Murphy's Law: Anything That Could Have Gone Wrong Did–Or Did It?

Jacob Cummis “How can an 8 hitter keep it going like this?” my Zadie complained rhetorically as we sat in the fourth row of the left-center field bleachers at Wrigley in Game 4 of the NLCS. Wilmer Flores, batting eighth and playing shortstop for the Mets, had already gone 1-1 on the night when he worked the count full in his second at bat. After fouling a couple of pitches off, Flores eventually worked the walk. He had now reached base twice in the first three innings of the ballgame–hitting out of the eight spot. Meanwhile, the Cubs remained hitless. The first time through the order, the Cubs were only able to muster a single walk, and the pitch after the walk was ushered, Dexter Fowler grounded out, as did many other Cubs their first at bats, to end the bottom of the third. In his next at bat, Flores took three straight balls. “You can’t do this to the eight hitter!” I heard exclaimed in annoyance from my right side. Flores proceeded to take a strike, and then, now in a hitter’s count, blooped—yes, blooped—a triple to left field, where rookie “catcher”-converted-outfielder Kyle Schwarber’s diving attempt at the ball failed, allowing the ball to reach the ivy.   At this point, the score of the game was of little importance, and, just as the Mets had prematurely proclaimed on their website before the start of Game 4, it appeared that the New York Metropolitans were destined to bust out their brooms, sweep up the Cubs, and then ride the brooms back to New York for the October Classic; just in time for Halloween. Before the game could end, though, Daniel Murphy would not stop his obliteration of Cubs pitching, cranking his fourth home run in as many games in the NLCS. This was a continuation of his tear against the Los Angeles Dodgers, in which he ended the NLDS with a home run in each of the final two games at Chavez Ravine. Daniel Murphy, a veteran utility infielder, had all of a sudden molded himself into the Mets’ MVP, and the bane of the Cubs’ Back to the Future II-predicted World Series title. However, this is not the first time Cubs faithful have been tortured by a Murphy. In 1984, the Cubs opposed the San Diego Padres in the NLDS. After winning the opening two games at Wrigley Field, the series shifted to San Diego’s Joe Murphy Stadium, where the Cubs lost three games in a row, ending their season. Also, the Infamous Billy-Goat’s name was Murphy. And, of course, Daniel Murphy can be added to the list, as he batted an astonishing .406 during the four NLCS games. Murphy’s law explains anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and that’s just what happened to the Cubs against the Murphy-led Mets, putting a cap on a year where– actually–almost everything else for the Cubs had gone right. The 2014-2015 offseason was a key, transitional period for the Cubs. Coming off a third straight last place finish in the NL Central, the Cubs anticipated having a young, experienced group of players that would call Wrigley their home in the coming months. Front Office Management was aware of the raw talent they had stockpiled in their farm system amid long, losing seasons, but their top-prospect were all position players. This presented a problem that could only be fixed through free agency: pitching. At around one in the morning on December 10, 2014, best-available free agent according to most people around baseball left handed pitcher Jon Lester decided to sign with the Cubs over the Boston Red Sox, who had dealt him in a deadline deal to the Oakland A’s the previous August. Coaching was the next to be addresses. On April 23, 2014, at the centennial anniversary game of Wrigley Field, my uncle told me his favorite coach in all of sports was a guy named Joe Maddon, but I had never heard of the guy. He told me about his antics with the Tampa Bay Rays, making the guy seem more and more, let’s say, interesting, as my uncle kept talking. I had completely forgotten about the conversation I had with my uncle until the Cubs officially announced they hired a new manager, a guy the allegedly didn’t even have to right to talk contracts with in Joe Maddon. There was an investigation regarding tampering that the Rays called for the MLB to commence, although it’s fairly easy to figure out what the outcome of the investigation was. As wild as that was, there’s an even crazier story involving beers on the beach and a cross-country road trip that details exactly how and why Joe Maddon agreed to be the manager of the Cubs. In the end, though, the Cubs got their guy. Spring training began, and there was a new vibe around the Cubs. The new home of Cubs Spring Training Baseball, Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona opened, prospects were making their first appearances in front of fans, and upper management had Chicago and baseball personalities alike that the Cubs were ready to, maybe not contend, but, be better. I went to one of the spring training games, a home game against the White Sox, and my brother didn’t leave empty handed. Before the game, the scheduled starter Jason Hammel flipped my brother a ball as he headed from the bullpen to the dugout. Already, you could sense energy not only in the fans, but in the players as well. The game ended with the Cubs routing the Sox in the dry Arizona heat. The weather wasn’t the only thing that was hot in Arizona during the spring. Consensus number one prospect Kris Bryant absolutely lit up the Arizona Spring League with the Cubs, hitting an MLB-best 9 HR, sparking what led to much debate over where prospect should begin the season. If it wasn’t for an MLB rule deeming a full season, as it relates to a year of a contract, is 172 days with the team. This is ultimately why the future star didn’t open the season with the major league team, but rather with the Iowa Cubs, the team’s Triple-A affiliate. Bryant made his debut, as expected, on Friday April 17, 2015. I left school early that day with Charlie Berz and we were able to get tickets for only fifteen dollars, although we knew the game we