What I’m about to say may shock some people, so take a seat and allow this to really sink in. Unlike what Joe Buck and Tim McCarver pound into everyone’s heads each October, the Chicago Cubs are not cursed. Neither were the Red Sox, White Sox or even my dearly beloved Golden State Warriors (they are just, and will always be, really bad). Nope, the words “curse” and “sports,” just don’t go together. But that does not mean that when the Chicago Cubs laid the proverbial “egg” in their series with the Los Angeles Dodgers the word “curse” had nothing to do with it. Instead of standing for what it actually means, the word “curse” in this instance stood for two things for the Cubbies: a ton of added pressure and a scapegoat for their three-game beat down.
The Cubs entered this postseason as the odds-on favorite to win the World Series, according to Vegas. They had a fantastic pitching staff, especially after adding flamethrower Rich Harden to the already potent duo of Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. They had solid veteran leadership with the ageless Jim Edmonds patrolling center field. They had stars in Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and even a star in the making with catcher Geovany Soto. All throughout the season you could hear Cubs fan whispering the unthinkable thought, “Could this be our year?”
In the first round of the playoffs the Cubs knew they would have a tough match-up in the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers had two great mid-season acquisitions of their own in third baseman Casey Blake and left fielder Manny Ramirez, and their pitching staff nearly rivaled that of the Cubs. Most of the baseball pundits had this series going four or five games. So although it had to be a surprise when the Dodgers thumped the Cubs in Game 1 in front of a sold-out Wrigley Field crowd, it certainly wasn’t an Appalachian State over Michigan type upset. But this one loss meant a lot more than just a 1-0 deficit in the series for the Cubs; it meant that the annual “curse” talk would start up again. The murmurs from the Wrigley faithful certainly echoed this idea, but much more surprising had to be manager Lou Pinella’s reaction after the game.
“Let’s hope we get better,” a dejected Pinella stated, “let’s put this one behind us and go get them tomorrow.”
Although the end of the quote sure seemed to have the hopes of inspiring his team to even the series, watching the interview in person Pinella’s body language sure meant something else. It seemed as if the manager of the Cubs, one of the toughest individuals to ever play the game, was buying into the thought that the Cubs were cursed. For his talented team to play so badly there had to be some type of curse involved.
After Game 1 the first aspect of the “curse” had surfaced, yet in Game 2 the pressure that breaking it brought to the Cubs’ players reared its ugly head. The Cubs have one of the best infields in the game. The men at the corners, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, are two of the best players in the game at any position, and the middle infielders, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot, are no slouches either. Yet with the pressure that a Game 1 loss had put on them, each infielder on the team committed an error of their own in Game 2. It’s not just a coincidence that these errors came in a game of this magnitude. The infield as a whole had made only 99 errors in the entire season, but once thoughts of the supposed “curse” appeared in the player’s head it was as if the series was over already.
The flight cross-country had to be nice for the Cubbies, because it offered them a chance to enjoy the warm LA weather. Every player knew that they’d be done with the season after Game 3, so maybe a nice trip to Disneyland would be in order. Sure enough the Dodgers took care of the inevitable in that game, winning a 3-1 decision and sending the Cubs home for the winter. Yet that leaves us with the question, how good are the Dodgers? Was this series simply a case of one team giving in to some phantom curse, or did LA earn the series? The answer to this one is simple, and as much as I respect Harry Raymond, had I completed my own playoff preview my champion would have been the Los Angeles Dodgers (ironically, Harry chose the Cubs). The reason for that is simple: Manny Ramirez.
If Manny had really wanted to, I firmly believe he could have been the best baseball player of all time. In his career, each time he has started playing for a new team those next few months have been Manny-palooza. He rakes the ball all over the field. Manny is right in the middle of one of these tears right now, given that he only had a couple months to play for the Dodgers. As the saying goes, hitting is contagious, so Manny’s escapades are catching on with his teammates. Just look at their first two scores with the Cubs: 7-2 and 10-3. Their pitching is solid enough to keep a team relatively quiet, and this hot offense will do the rest. No the Cubbies aren’t cursed; they just had the misfortune of facing a dominant team in the first round.