CHICAGO -- There was some criticism in some quarters that the Wrigley Field crowd on Friday night was, well, a little too wine-and-cheese. That it was the first World Series game at Wrigley in 71 years meant that only a certain kind of fan could afford to get into the game, and suffice it to say, that is not necessarily the sort of fan who bellows and brays and screams his or her bloody lungs out for four hours. There were exceptions, of course. But there were a lot of people glued to their seats with a mute button for most of Friday night 's game.
Contrast this to the most famous postseason crowd in recent memory, the PNC Park crowd of the 2013 National League Wild Card Game, in which 40,000 Pirates fans acted like they'd just escaped from a sanitarium for the criminally insane and were let loose to wreak havoc for four hours. Johnny Cueto won a World Series last year and is one of the finest pitchers in baseball, but he still may be forever remembered for this:
It might seem odd or even cruel to say this, but a Pittsburgh crowd for an NL Wild Card Game was more raucous and unleashed than a Chicago crowd for the first World Series game in 71 years. The place just never got going.
But don't take my word for it. Take Jeff Garlin's. The "Curb Your Enthusiasm" actor, charged with the ceremonial hype man job of shouting "Play Ball!" to start things off, noticed the lull in the Game 1 crowd and went about doing his part to change that.
"Last night, it was a little bit unusual for us to be hosting a World Series game," Garlin began. "So we were noisy … but we were also very quiet. Tonight, tonight … it's all noise!"
And for about thirty-five minutes, it was. After a Game 1 in which the Cubs couldn't plate a single runner, now, facing Corey Kluber of all people, Chicago's first batter of the game scored. A Dexter Fowler double, an Anthony Rizzo single -- and the Cubs, suddenly, were on the board as the crowd roared. Sure, neither ball was hit particularly hard: Fowler's was a defensive inside-out poke down the left field line, and Rizzo was jammed on a pitch he tried and failed to turn around on. But one does not look a gift BABIP against a Kluber in the mouth.
This was all the invitation Wrigley needed to get its Pittsburgh on. The place, at last, had the out-of-control feel that only 40,000 people losing their freaking minds at once can provide. Every NLCS, ALCS and World Series game in 2016 had been won by the team that scored first. You could see it all coming together: Beat Kluber tonight, win with Jon Lester on Sunday and the Cubs would just need one win in Cleveland for history. This was the turn.
Not a soul in the building was sitting, and a chant broke out: "KLUUUUU-BER. KLUUUUU-BER." This was what we'd all been waiting for. This was what we'd expected. Could Kluber be rattled the way Cueto had? If so, man, this noise would do it.
Turns out: Kluber cannot be rattled the way Johnny Cueto could. He would handle the next two hitters with ease, and before you knew it, before the Cubs would bat again, Cleveland had the lead right back after a Carlos Santana home run and, of all things, an infield dribbler by Kluber in the top of the second that resulted in a Kris Bryant throwing error. Cleveland would never lose the lead again. Wrigley would try, but it would never be that loud again. They were primed for madness. There was no wine and cheese here. It made no difference, and now, after a 7-2 win on Saturday, Cleveland is one win away from its first championship since 1948. Everyone in the stadium did their best. But baseball would not cooperate. It has a tendency not to.
This is a column about the Cubs and the profoundly strange sensation of being in attendance for the first two World Series games at Wrigley Field in 71 years and having neither game give much of anything for those famished fans to cheer about. It was as if your family gathered to throw a 108th birthday party for you, except nobody brought any food, there are no chairs to sit down in and random strangers keep walking in and insulting you. It's quite a thing to see in person.
