- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
FU-KU-DO-ME!... Laying off nibbling sliders and fastballs, killing so softly, he worked a walk and nudged home the tying run: 2--2.
One inning later, when the thunderbolt came, I was perched beside an intense, wiry 50-year-old computer salesman named Ken Keefer, who was explaining to me that Soriano was the only member of this year's team who stirred mixed feelings in Cub Nation's belly, the only one swinging for Lake Michigan when a walk or a worm-killer to the right side would do—"He only hustles for an extra stat. He gets so distracted, he actually works on his batting stance in the outfield. Sure, I ride him. He's waved me down to fight him"—when Soriano uncoiled and sent a white rocket into the heart of the house party in left center: 3--2 Cubs! "We love him! We love him!" hollered Ken as the ball cleared the wall. "What a team! It's like living a dream!"
The Cubs' pen handcuffed the Phils in the eighth and ninth, and Wrigley rocked again. Out of nowhere, a thousand placards and flags bearing a blue W appeared—a new ritual in Cub Nation, fans informed me, multiplying on porches across the Midwest—the surprising rehabilitation of America's most down-and-out letter.
Jim McArdle, a lifetime fanatic who'd moved into an apartment across the street and set up camp in the bleachers to write a book on this centennial of slaughtered dreams, had the glint in his eyes of a man beginning to think he might be rolling snake eyes. "We're in uncharted territory," he pronounced, unrolling the map for me: 20--6 in August with two games left, 39th come-from-behind win, 35 games over .500—the most games over of any Cubs team since 1945—and, short of calamity, which they have never been short of, on track to win 100 games overall and 60 at Wrigley, the most home wins of any NL team since the '75 Big Red Machine.
Gleefully, lovingly, 40,844 people offered themselves to the impending traffic snarl on Lake Shore Drive and the clustermuck at the el stop on Addison Avenue, refusing to leave the yard until once more they'd all croaked that song, the one that patrons in bars and restaurants across Chicago were standing to croak with them—
what do you say?
—the one written by Steve Goodman, the Cub lover who died of leukemia in 1984 just four days before his team was going to clinch its first postseason birth in his lifetime ... just 12 days before he was to sing The Star-Spangled Banner before the opener of the NL Championship Series ... just 17 days before a ground ball rattlesnaked through the legs of first baseman Leon Durham, dooming the Cubs to a disastrous come-from-ahead loss to the clearly inferior Padres in the deciding game of the NLCS.
III. Scar Tissue
SO ... had I drifted into mass delusion? The crowds here, on their feet and deafening for 3-and-2 counts in the first inning, were like beer poured from a bottoms-up bottle, full of froth and laughter and forgetting. "What I said to Lou Piniella when I interviewed him for the manager's job," Cubs chairman Crane Kenney told me, "was, 'Lou, these people have been sober for 100 years. They need a drink.'"
Hmmm. 'Twas an accusation I'd never heard leveled at Cub Nation before, and I wasn't quite sure how to defend it. I headed to the clubhouse before Game 3 of the series to gauge the mob's effect upon the players. Mark DeRosa, the Cubs' six-position player, grinned. Just the day before, Rollins, the Phillies' shortstop, had asked him how the Cubs survived the sleep-cycle whiplash of all the Wrigley day games scheduled on the heels of night games. "I told him, 'It's our fans. They don't let you get tired. They're on their feet this year in the first!'"