Grace insists he was in bed by midnight most nights, but he simply could not will himself to sleep. George Burns's line—"Say good night, Grade"—didn't work with him. Rather than REM-lessly replaying the game just concluded, he would tend to preplay the next day's game. Five minutes after the Cubs lost 6-2 to Houston last Friday, they saw the Mets lose to Atlanta on a clubhouse television. "Yeah!" said Cubs outfielder Glenallen Hill. "Thank you very much!" In Denver, one time zone to the west, the Giants were opening a large canister of Whup-Ass on the Colorado Rockies, which would mean a three-way wildcard tie with two games to play. "Tonight," said Grace, resigned to studying the ceiling of his room at the Westin, "I'll be thinking about regathering ourselves to face Shane Reynolds tomorrow.
"You know, we've already beaten Reynolds this year," he added, matter-of-factly, referring to the Astros' 19-game winner. "Two-to-nothing at Wrigley."
"Is that so?" a reporter asked.
"Yeah," said Grace, his smile spreading now like outfield ivy. "Kerry struck out 20 Astros that day. But we have beaten him."
Alas, Wood would be out of the Cubs' rotation for at least another week with soreness in his throwing elbow. Asked how much he and the Cubs missed the righthander, "Well, he's a s—head," said Grace, just in case the unfailingly polite rookie was within earshot. "But the boy can pitch. I miss that golden arm in the lineup."
As Grace spoke, he was taking in the odd sight of 7-foot Toronto Raptors center Kevin Willis accepting a signed bat from Sosa, who'd hit his 66th home run earlier in the evening. Sammy and Willis, who had never before met, gave each other a bear hug by way of parting because, while strangers, they are both celebrities, and that's what celebrities do. For a team that just lost for the fifth time in six games, the Cubs were showing all the urgency of a post-office window attendant.
"There's no urgency," Grace said. "Hell, this is what we live for. You don't think I'm enjoying this? I have basically played for pride for the last 9½ years. Now we're playing games that matter."
All our story needs now is a denouement—still. The Cubs were working on one. Honest. They like to write macabre, unconventional endings. The Cubs are O. Henry. "It never ends normal for us," Grace said last Saturday, after his team's bizarre 3-2 victory over the Astros. The game concluded with the hair-raising (and hair-risen) closer Rod Beck, whom the Cubs call Shooter, fielding Dave Clark's dribbler, missing the tag as Clark ran past and then hitting him in the back with the throw to first. The play would have brought home the tying run.
"Rod Beck has 50 of the coolest saves you can imagine," continued Grace, who'd sprinted to the clubhouse after home plate umpire Eric Gregg brazenly ruled Clark out for leaving the baseline. "I said to Shooter earlier this year, 'I thought Mitch Williams retired.' "
The Mets lost and the Giants won, so a one-game playoff would be played at Wrigley Field on Monday—if both the Cubs and Giants won on Sunday. Or if all three teams lost. So last Saturday, for the first time all year, the immediacy of another trip to the postseason seemed to hit Grace full in the face. "If we win tomorrow," he said, "even if it's for a one-game playoff, you will see a very emotional first baseman out there."