Mark Derosa, the
Everyman on Everyone's Team, was in rightfield early in the Chicago Cubs'
recent 10-game homestand when he spotted a sign in the Wrigley Field stands:
IT'S GONNA HAPPEN. There was something compelling, even mystical, about the
words. They stuck in his head, like the lyrics of a long-ago song on the car
radio. The "it," of course, can be open-ended, ambiguous. (A meteor is
going to wipe out the North Side? Will Ferrell is going to make a movie in
which he doesn't strip to his skivvies?) Cubs fans, however, are
glass-half-full people--usually after chugging the other half--and the sign's
meaning, in context, left little to the imagination. "When teams go on runs
and good things happen to them, there always seems to be a slogan that follows
them," DeRosa says. "It seems that this one has been popping up a
Now in their 99th
year of rebuilding, the Cubs' losing is just a few rungs below death and taxes
on the inevitability scale. But having perfected the art of defeat, losing in
tragicomic ways that challenge the mind and numb the soul, maybe at long last,
to paraphrase scripture, the lion will lie down with the billy goat and the
Cubs will do something as delightful as win the...
No, the Cubs don't
need to be burdened by another jinx. But they are looming, within 3 1?2 games
of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, despite a 3-0 loss to the Arizona
Diamondbacks on Sunday that left the Cubs with a 7-3 mark for the homestand.
And even the players are beginning to believe that maybe, just maybe, It Could
Happen. "It has to, it's inevitable," says Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot.
"We keep playing hard, sooner or later it'll happen."
They may be in a
mediocre division in a league as soft as a passing summer shower, but the Cubs
have become a genuine presence. They have rapped out clutch hits and received
superb pitching while putting together, at week's end, the best record in
baseball since June 3, recapturing the magic of the Wrigley experience as it
was in 2003 and '04, when the Cubs were star-crossed contenders.
Sure, it's been
axiomatic for most of the past quarter of a century that not even bad baseball
can blunt good times in America's favorite baseball theme park. But that's like
saying the Vatican is more famous for its art than its religious significance.
"We're sold out, no matter what," All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee
says. "But now the fans are on their feet, hanging on every pitch, where in
the past they were just out there drinking beer, talking to each other, having
a party. Now they pay attention."
The Cubs give them
little choice because every win seems to contain a moment or two to burn on the
CD of memory, providing the grand stories that a city tells itself about its
winning teams. Consider last week:
? Koyie Hill, one of
six catchers who have started for the Cubs in 2007 and a guy who was barely
hitting his IQ, drove in five runs on Wednesday in the Cubs' 12-1 thrashing of
the San Francisco Giants. Chicago scored seven runs after two were out, a trend
that extended throughout this homestand. Of the Cubs' 56 runs in the 10 games,
25 came with two outs. "It's a little contagious," manager Lou Piniella
says, "and it demoralizes the other team a little bit."
?The following day,
Barry Bonds hits two Ruthian home runs--a shot over the rightfield bleachers
onto Sheffield Avenue and a homer to left center into the teeth of a
15-to-20-mph wind--but the Cubs hung on to win 9-8. (The
headline the next morning: NINE BEATS A PAIR OF JACKS.) Jacque Jones, trade
bait in June, had four hits. Cliff Floyd, shaken moments earlier in a collision
at first with Giants pitcher Matt Morris, sprinted home from second on a passed
ball before leaving the game at the end of the inning. Cubs starter Ted Lilly
singled with two outs in the fifth, swiped second for the first stolen base of
his career and scored the eighth run on Alfonso Soriano's double. Chicago had
five run-scoring hits after two were out. "For April and May," Floyd
said, still dazed after the win, "I think we had five total."
?In his team's
first 97 games, Piniella had used 84 different lineups, just none as different
as the one he used last Friday against the Diamondbacks and 2006 Cy Young
winner Brandon Webb. Piniella gave first baseman Scott Moore, called up from
Triple A Iowa earlier that day, his first big league start of the season and
used batboy-sized second baseman Mike Fontenot in the third spot in the lineup
for the first time in Fontenot's career. Asked what advice he received from
Lee, the normal No. 3 hitter, who was serving a five-game suspension for a June
16 fight with San Diego Padres' pitcher Chris Young, Fontenot replied, "Hit
some singles and steal some bases."
He singled twice
and stole two. Fontenot and Theriot, the flying Frenchman, also were attempting
a double steal in the eighth inning when third baseman Aramis Ramirez laid into
a hanging, 1-2 curve for a three-run homer that produced the final margin, Cubs
6, Diamondbacks 2. Firewagon baseball. "I was talking to some Diamondbacks
guys before the game, and they're like, 'The wind's blowing in today,' and I
said, 'That's 80 percent of the time,' " says third base coach Mike Quade,
a native of suburban Chicago. "If you think Wrigley Field is an offensive
paradise, well, no. When you've got kids like Fontenot and Theriot and Angel
[Pagan, a second-year outfielder] who can run, you can execute some