were about to see could potentially be priceless. Padres pitcher James Shields, who at one point was rumored to possibly join the Cubs via free agency, was able to get the better of Bryant as he went 0-4 in his debut, striking out all four times. He did make a sparkling play with his glove, though, despite his defense being one of his biggest question marks. This game marked the beginning of what was to come, as Bryant was just the first of many top-prospects to debut for the Cubs in 2015. Later, Baltimore Orioles’ lost cause Jake Arietta was pitching for the Cubs against defending American League Champion Kansas City Royals on Friday, May 29, where he got rattled for a couple of runs early on. Philip Hinkes and I were up close and personal for this, sitting a couple of rows behind the Cubs’ dugout. Arietta was credited for the loss as the Royals ended up putting up a heap of runs, despite homers from rookies Addison Russell and Jorge Soler. This was the penultimate loss Arietta would render the remainder of the regular season, the only other coming on at the hands of Cole Hamel’s no-hitter for the Phillies at Wrigley. This was also the beginning of a run Arietta would go on that would not be rivaled by a single other pitcher in MLB history. I had tickets to sit in the bleachers the next day for when I got off work at Blaze Pizza, but the game got rained out and was postponed the final home game of the season in September. At work that day, I made pizza for a customer who I had just paid to see the day before, and now he was paying for a pizza I would make for him. Dressed in full Blackhawks attire–the Stanley Cup Playoffs were going on–as manager Joe Maddon instructed, Jake Arietta came in with his buddy Ryan and ordered a pizza for each of them. I’m not crediting my pizza making abilities as to why Arietta would go on to have a historic season on the mound, but it’s hard to deny it didn’t play a factor… Philip and I then ventured to the Southside for a Crosstown Classic game, and the difference in the fan bases were evident. The Cubs, who had built through trades and the draft, and the White Sox, who monopolized the offseason free agent market, were both projected to be playoff contenders early in the year. Only the Cubs’ season panned out, though. Arietta pitched a wacky game for the Cubs, as did Jose Quintana for the Sox, but the Northsiders ended up taking the victory. The next games I attended came during the series against the Giants, where the Cubs recorded their first four game sweep of a team at Wrigley in a surprisingly long time. Before this series, the Giants were on the Cubs’ tail for the second Wildcard spot the Cubs, at the time, possessed. After, it was almost a forgone conclusion the Chicago Cubs, for the first time since 2008, were postseason bound. Finally the postponed game against the Royals took place, and by now both teams were playoff bound, the Royals clinching the AL Central, and the Cubs still looking to overtake the Pirates to host the Wildcard game at Wrigley. To my surprise, the Cubs paraded around borders of the field before the game, carrying drawstring bags full of autographed baseballs that they tossed to the electrified stands. This touch of class on the Cubs’ part reassured me that among the unpredicted success the team had had throughout the season, they hadn’t forgotten who they represented and were playing for. There’s the saying, “It’s always calm before the storm,” but it was just the opposite for the Cubs in the NLDS. In the two games that I witnessed at Wrigley, the Cubs connected for a barrage of a total of ten home runs, including six in one game, setting the postseason record for most home runs in a single game. This series was more than just an actual victory for the Cubs, but a moral victory as well. Not only did we become the “winners” of the NL Central, but we also proved to the Cardinals–and ourselves–the indeed our rivalry is, in fact, alive, and very, very well. Though Murphy and the Mets, along with deadline acquisition Yoenis Cespedes certainly brought the Cubs back down to Earth and put a dampen on the end of the season, it’s hard to look at the 2015 Cubs season as anything but a success. We weren’t supposed to make the postseason, we weren’t supposed to beat the Pirates in the Wildcard game, we weren’t supposed to be the supreme Cardinals in a five game series, and well, we knew one of our biggest problems was pitching, which is just the thing the Mets happened to excel at. This season was no failure, and all of its success should be celebrated, as it was when we stomped on the Cardinals. We gained the experience we lacked at the beginning of the season, our prospects only scratched the surfaces of their potentials, and there is an abundance of quality pitching available on the free agent market after the World Series wraps up. It would have been nice for the season to end with us hoisting the World Series trophies higher than where Schwarber’s monster home run sits encased atop the fabulous, new right field video board, but even the writer of Back to the Future II will admit to you that it wasn’t actually meant to be. In an ESPN article, Back to the Future II screenplay writer Bob Gale explains how his Cubs prediction was more of a joke and an “outrageous” way to push the main plotline of betting on sports upon returning to 1985: “What better way to give [Marty] the idea than with a really outrageous scenario, which is the Cubs win the World Series?” Cubs fans, this Mets series was difficult to watch. It’s now been–officially–107 years since we last won a World Series. At this point, it just might benefit us to look ahead to the next six or seven years and realize exactly what our team is capable of. We knew we weren’t going to be the best team we could possibly be this year, but we were still served an excellent taste of what our team could look like not so far down the road. Although we all are over-tired of doing it by now, this offseason, for the first time in a long time, we can be optimistic when we talk about waiting until next year.]]>