Thursday 8 December 2016

Cubs poised to cast off 'loveable losers' tag

Rupert Cornwall

Published 25/10/2016 | 02:30

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Photo: Jon Durr/USA Today Sports
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Photo: Jon Durr/USA Today Sports

Surely, it isn't asking too much. Just four more wins, after a regular season and a post-season that have already yielded 110 of them.

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Just four wins in the next week or so over the Cleveland Indians, and America's ultimate sporting miracle will have come to pass. The Chicago Cubs will have won their first World Series since 1908.

It's been a long, long wait, from those distant days when Teddy Roosevelt was America's president.

Over the years, humour has become the salve of frustration and disappointment, and even this year, on the cusp of redemption, they're still selling T-shirts outside Wrigley Field, 'What did Jesus say to the Cubs? Don't do nothing till I get back.'

There is, save for a few of America's more arcane religious sects, no sign of an imminent Second Coming. But baseball is set to write a new reality.

This time it feels different. These Cubs are no longer everyone's loveable losers.

Forget the curses - the stuff about black cats and the malediction supposedly uttered by tavern owner Billy Sianis when he was barred from bringing his malodorous pet goat into Wrigley in 1945, the last time the Cubs reached the Series - and everything else in the overstuffed suitcase of Chicagoan mythology.

In 2016 the rational is poised to triumph over the irrational. The Cubs right now are incontrovertibly the best team in baseball (and, given their line-up of young stars, could stay that way for a while), and the odds-makers in Las Vegas, gentlemen not noted for their sentimentality, make them clear favourites in the best-of-seven Series which opens in Cleveland tonight.

The Cubs put together the best record in the major leagues, 103-58, over the gruelling regular season. But baseball rarely rewards the team which has come out on top in the marathon.

Championships are won in an October sprint; favourites can collapse and, as often as not, a team which scraped into the play-offs thanks to a wild card suddenly hits a hot streak and wins it all.

In 1984 and most recently in 2003, the Cubs contrived to blow it when just five 'outs' away from winning the National League pennant and advancing to the World Series.

And this year, at a similar stage, the elements were in place for further self-destruction against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Chicago returned home from LA for the final two games with a 3-2 lead, but with a couple of small problems - the weight of history and the fact they were facing the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, by common consent the best pitcher in baseball, in Game Six. Lose that, and the ancient demons would surely have taken over.

Instead, the Cubs clinically dismantled Kershaw in 5-0 series-clinching win on Saturday night, in an immaculately competent display of baseball. Of nerves not a sign, and the team's manifest confidence is now transmitting itself to the fans. "The weight is lifted," wrote The Chicago Tribune, "the wait is over, at last."

Well, not quite. One wait, of 71 years, is over; the Cubs are back in the World Series. But they still need those four more wins to banish the ghosts of 108 years - and American League pennant winners Cleveland are unlikely to be a pushover.

The Indians have also been waiting a while, since 1948 when their line-up included Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, the first black players to win World Series rings. This year they won nine fewer games than the Cubs in the regular season, but comfortably saw off the ever-dangerous Boston Red Sox and then the big-hitting Toronto Blue Jays in the play-offs.

So, a city reasons, after Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA crown in June, why not another championship in 2016? Why not indeed - except that this year the Chicago Cubs are not loveable losers but ruthless winners. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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