By now, the San Diego Padres must feel as if they've stepped into some macabre "Day of the Living Dead" with the arms of Cubs long departed reaching out from the ivy and up through the infield grass to grab their throats.
By now, after losing, 4-2, in Wrigley Field in the second game of the National League playoffs today, after losing again in a contest so loaded with lucky karmic spin that it creaked with corny symbols, San Diego must be ready to scan the Yellow Pages for Cubsbusters.
The box score may say that Steve Trout was the winning pitcher, that Lee Smith got the save, that Gary Matthews had the game-winning RBI, but to those with a sense of baseball history, this day's "W" would go to the 26th man on the Cubs' roster: Poetic Justice.
After 39 seasons since their last pennant and 76 years since their last world title, the Cubs are one victory away from the World Series. No National League team has come back after being down two games in the championship series. After the spooky nature of their losses here, the Padres must wonder what they have to do.
"I think maybe God's looking out for the Cubs at home," growled the Padres' general manager, Jack McKeon. "I hope He looks out for us when we get home (for Thursday night's third game)."
Certainly baseball's equivalent of divinity -- the sacred breaks -- are now running Cubward like a flood tide.
When a perfect throw has a Cub player dead to rights at the plate, the ball suddenly takes a crazy hop past the catcher and Chicago gets two runs that win the game.
When a liner with two out in the Padres' ninth heads toward the bleachers to tie the score, suddenly a wind that was blowing out moments before is now blowing in, knocking the ball down till, at the last instant, the left fielder, his back pressed to the vines, catches it to end the game.
Talk about the wheel of fate turning full circle to even old scores.
The last time the Cubs were in the World Series, in '45, they lost in seven games to Detroit. The pitcher who turned that Series back toward the Tigers after the Cubs led, two games to one, was Dizzy Trout, who won the fourth game.
This afternoon in sunwashed, balmy Wrigley Field, Dizzy's daffy son Steve was the Cubs' pitching hero. He twisted his sinkers at the Padres' knees all day, getting 17 ground-ball outs, as he allowed five hits in 8 1/3 winning innings.
Want more? The last in the long line of Cubs general managers who dragged this franchise to the second division was handsome Bob Kennedy, known here as The Silver Pox for his luckless trades.
This afternoon, Kennedy's son -- all-star catcher Terry Kennedy of the Padres -- was cursed with the luck of a true Cub. Yes, it was Kennedy who missed that throw to the plate in the third inning that let one run score and set up another as Chicago took a 3-0 lead.
And, yes, it was the same slugging Kennedy who hit that last long line drive into the teeth of the wind in the ninth inning, only to see hope for game-tying exoneration die in the glove of Henry Cotto.
"Man, luck. I'm just talkin' luck," wailed Kennedy after he'd finished his clubhouse chair-flinging.
In the third, the Cubs ahead by just 1-0, Ron Cey got a one-out, two-base hit off the bricks in left off loser Mark Thurmond. Coach Don Zimmer waved Keith Moreland, who had singled, toward the plate. Garry Templeton's relay throw had Moreland laid out by a yard; even the substitute umpires working again today couldn't have missed the call.
"Right on line. A little short," said Kennedy, who braced for the tough hop. "I had to guess low or high. I guessed low."
"A natural bounce, we've got him," Padres Manager Dick Williams said, "but the ball shot straight up."
Up over Kennedy's glove as Moreland scored and Cey took third. On the next pitch, Jody Davis hit a fly that would have ended the inning, but for that bad hop. Instead, it scored Cey at a trot.
Kennedy's other moment of anguish came with the Padres down to their final strike. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Smith had arrived after an exhausted Trout issued a one-out walk. The big man was bringing big heat from sunlight into shadows and the crowd of 36,282 was on its feet willing one final strike, one last strikeout like the one Smith just laid on Carmelo Martinez.
That's when Kennedy brought a moment of silence to Wrigley Field, an instant for Cubs fans to see their collective life pass before them.
"Good? I hit it real good," Kennedy said.
As his drive headed toward the Bleacher Bums, how many minds recalled the day in the '70s when the Cubs led, 13-2, and lost by 15-13 -- the worst lapsed lead in major league history. Or did the morbid multitude remember the day in 1979 when the Cubs scored 22 runs here? And lost to the Phillies, 23-22.
They replayed that ignominy on prime-time TV here the following winter but, with the Cubs down to their last out, the producers spliced in footage of an old Ernie Banks home run into Waveland Avenue instead of the reality of an out by Dave Kingman. Cubs win, 24-23.
This time, fantasy finally had the final word. The degree to which baseball reality exceeds the most remote possibilities of credible fiction sometimes brushes against the absurd.
That was true once more as Cotto tiptoed back-back-back and caught the ball a yard from the overhanging home run basket's maw. "I knew the way things were going, that ball wasn't going out," Kennedy said.
You could make an arm-long list of the Cubs' breaks -- self-made and fate-fixed.
There was daring Bob Dernier, after a leadoff hit in the first inning, racing first to third, arriving headfirst, on a routine grounder to third. He'd been running on a one-out, full-count pitch and his brain caught lightning in a bottle as his foot hit second base and he saw his chance.
That resourcefulness set a tone as Dernier scored a manufactured run on Matthews' grounder.
The Cubs also were twice blessed by one of their weakest links -- first baseman Leon Durham's glove. After a leadoff double by league batting champion Tony Gwynn in the fourth, Durham batted down, then scooped up a smash by Steve Garvey for a big out. Gwynn scored on Kevin McReynolds' fly ball, but a big inning died.
After a leadoff walk by Alan Wiggins in the sixth, Gwynn slapped a hopper over Durham's head that looked like a lucky double. Instead, the tall Durham leaped and snatched the rebound at rim level for an out. Sure, Wiggins scored on the next pitch on Garvey's hit, but another rally died.
Even the Cubs' last run was blessed. Trout, one of the clumsiest pro athletes extant, somehow singled to left in the fourth and was forced by Dernier. Dernier stole second, then scored as Ryne Sandberg's hooking two-out double to left stayed fair by inches. That hit knocked out Thurmond.
If some perverse fate decrees that the World Series not come back to this place, baseball will be poorer for it.
Where else do fans tolling Harry Caray's "Holy Cow" bells wander the stands at large?
Where else could a bedsheet sign be as subtle as the one pointed toward Caray that said: "Harry, 10 tickets to Series or pics go to Penthouse, (signed) Jerry and Eddie"?
Where else does a pitcher named Trout, who prepares for the game with an hour of yoga, turn out to be the Rainbow where the pot of gold is found?
There's no place like Wrigley; the World Series has been absent from baseball's most beautiful and amusing venue far too long. If these characters in red, white and blue were really Cubs, then perhaps some baseball tragicomedy might still lie ahead.
But they aren't. This team is Cub in laundry only. Its bloodlines run back to the Phillies and Dodgers, the Red Sox and Yankees and Orioles. There's not a true lifelong Cub to be found.
That's how it had to be. A total transfusion or nothing.
The only Cubs left here tonight are spirits, lurking in the vines, hiding in the old green crannied eaves.
They've done their ghostly work. They can rest in peace at last.