Monday, October 6, 2008


Maybe next year. It took a while for me to get those words out, but I finally did.

No question, it was painful. But that's just the way the playoffs go. The horror of the last two years is comparable to playing Ninja Gaiden with no save feature. You put in an entire year of despair, longing, excitement, hoping, and World Series lust only to see it devolve right back to despair. There's no do-over. No memory card slot. You just have to go back to the beginning and start over.

But you have to think about it historically for some perspective. The 100 years of futility has been particularly barren of positivity because of the lack of any postseason appearances altogether. After 1945, they went almost 40 years before selling a single playoff ticket. Then things got relatively better, with waits of five years, nine years, five years, and four years in between October series. And in those modern iterations (1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and 2007--the Cubs only previous entries into the Divisional playoff era) the Cubs won only one series (2003). But think of this: the Atlanta Braves made the postseason 14 consecutive times and won exactly one World Series. They were the best team of my generation, and they won 1 trophy.

So this year, the Cubs went for two in a row for the first time in a century. That, my friend, is where you need to be--every year, not just every century--to have a reasonable expectation of winning it all.

Because in the playoffs, the best team doesn't always win, and the best players are rarely the ones who come through when it matters most. Look at the White Sox when they won it all. Their biggest October home runs came from Geoff Blum and Scott Podsednik. I don't want those guys on my team.

The thing is, you don't get to choose when you do well and when you fail. Pitchers never decide to lose command. Hitters don't pick their slumps. Fielders make their errors in the subconscious and the pre-programmed firings of muscular impulse. One glitch, one tiny glitch, and any player on a baseball team can run a city's hopes into the ground. On the other, heretofore unseen shiny side of that coin, some pitchers manage to find their rhythm in big games. Some batters suddenly see the ball better in a big moment. Some fielders are fortunate enough to avoid the yips that turn their finely tuned machines into error-making machines. When that happens for your team in the playoffs, you win. You win big. You win it all.

Over the course of a long season, the averages even out. In the microcosm of a playoff series, they don't. Anything can happen. Anyone can win. Anyone can lose, be it in a 3-game sweep or a 7-game nail biter.

Certainly, though, there must be some formula, right? It can't be entirely unknowable, this magic potion called winning? Some factor or factors must surely add up to a recipe for winning in October, yes?

Yes. Generally, if you're relaxed, you play better. Generally, if your nerves translate into tightness and apprehension, you fail. And generally, when you play in a place where panic sets in the moment anything momentous occurs, good or bad . . . well, when you play in a place like that, it's hard not to be too nervous.

Now, it used to be that Wrigley Field was that kind of place in August and September. Once you got close to the playoffs, panic would set in. Maybe that will become commonplace now. We're a long way from becoming the kind of place where winning in the playoffs is commonplace, but it's amazing what one win will do. I firmly believe that if the Cubs could have won just one game this year or the last, they would have kept winning. The nerves would have loosened. The burden would have lessened. Alfonso Soriano would have made decent contact.

But I guarantee, if they keep this team together, they are going to win a lot, and eventually . . . someday, we'll go all the way.