The Cubs’ World Series trail led through California

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One year ago, I wrote a piece for WrigleyvilleNation pointing out that the Cubs were beating teams from the old National League East in the postseason, and I liked that idea. Teams from the NL West had been nothing but trouble for the Cubs, and I thought maybe the Eastern route would pay off in the end.  The Mets had other ideas, though, and the season came crashing to a halt in a stunning four-game sweep.

“Wait ’til next year!” we Cubs fans cried, for what felt like the thousandth time. But this time the team backed us up, and here we are in baseball’s equivalent of the Promised Land.

Before the games get going in Cleveland, I wanted to point out that the Cubs pulled off a California two-step that’s never been done before. By beating the Giants and the Dodgers in the same postseason, history was made by my team in blue.

The ghosts of 1989 and Will Clark were dispatched in Round 1, and the letdown of the 2008 playoffs (James Loney was the main culprit that time) melted away when the Cubs waxed Clayton Kershaw on a Saturday at Wrigley. California’s a lovely state, but the Cubs ushered two of its fan bases into the off-season this year. Good.

Here’s looking forward to lots of baseball in the week to ten days ahead. This is what we’ve all waited for, Cubs fans. So let’s be sure to enjoy it.

How a baseball custom began

 

Sometimes the origin of a baseball custom or tradition gets lost in the mists of time. I wrote a piece last year about how the Star-Spangled Banner came to be played before baseball games, but only after I had inadvertently come upon the story online one day. Other customs, though, are well-defined as to when or how they came into existence. Take a look at Brian Bannister’s photo above for an example of one of them.

If you were to sit down and watch a ballgame all the way through this upcoming season, my guess is you’ll see at least one example of what Bannister is doing over the course of that game. Whenever a conference is held on the pitcher’s mound, the pitcher habitually talks into his glove and, presumably, everyone on the mound can still hear what the pitcher is saying. But on an October evening back in 1989, a future Hall-of-Famer did not do this, and his team paid a steep price for it.

It was the 1989 NL playoffs between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. Game one was the first post-season game ever to be played under the lights at Wrigley Field. The game started off with an offensive bang, and when the Giants came to bat in the top of the fouth inning, the score was 4-3 Giants. The Giants had loaded the bases, and Will Clark was due up next.

Clark had already homered and doubled in a run–by the fourth inning–and the Cubs wanted to keep the game close. Catcher Joe Girardi went out to discuss how to pitch Clark at this juncture, while Clark waited in the on deck circle. Clark was watching pitcher Greg Maddux, who was not speaking into his glove, and read the words “fastball in.” Clark knew what pitch was coming, and he didn’t miss it when it came. His grand slam gave the Giants an almost insurmountable 8-3 lead, and set the tone for a Giants victory in the game and in the series.

It wasn’t until much later that Kevin Mitchell, the hitter who followed Clark in the Giants’ order, spilled the beans about what had happened during the conference on the mound. And once the word got out, you can be sure that no pitcher would ever take that risk again.