CLEVELAND — Magicians, even those who can only make a coin disappear at a five-year-old’s birthday party, should not show how their tricks are done. But there should be exceptions.
When Game 7 of the World Series ends in the 10th inning at 12:47 a.m. — and every print journalist in the press box has a deadline that just became . . . 12:47 a.m. — you have to have two completely opposite versions of reality operating in your mind simultaneously, each given equal authority because both truly are possible. So below is the beginning of the column that I had written, but of course never filed, about Cleveland’s wonderful world title — and Chicago’s almost unthinkable blown lead.
Ironically, athletes understand this perverse duality and sometimes joke, “Yeah, but what would you have written if we’d lost?”
As you now read exactly that, put it in the context of the most important 17-minute rain delay in the history of baseball. Consider how rain fell at exactly the moment, at the end of nine innings, score 6-6, when every “baseball person” knew that the Tribe were probably — not certainly but very likely — going to win because a Cubs collapse, coming on top of 108 years of Cubs collapses, would almost pre-ordain it.
If it hadn’t rained, if the Cubs’ highest-paid player, Jason Heyward, hadn’t used that moment to do with his brain and heart what he couldn’t do with his bat this season by telling his assembled teammates, “We’re going to pull this thing out,” here’s what you’d have read from me on what would now be a very different version of the Cubs world. . .
For the past 108 years, it’s been said that the Chicago Cubs were cursed and that, for the last 71 years of that dismal era, their afflictions had something to do with a goat named Murphy. This, of course, is sports-banter silliness, a conceit to entertain ourselves.
In truth, the Cubs were generally bad, especially since World War II, and have only had a handful of chances — 1969, 1984 and 2003 — to have hideously unpleasant things befall them at the ends of promising seasons. But unlike other teams, the Cubs never really came close to the ultimate World Series prize. Oh, sure, famous ground balls have rolled horrifyingly between the feet of their first basemen (Leon Durham, Game 5, 1984 NLCS), but it was for a measly pennant, never for a world title.
Curse, what curse? Surely that’s hyperbole.
Now, all that is different.
Now, after a genuine Cubs catastrophe — a three-run lead blown by super reliever Aroldis Chapman with just four outs to go to beat the Cleveland Indians and win Game 7 of the World Series — perhaps we can revisit this word “cursed.”
Cub fans all over the world thought they knew what would happen when Chapman entered with a 6-3 lead, a man on first base and two outs in the eighth. This is the man who, earlier this season, threw a 105-mph fastball. He’d slam the door on the Tribe and leave Cleveland without a World Series win since 1948. So much for assumptions.
Now, you can call the Cubs anything you want. If the first word that comes to your mind is, indeed, “cursed,” then go for it. Nobody can call it hyperbole now. And while you’re at it, just change the name of that goat from Murphy to Maddon.
The foolish overuse of Chapman in Game 6 by Cubs Manager Joe Maddon will now, with hindsight, be the future measuring stick for fretful over-managing. In Game 5, Chapman got a career-high eight outs to save a 3-2 win, using 42 pitches. On Tuesday, Maddon used the southpaw for a crucial out in the seventh inning. That should have been enough, since the Cubs took a five-run lead into the eighth. Yet Chapman pitched the entire eighth inning.
Then, almost inconceivably, Maddon left Chapman in to face the first hitter of the ninth inning, despite a 9-2 Chicago lead. Remember, Chapman also threw a total of 24 warmup pitches in those three innings, most of them close to 100 mph.
After that game, Tribe Manager Terry Francona had said, “We hung around enough so at least Chapman had to pitch. You never know; that might help us.”
Indeed. Maddon has done what seemed impossible. He’s made former Boston manager Grady Little look like a genius for leaving Pedro Martinez in too long against the Yanks with the 2003 pennant on the line.
Thus was the stage set for a tectonic plate-shifting of curses. The Tribe, inspired, finished their work in the XX inning, winning their first World Series since 1948 by a score of X-Y. . . .
They didn’t, but that Cleveland came so close made this the best extra-inning Game 7 in baseball history — since 1924.
Back then, the Washington Senators rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning against the New York Giants to tie the score at 3. To start the ninth inning, Walter Johnson, 36, entered in relief, on one day’s rest after pitching a complete game. The Post’s Shirley Povich said that Johnson had nothing that day except his will. The Giants got a one-out triple in the ninth and put their lead man aboard in the 10th, 11th and 12th. But none of them scored. And Washington walked off, and whooped off, as champs in the 12th because a Senator ground ball hit a pebble and bad-hopped over Freddie Lindstrom’s head.
As always, there are alternate versions of our endings. Sometimes, we actually love the one we got.