Cleat Geeks

No More “Next Year”

WThe Chicago Cubs played nearly 100 full seasons at their North Side home without a day like Tuesday. From Ernie Banks, Ron Santo to Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa, they had never clinched a postseason series at Wrigley Field. That all changed on Tuesday when the band of youngsters and a few veterans defeated their biggest rival and barged into the National League Championship Series. The Cubs used three home runs and eight pitchers to eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-4 in Game 4 of the NLDS.

The Cardinals have won 11 championships, all since the Cubs’ last title in 1908. St. Louis had the best record in baseball, reaching 100 wins in the regular season and reaching the NLCS in each of the last four years. For Cubs’ president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, who once built the Boston Red Sox, it felt familiar. “We beat the Cardinals — I mean, these are like older brothers who’ve been kicking sand in our face for 100 years,” Epstein said on the field, soaked with champagne. “There’s a lot of similarities to mlb-nlds-st.-louis-cardinals-chicago-cubs-850x560when we knocked off the Yankees in ’04. That one put us in the World Series. This one just gives us a nice date on Saturday.” The Cubs have failed in their other three spots at this stage, in 1984, 1989, and 2003. They haven’t won a pennant since 1945. “We’re going to celebrate this,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who homered off Kevin Siegrist to break a 4-4 tie in the sixth inning. “We deserve to celebrate this. It’s been a long time coming for this city, and hopefully it’s just a sign of things to come.” Closer Hector Rondon sealed it in the ninth, striking out Stephen Piscotty and leaping for joy with catcher Miguel Montero. The Chicago Cubs’ theme song “Go Cubs Go!” was heard miles from Wrigley Field and the 42,411 in attendance sang along, waving white towels with a blue “W”, just like the win flag the Cubs fly above their scoreboard.

cubs-nlds-game-3The Cubs are here and they are happening. Miguel Montero created a simple catchphrase on social media: #wearegood. “I remember we lost a couple of games in a row, so you start reading your Twitter from the fans, and they’re like, ‘Oh, here it comes again,’ ” Montero said, adding later, “If we don’t believe that we are good, we’re not going to have a chance.” The Cubs were losing before the first out of Game 4, after a two-run homer by Piscotty. By the end of the next inning, though, they were ahead, in an unusual rally off pitcher John Lackey. With two on and one out in the second inning, Lackey faced Montero as Justin Grimm warmed up in the Cubs bullpen. If Montero had reached to load the bases, manager Joe Maddon said later, he would have used Tommy La Stella to pinch hit. Montero struck out, Grimm sat down, and Jason Hammel batted. Naturally, he singled to center to score the Cubs’ first run. On the very next pitch, Javier Baez hit an opposite field, three run homer to the seats in right.

USP MLB: NLDS-ST. LOUIS CARDINALS AT CHICAGO CUBS S [BBA OR BBN] USA IL Baez was playing for Addison Russell, the Cubs’ unstoppable rookie shortstop, who hurt his hamstring racing to third in Game 3. No worries though because the Cubs have young talent to spare. “My advice to him tonight was just to own the game,” Maddon said of Baez, “and he kind of did.” The Cardinals railed for two runs off the Cubs’ bullpen in the sixth, but a strong throw from Jorge Soler in right that cut down Tony Cruz at the plate kept them from taking the lead. Anthony Rizzo followed Baez’s suit during a pitching change in the top of the seventh. Young gun Kyle Schwarber told Dexter Fowler that he would go deep, too. “You hit it, and you run around the bases, and the place is going nuts,” Schwarber said. “That’s when it hits you, that this is what it’s all about. This is what you live to play baseball for.” Schwarber kept his word and that ball soared into the fading sky, landing on top of the new video board down the right field line. David Ross said most hitters couldn’t even reach that in batting practice. Theo Epstein was quoted: “We’re going to have to build a bigger ballpark.”hqdefault

The Chicago Cubs have been circling as Epstein overhauled them and now they’re making huge noise. They devoured Pittsburgh in the wild card game before ending the Cardinals season. As the Cubs’ owner, Tom Ricketts, watched the team and fans celebrate, he had bigger plans. “We’re playing well, we’re playing loose, we’re playing focused at the right time,” Ricketts said. “And I think we’re going to keep moving.” The Chicago Cubs will face the New York Mets in the NLCS, which starts on Saturday night. Jon Lester vs. Matt Harvey in Game 1.

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