Tell the truth, wasn't it worth the wait?
What's 39 years of pain when you can have one afternoon like this?
Today, the Chicago Cubs played as though they wanted to erase the memory of generations of disgrace all in one daydream in Wrigley Field.
In the first postseason game played here in the "Friendly Confines" since World War II, the Cubs held an orgy of atonement, destroying the San Diego Padres, 13-0, with a playoff record five home runs.
No team in the history of postseason play, either in a playoff or a World Series game, had ever won a shutout by such a lopsided score. For the Cubs' fans, it was a long time coming, but it'll be a long time remembered.
With two home runs from their first three batters; with blasts into the bleachers in left, right and center as well as homers over the left and right field stands; with seven innings of two-hit pitching by Rick Sutcliffe, the Cubs dished out just the sort of beating in the first game of this best-of-five series that so many of their Wrigley predecessors had endured for so long.
Few, if any, of the 36,282 fans here on a crystal day cared that the game was officiated -- rather poorly -- by college umpires because of a last-minute arbiters' strike. Few, if any, cared that a flag-snapping wind blew three of those homers out of the old ivy-laden yard.
This was a day for howls of long deferred joy, not sober analysis. Lots of memories of Jose Cardenal and Vedie Himsl, the College of Coaches and the Collapse of '69, will be washed away 'twixt this sundown and Wednesday's 2:25 p.m. game time.
From the moment Mr. Cub -- Ernie Banks, who never got to a World Series -- threw out the first pitch (tossing the ball lithely over and behind his back from mound to plate as the crowd gasped at the old sleight-of-hand trick), this day crackled like the breeze.
From the instant that the Cubs' first batter, Bob Dernier, sent the second pitch from Eric Show sailing over the left field bleachers, this opener of the league championship series was more a day for releasing decades of frustration than it was a game.
No pennants since 1945, huh?
Well, how about two home runs by Gary Matthews (four RBI) -- one to left and one to right -- plus another homer into the center field bleachers by Ron Cey and a titanic drive by Sutcliffe over the bleachers, over the screen and out into Sheffield Avenue.
No world titles since 1908, huh?
Well, how about the biggest winning margin in playoff history as well as the most homers and the most total bases (34) in a league championship series game?
Make us relive the Miracle Mets every year, will you?
Well, let's get 16 hits and send a dozen men to the plate in a six-run fifth inning. Let's let every starter have an RBI.
The cheering in Wrigley Field started at its crescendo, then simply rumbled like thunder for two hours and 49 minutes.
No sooner had that leadoff Cub named Dernier sent Show's second pitch (a high fast ball) off the screen protecting Waveland Avenue, than Matthews, known as "Sarge" for his leadership, took a slider into the seats above the 368-foot sign in left. It was the fourth successive playoff game in which Matthews hit a home run, breaking yet another record.
Last year Matthews, one of eight former Phillies now a Cub, was the NL playoff most valuable player in another uniform. "I told the guys before the game, 'Don't be afraid to dethrone me,' " said the ebullient Matthews, whose three-run drive to right in a six-run fifth inning built the lead to 8-0.
"Dernier's homer gave us all such a feeling . . . I threw my bat up in the air in the on-deck circle and Ryno (Sandberg) had to duck under it . . . After that, the rest was history . . . Today, we probably could have beaten anybody."
Certainly they could beat Show, the right-wing right-hander who likes to work at the knees but couldn't buy a called strike from umpire Dick Cavanaugh, who had just the sort of high-ball strike zone that suits Sutcliffe.
It was just baseball's dumb good luck that this game was one-sided and, thus, minimized the impact of the nervous umps. San Diego catcher Terry Kennedy called them "comedians from a college league." Umpires at first and third base were comically out of position on close calls which, replays showed, they luckily got right.
Even San Diego Manager Dick Williams, bending over backward to be generous, said, "The ball and strike calls weren't that good . . . Heck, they tried their best, but they were nervous. They introduced themselves at home plate and they had already been introduced to us 30 minutes before under the stands."
"I had a tough time finding out where the strike zone was," said Sutcliffe, who has won 17 of 18 decisions as a Cub in a season that has reached legendary dimensions. "I haven't walked five guys (in a game) in two months."
His whole performance bordered on the amazing. "I was nervous. The last three years were tough on me and I was really looking forward to this day (ever since the Dodgers left him off their playoff roster in 1981). I didn't have good stuff, didn't have good control. I conceded. I said, 'I'm not going to try to throw harder and harder. I'm just going to change speeds.' "
But all that kept Sutcliffe from taking a no-hitter into the eighth were a bunt hit by Steve Garvey and a bloop single by Garry Templeton that Larry Bowa should have caught.
Sutcliffe's one great crisis came in the fourth inning when his lead was "only" 5-0 and the Padres loaded the bases. That's when right fielder Keith Moreland made the day's one key play -- that is, if a 13-0 game can have a crisis point.
Carmelo Martinez hit a liner to right that looked like a two-run, two-out hit. "I thought it was a hit for sure," said Moreland. "The closer it got . . . I thought I had a chance."
Moreland dived, snagged the ball at the grass top and, in Sutcliffe's words, "that catch basically ended the ball game."
After so many years of misfortune, surely no one could begrudge the Cubs and their faithful one 69-degree afternoon under sunny skies and friendly fates.
But when Mark Thurmond (14-8) faces the Cubs' Steve (Rainbow) Trout (13-7) Wednesday, will their new luck or the old familiar kind be operative?
After all, most fans would think a playoff defeat would be too cruel to believe.
The Cubs' fans, even as they celebrate, know better.