Oh, baby, was it a beautiful night for baseball.
Seventy degrees, a gentle breeze from the southeast — a perfect night for the Cubs to grab a 2-0 lead at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series and head to Los Angeles all puffy-chested and cool.
But a little thing called Clayton Kershaw happened.
And so, concurrently, did something called Cubs Fear.
Manager Joe Maddon relieves Kyle Hendricks in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday at Wrigley Field. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
You know what that is: the abrupt tumble from the peak of joy to the depths of a near-bottomless fear. And that fear has a name: Dear God, Here We Go Again.
Oh, it was only one game, just one loss to even the NLCS at one game apiece, with Games 3, 4 and 5 set to be played at Dodger Stadium starting Tuesday. It was only a 1-0 loss, and Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks pitched pretty darned well: 5„ innings of three-hit ball with just one earned run given up.
Indeed, that was the only run of the whole game, which lasted a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes, a shadow of the five-hour marathon the Cubs played in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, or the four-hour game, or the . . . well, it shows that every baseball game has its own lifespan, its own rhythm.
And the sound of this game was essentially one of quiet. Oh, the crowd roared on some long fly balls by Addison Russell and Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist. But that was hopeful roaring, as if voices could add 20 or 30 feet to a baseball’s flight.
There was no gale like the night before, when Cubs pinch-hitter Miguel Montero’s game-winning grand slam for the ages was propelled out of the park like a rocket ship. Manager Joe Maddon said of Baez’s hefty seventh-inning drive to center field: “You knew it was just not far enough. You just knew it.”
And Joe was right. Nothing for the Cubs was quite far enough Sunday night.
Nor was their thought process, or at least that of the fans in attendance who collectively were thinking pre-game, “The Cubs are so good, they just might sweep the Dodgers!” Now, suddenly, it’s slightly possible the Dodgers could win three in a row in L.A. and the two teams won’t even come back to Chicago because the NLCS will be over.
No, relax. It won’t end like that. Please. Impossible.
I’m pretty sure.
As Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the man who scored the lone run of the evening on his solo homer in the second, said, “You don’t really carry momentum. Every day’s different. Every day’s new.”
See, the sun will come up, Cubs fans. And Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are waiting in the wings, ready to pitch again. And along with John Lackey, they should be able to overcome the Kershaw effect, even if that guy seems to pitch every other day.
Before the game, there were two men and a German Shepherd outside Wrigley on Waveland Avenue in front of the firehouse. They were all painted a ghastly white, with the men wearing white “Field of Dreams” uniforms and the pooch painted with blue striped socks and a red Cubs logo on each side.
“You fellows come in from the corn?” I asked.
“Yessir,” one replied.
“Going back into it?” I said hopefully.
They both nodded.
The dreams are out there, and they will not die easy, but they sure can be spooked.
A woman held up a sign during the game: “70 Years Old — Can’t Wait Much Longer!”
There are always setbacks on the road to success, just not usually 108 years of them.
“A homer was just the difference,” said Montero, Saturday night’s hero who struck out in his one at-bat Sunday. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”
The Dodgers aren’t patsies, folks.
That’s how it’s gonna go.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.