The best, most horrible game

Towards the end of game three of the National League Championship Series, a game in which the Dodgers slapped the Cubs around at Wrigley, the TBS camera kept finding this one kid up in the stands. He was maybe eight or ten and decked out in a Cubs hat and jersey and was wearing his glove and was absolutely miserable that his beloved reigning world champions were about to fall behind a near-fatal three games to none against these interlopers from the West. The kid was inconsolable and looked like he was going to cry.

And I say, good. Eat it, little dude. You’re living on borrowed time thinking baseball is a fun game to watch, especially in October. Truth is, baseball is a cruel wench that stomps your heart, laughs at your pain, and dances in the puddle of your tears. No better time to learn the truth than when you’re young. Baseball is horrible. The best, most horrible game ever conceived.

I may end up like that kid over the next week or so. The Dodgers did beat the Cubs that game and once more two days later, knocking them out of contention and advancing to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. That thing they were unable to do the four previous years, even though they won the National League West each time and carried the highest payroll in the MLB all the while. It was a magical 24-36 hours, for sure. But that’s how baseball works. It tempts you and teases you, lulls you, before it rips you apart.

In my lifetime, the Dodgers have been in the World Series six times, including this year. They were in it in 1974 and lost, but I can’t really remember that specifically. I do recall slightly better their appearances in ’77 and ’78 when I was ten and eleven and when they lost both times. I vividly remember their near-miss of making it there again in 1980 when they lost the West by dropping the very last game of the year to the first-place…sigh…Houston Astros (literally, I remember exactly where I was when the final out was recorded). It wasn’t until 1981 that they made it back and won against their ancestral foil, the New York Yankees. Maybe it’s because my formative baseball years were filled with so much disappointment and pain and just that one happy, long-awaited exclamation point that I feel so wary and sick when the postseason comes along each October.

I don’t make predictions in baseball because, as I said, it’s a horrible game where the things that are supposed to happen don’t. The player who never hits always seems to at the worst possible time or, vice-versa, the one who’s money in the bank craps out right when you need him. For those reasons, I have half expected these Dodgers, the best team in baseball this year, to suffer an ignoble defeat at every turn. But they refused to. They swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in three and then turned a relatively effortless “gentleman’s sweep” of the world champion Cubs in five. Neither of these teams should have been easy to win against, but they were. So, naturally, I’m assuming a total disaster in the Series.

That’s my heart talking. My head tells me several reason the Dodgers should do well against the Astros. They have the superior bullpen. They have home-field advantage and the best home record in the MLB. They have three remarkable starting pitchers, including one many think is among the best to have ever played the game. They also have bench depth like nobody’s business. But I remember the 70’s. They lurk in the shadows of my psyche.

The fourth Series I remember was the one in 1988. I wasn’t super engaged with baseball in my 21st year, but I remember enough to know that team wasn’t supposed to be there. They were expected to lose the NLCS to the Mets and, once through that, were expected to be short work for the dominant Athletics. But then that improbable, impossible home run happened and they didn’t lose. Like the 2017 Dodgers, they simply refused.

I’m hoping for the best and fearing the worst, but regardless of how it ends, I know I’ll be lining up again next year for more of the same. I love this horrible game and these bums in blue who are woven into my life experience like little else. Win or lose, #ThisTeam is my team and I bleed blue.