World Series. There was a double play in the second inning of Game 3, an even more desperate double play in the fifth inning of that game, and a first-inning run in Game 4. That’s three legitimate reasons to scream out of 21 innings heading into the fourth inning of Game 5. That’s just a miserable ratio for fans who are willing to cheer Vince Vaughn if the mood is right.
In the auxiliary press box, down the third-base line, the makeshift desks and seats shook, and it was a solid shake, not a writerly piece of atmosphere that you need to be convinced of. Part of the shaking was the noise, part of that was that the ballpark was built before safety was invented. That’s all the point, though. The vibrations reminded everyone that they were in a frail basket of ancient history, and that was the best part. Most of the history was sad, but this was not, and that made it so much better.
That’s when the fans got greedy. Most of them chanted "TREEE-VORRRRR" in concert, with more than a few hundred chanting "BAAAAUUUU-ERRRR." They didn’t have a meeting about this strategy before the game, see, but there they all were, chanting something to rattle the other guy, who was just cerebral enough to be rattled. It worked, or it was a coincidence that it worked, and the stands shook again with more Cubs runs.
There are Cubs fans who might be along for the ride, who might not grasp exactly what kind of poltergeists they’re dealing with. But I walked behind two people having a conversation about Mordecai Brown on the way in, hours before I walked behind someone with a 1979 Dave Kingman jersey on the way out, and I’d like to think those hardy folk were shaking the foundations.
Behind those cheers, though, there was something more than an acknowledgement of past failures and historical disappointments. There was an idea that the Cubs were probably the better team, and that they should win games. The Kris Bryant homer was a reminder that, oh, they have Kris Bryant. The Cubs have Jon Lester, who was masterful in Game 5. They have a deep bullpen, so long as you stick to the recognizable names. They have a gaggle of players who should be much better than they’ve shown, especially Javier Baez, who just swung at the dot above the "i" in his name.
More importantly, the Cubs have two Cy Young contenders lined up on regular rest for the final two games of the series, if needed. They can win two games in Cleveland, if only because they’ve been more likely to win any game anywhere all year.
There’s still the boogeyman of Corey Kluber lurking. And if the Indians should happen to get a lead in the next two games, the Cubs will have to face a mostly rested Andrew Miller. A Jake Arrieta/Josh Tomlin matchup looks great on paper until it’s the fifth inning, with the Indians up one, and Miller warming up.
To put it another way, the Indians need to win one game at home, and the Cubs need to win two games on the road. The advantage goes to the Indians. The Cubs are still probably hosed.
They didn’t go oh-for-Wrigley, though. For one night, there was one of these:
The last time there was a party like that outside Wrigley was Oct. 8, 1945, and there were players named Peanuts, Skeeter, and Jimmy Outlaw. Was it the same kind of party back then? Did they have at least an inkling that it would take 71 years to get back there? Is this just a picture of the party from back then, like something behind the bar at the Overlook Hotel?
Dunno. But this current version was certainly a party, one that wasn’t guaranteed, and Cubs fans were making the most of it. The Indians, still scrapping, still cobbling together what they can, will have the impressively loud hometown fans behind them for Game 6 and possibly Game 7. They’re still the favorites.
The Cubs had their moment, though. They still can fold it itself over and over and over again, creating an atomic reaction that would lead to a 2 million-strong parade, but there was also a chance they wouldn’t even have this one night in front of Wrigley. They have it now.
Does that seem like a minor victory, a consolation prize, if the Cubs can’t win the World Series? Maybe. But there’s an alchemy at work, here, and it’s one part "Why not us?" and two parts, "Good lord, this team is legitimately excellent." And if you can’t celebrate that after a stay-alive win, needing just two more wins for the unthinkable, you can’t celebrate anything. This is still an excellent team, and they deserved more than to be swept out of their own ballpark.
They don’t have to suffer that indignity. Now they just have to win two games. It's harder than it sounds, but so is doing anything that makes Cubs fans feel like this in October. They got one. It's the next two that will be a little trickier.
They got one, though.