But this, inevitably, gives short shrift to this Cleveland team, which is one win away from setting its own history, an achievement that, if it had happened against any other team, and in any other year (or at least in a year that hadn't seen another Cleveland championship just four months earlier), would be the biggest story in sports and would have us all losing our minds. This is the plight of this Indians team, the same way it was the plight of the 2003 Florida Marlins to win a World Series and have no one care nearly as much about the achievement as whom they accomplished it against. We will have plenty of time to discuss Cleveland, and what they are on the cusp of doing, and how they have accomplished it. Though here's a snippet:
Indians in this postseason: 10 wins, 2 losses, 1.68 ERA.- Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 30, 2016
Yeah, that will win you a lot of games. We will also talk about the possibility that Terry Francona, a sort of unassuming guy himself, is one win away from ending two of three most storied World Series droughts in baseball, and maybe in all of sports. If this were a different era -- say, all of recorded baseball history until maybe 10 years ago -- when managers were the revered baseball sages rather than the cult of the general managers that exists today, they would build statues for Francona. It would be he, not Theo Epstein, who would be seen as the genius Pied Piper escorting curses and decades of losing out of town. We do not live in that era any more, and that's probably for the best, but it nonetheless should be remarked upon that Francona is one win away from his third World Series championship, with two different teams, and those different teams are Boston and Cleveland. Two decades ago, we would think him a wizard.
And we will remark upon that. It is unfair not to focus on what Cleveland has done, and what it might be about to do. This is my admission. But we are still at Wrigley, and thus still stuck on Wrigley.
In the top of the seventh, with Cleveland leading 4-1, three runs that felt like 30, a meager "LET'S GO CUBS" chant threatened to break out, almost out of protest. The crowd had been so sedate for so long that it felt like one last finishing kick, a way to remind everyone that this is a World Series game at Wrigley Field for crying out loud. (It was also probably an attempt to justify the ticket price.) As tends to happen, it's one guy, lubricated but well-meaning, with his heart in the right place, standing up and screaming, imploring his fellow fan charge to remember why they were here in the first place. I cannot guarantee I'll get his quote right -- there were many syllables mashed together -- but it was something like, "LET'S GOOOO! THIS IS THE POSTSEASON! THIS IS THE WORLD SERIES! THIS IS WHAT WE WANTED! EVERYBODY UP! EVERYBODY UPPPPPPP!!!!! LET'S GO CUBS! LET'S GO CUBS!"
For a moment, this seemed to be about to work. A few fans around him joined in, and there was a minor chorus. Then Coco Crisp hit a double that just evaded the outstretched glove of center fielder Dexter Fowler. The man was undaunted. "LET'S GO CUBS! LET'S GO CUBS!" This time others in his section stood, until Justin Grimm threw a wild pitch, moving Crisp to third. Back up again, vigilant went the crowd. Then a hit-by-pitch, and a pitching change, to lefthander Travis Wood facing Jason Kipnis.
One more push, one final push, one desperate, spirited, come onnnnnnnnnnnn collective shout from the Wrigley faithful. They had waited for these specific days their whole lives, and damned if they were gonna go down without a fight. "LET'S GO CUBS! LET'S GO CUBS!" It reached a crescendo. It felt like a revolt, a prison break from the stunted frustration and misery of the last 28 hours. This was Wrigley making its stand.
And then, this:
Let it fly. pic.twitter.com/SDnfpZRaLd- MLB (@MLB) October 30, 2016
The chant went silent after that. There was no denying what was happening at that point.
Then, the fitting conclusion to our story. Actor-turned-movie-star-turned-professional-Cubs-fan Vince Vaughn took the microphone and sang Harry Caray's old song, a song of commiseration, a song that connotes happiness and community, often in the face of impending defeat. Everyone sang along, despite the happenings on the field, and they drank and they waved their hands and they tried to salvage something the way they had salvaged so many painful Wrigley days over the last 108 years. After an odd, consistently exasperating two games in which neither the team nor its fans could ever quite get their engine started, it felt familiar and warm and comfortable. In defeat, Wrigley began to feel like Wrigley again. There was less tension. There was less irritation. Everybody sang together. They paid for the seats. It was a gorgeous night. Why let what's happening on the field ruin a lovely time at the ballpark? It was a lesson Cubs fans have had 108 years to learn. There are worse places to apply it than at the World Series.
The sullen faces exiting Wrigley on Saturday night aside, this series is not over. Wrigley has one more night to give this all a spin. There's one more night to turn that Wrigley into World Series Wrigley. If Cubs fans can change that, they can still change this World Series. It's quite the task, though. The fans, and Jeff Garlin, and even poor Vince Vaughn, they tried to force it with every ounce of their being.
No luck. It was always going to be hard. But maybe it wasn't supposed to be this hard.