No joy in Wrigleyville

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 20, 2003

After being glued to the tube for nearly one week, savoring each and every athletic morsel, it’s now all anti-climatic.

There’s nothing better than the drama of Major League Baseball’s League Championship Series. Heck, they’re more fun to watch than the prize those four teams are chasing – a berth in the World Series.

With my Atlanta Braves taking their annual post-season nosedive, I adopted the Chicago Cubs as my choice to win the National League pennant. Why not root for the underdog? The Little Bears hadn’t won a pennant since 1945. The last time Chicago won the World Series, Adolph Hitler, as a 19-year-old weakling, was being turned down for service in the Austrian Army.

Nearly 100 years later, there they were again – the Cubs on the threshold of ending a century-long jinx and making it to the Series. Holding a three games to one lead in the NLCS against the upstart Florida Marlins and leading 3-0 with one-out in the top of the eighth inning of game six, the Cubbies were five outs away from reaching the mountaintop. Somewhere, Harry Carey was smiling.

But, alas, these are the Cubs. They have found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in past years. Why should the 2003 post-season be any different? It wasn’t.

Florida rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning – with the help of a now ridiculed Chicago fan, who reached out and latched onto a foul ball that could have been caught by a player, and an equally brain-dead Chicago shortstop by the name of Alex Gonzalez who booted a sure-fired, inning-ending double play grounder.

The Cubs, even with ace Kerry Woods on the mound, collapsed in game seven, losing 9-6, causing Harry Carey to roll over in his grave.

Over at Yankee Stadium, Boston was giving their bitter rivals a post-season scare. Entering game six, the Red Sox were down, three games to two, but won, 9-6 (sound familiar) to force a deciding game seven.

Was this the year that the ‘Sox would finally be able to break the legendary &uot;Curse of the Bambino?&uot; Could Boston’s loyal fans finally get a chance to snub their New England noses at the hated Yankees?

But, alas, these are the Red Sox – that of Bill Buckner fame dating back to the 1986 World Series where, up three games to two in game six against the New York Mets, the Boston first baseman booted a routine grounder, the Mets rallied to win and went on to capture game seven and the Series title.

Fast forward to the 2003 ALCS. There, the Sox led by three (sound strikingly familiar) and were five outs away (spooky, ain’t it) from winning game seven vs. the Yankees. As if the &uot;Gods&uot; of baseball were controlling destiny, New York rallied for three runs in, ironically, the eighth inning and beat the ‘Sox, 6-5, on Aaron Boone’s solo homer to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning.

This is all too ironic to be passed off as &uot;just the breaks of the game.&uot; Two teams in two different series, both leading by three runs and both just five outs away from reaching Major League Baseball’s version of the &uot;Promised Land,&uot; only to see fate intervene. Sure, life isn’t fair, but at the same time, it isn’t supposed to be this cruel.

Your heart has to go out to those loyal Cubs and Red Sox fans. So close to tasting success and now all they’re left with is a bitter taste in their collective mouths.

And what are we left with as far as a thrilling 2003 World Series match-up – the Yankees and the Marlins. Gee, I’m thrilled. I can hardly contain my emotions, so much to the point that I’m struggling to end this column.

Dream match-up – not a chance!

Quick, name me one – just one – loyal fan of the Florida Marlins. Who can root for a team whose mascot – a fish – goes by the name of Billy. Their manager, 72-year-old Jack McKeon, was coaching baseball the last time the Cubs made it this far. Keep the paramedics on standby just in case the Marlins win.

I can’t root for the Yankees. Any true-blooded Southern boy can’t root for the Yankees.

New York hasn’t earned a berth in the World Series in what, two years now? That must be miserable for their fans, especially after winning three straight world titles to close out the decade of the 90’s.

What is enough for the Yankees? This marks their 39th trip to the Fall Classic, an event that is now 100 years old. During that stretch, New York has won 26 championships.

Is number 27 in the offering? If it happens, I, for one, could care less.