At one point in Tuesday night’s game 6 of the National League Championship Series, the Cubs led 3-0, needing only five outs to secure their first World Series appearance since 1945. At that same point, the Marlins needed to first score at least three runs within those five outs against Cubs ace Mark Prior, a leading Cy Young Award candidate in the National League, then second, beat Chicago starter Kerry Wood the next night. Going into the postseason, the duo of Prior and Wood had pitched back-to-back nights 17 times during the regular season, and Chicago lost both games only once. The Marlins were heavy underdogs coming into the postseason, even heavier coming into the NLCS, and all but written off in the top of the eighth last night.
In a single moment of Tuesday’s game, the demeanor of Cubs fans changed as for the first time in a long time, they felt like something had been taken away. The feeling of entitlement seems to be more dangerous than superstition, and is a serious wake-up call for the opposition.
It’s easy to blame Steve Bartman, the 26-year-old Cubs fan who is now infamous in Chicago for reaching for the ball in a situation where any other fan, Chicago or otherwise, would have done the same thing. It’s easy to speculate whether things might be different if only the goat were allowed into the game. What has been the toughest thing to do -not only throughout this series, but through the entire postseason – is credit the Florida Marlins.
Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game where mistakes can be bandaged as easily as they can be exploited. The Marlins in this postseason have exploited mistakes better than any other team in baseball. In game four against the Giants, the defending National League champs left a division series record 18 men on base, yet they “lost” the game giving up two runs in the bottom of the 11th inning because Jose Cruz Jr. dropped a foul ball nowhere near the stands. The Giants finished the series with seven errors overall, with much less focus on that play by Cruz Jr. than on the other mistakes that the Giants made throughout the series. If Cubs outfielder Moises Alou dropped the ball in foul ground without it being touched by a third party, would he hear half of the criticism that Steve Bartman will endure? The best man to ask is Alex Gonzalez, who dropped a routine double play ball later in the inning. His mistake was far greater than Bartman’s in terms of its effect on the inning, yet the emotion inspired by fan interference makes more headlines.
Baseball has an infatuation with determining what “would have happened.” Miguel Tejada would have scored if he hadn’t been bumped by Bill Mueller, Jason Varitek would have thrown out the runner if Chris Singleton hadn’t been in the way, the Giants would have won if Jose Cruz hadn’t dropped the ball, or if J.T. Snow hadn’t let it get through his legs, and the Cubs would have won if Steve Bartman hadn’t stuck out his hands.
The truth is that the Giants and the Cubs lost. But more importantly, the Florida Marlins earned the victories and a World Series berth.