Well OK. Maybe it was a mild upset when the Cubs knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL wild car game. After all, with 98 wins, the Bucs had the second best regular season record in all of baseball and were playing at home. Star player Andrew McCutcheon's mom even sang the national anthem. Pittsburgh was geeked.
Yet the Cubbies had only won one less game (97), and anything can happen in baseball, especially in a single contest. Last place teams sometimes defeat "elite" clubs they trail by 20 games or more. It happens all the time. Baseball is funny that way. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.
But the Cubs were not supposed to dispatch the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds had the best record (100 wins) of all, and home field advantage to boot. The Cardinals have long been regarded as the classiest franchise in the Major Leagues, and their fans the most knowledgeable. Unlike other "high profile" teams, St. Louis has always been about playing at a high level in all phases of the game. True, they won't win the World Series every year -- nobody does -- but they're always competitive. When's the last time you saw a Cardinal team bringing up the rear in their division? It just doesn't happen. The Cards are always good.
To the delight of the delirious crowd at Wrigley Field, their Cubbies improbably -- or maybe not -- sent the Cardinals packing this year in an NLDS. Pity the late Harry Caray couldn't be there to see it, but I suspect he knows somehow, wherever he is. Three games to one and the mighty Cards are out, fair and square.
Now the Cubs await the winner of the NY Mets/LA Dodgers league semi-final. Just a few minutes ago, LA knocked off the Mets in the Big Apple to even the series at 2-2. The Mets really, REALLY wanted to win this game. Not only would it have given them a few days extra rest, but saved another trip all the way back out to the west coast for a deciding Game 5.
[Idle thought. Is there a longer flight in pro sports than from NY to LA? Even if the Mets win they have to fly all the way back home and then to Chicago for the first two games of the NLCS. Jet lag anyone?]
Regardless, whichever team emerges from the 3-way scrum in the NL to get to the World Series will be welcomed by the advertising folks. Chicago, NY, and LA are big markets indeed, especially the latter two.
Not so much in the AL. Regardless of who wins the series' between Houston/KC and Toronto/Texas, both currently tied at 2-2, none of those cities represent a commercial extravaganza for the Madison Avenue folks. Though all their teams are obviously very good, whoever makes it to the World Series will be considered a "small market" team, with the possible exception of Texas. The Lone Star state is chock full of teams, both in various pro leagues and college, so their loyalties are certainly divided. Would they all pull together to root on the Rangers if they make it to baseball's Big Dance? Maybe.
Nevertheless, here's to the Cubbies. They're going to the league finals for the first time in over 30 years. Who would have thunk it? As mentioned in a previous post -- if Joe Maddon isn't the NL manager of the year, something is wrong. Yes, the voting takes place before the post-season starts and remains a secret until it's all over, but even if they bow out short of a championship, what Maddon did with the Cubs throughout the year has been nothing short of magical.
And at this point, besides the folks in NY and LA, who isn't pulling for the Cubs? 107 years since they last won a World Series? The longest jinx -- by far -- in all of sports.
With apologies to American League fans, do we dare hope they can actually pull this off?
Hey, they're pretty good and have as good a shot as anybody remaining.
And wouldn't that be something?