The Chicago Cubs took 39 years to put the ball into postseason play, but then the ball took two tricky hops, and suddenly they were out of it. That's the way the ball bounces, you say. Try telling that to Chicago.
The San Diego Padres did the seemingly impossible last week, overcoming losses in the first two games of the National League Championship Series and coming back from a 3-0 deficit in Sunday's fifth and deciding game to beat the best pitcher in baseball. Tell them, way to go and good luck against the Tigers. They probably can't hear over the noise, though.
On a bright, sunny afternoon in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, agony and ecstasy exchanged lineup cards, and the Padres defeated the Cubs and Rick Sutcliffe 6-3. With two down in the ninth, San Diego's Rich Gossage got Jody Davis to ground to third baseman Graig Nettles, who threw over to second for a force, and, instantaneously, the Padres swarmed at the foot of the mound while hundreds of their fans skipped gleefully around them. Fireworks went off in center, and as the smell of burned cordite filled the air, the stadium speakers blared yet again the No. 1 song in San Diego, Cub-Busters. Heart-busters.
The celebration in the Padre clubhouse wasn't much different from other such champagne parties, but right in the middle of it the players took off, running through a tunnel underneath the stadium outside to the parking lot. There, through a chain link fence, they thanked the fans they kept referring to as their "10th man." Steve Garvey, ever the hero and a playoff MVP for the third time in his career, touched thousands of hands, high-fived hundreds more and kissed a few dozen babies. All the while, the people outside the fences and the throngs hanging over the stadium walls chanted, "Gar-vey! Gar-vey!"
Their joy was well-earned. No National League team had ever come back from an 0-2 deficit in a Championship Series, and San Diego had to rally in each of its victories. This was the first time that the 16-year-old Padres had ever been in a playoff. San Diego has not had a major champion since the Chargers won the AFL title in 1963.
But the Padres are babes in wasteland compared to the Cubbies. This team was going to make Chicago forget the collapse of '69, and it will, because now the fans can forever beat their breasts over '84. For years to come, they'll talk about the day Sutcliffe got beat, the tragic seventh inning, the infamous grounder through first baseman Leon Durham's legs, the double-play ball that became a double.
All of which is too bad, because this was a good Cub club. As a disconsolate Jim Frey, the Chicago manager, said, "Our team deserves to be in a World Series, our organization deserves a championship, our fans deserve to win a Series. I just feel so bad for everybody."
Padre manager Dick Williams came to the Cub clubhouse to pay his respects. He and Frey hugged one another, and Williams said, "You've got your pick, first or third base coach in the All-Star Game next year."
"We'll talk about that later," said Frey.
"It was a helluva series," said Williams, exiting clubhouse right.