Buckley: Cubs title dream almost gone

October 30, 2016 GMT

CHICAGO — Warning to Chicago Cubs fans everywhere: You have won nothing.



Sure, your National League pennant makes for a nice conversation starter over at Murphy’s Bleachers. And, OK, it’s great to have such iconic Cubs fans as Bill Murray, John Cusack and Eddie Vedder tooling around with the regular folk at festive, electric Wrigley Field.

But this whole Wrigley-Billygoat-Bartman-Take-Me-Out-to-the-Ballgame-blah-blah-blah thing has never been about merely hoisting a pennant — even though this is the first edition of the Cubs to do so since 1945, when the late, great Lennie Merullo of East Boston was playing shortstop.

No, it’s the World Series drought that makes the headlines out here, what with the Cubs having not won one since 1908. And now this year’s Cubs — for all their talent, for all their promise, for all their mesmerizing story lines — are one loss away from being just the latest collection of North Siders to contribute to the malaise.

The lackluster Cubs dropped a 7-2 decision to the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the World Series last night at Wrigley, with Tribe starter Corey Kluber allowing just one run in six innings. The hopeful Wrigley masses roared in the first inning when leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler led off with a double to left and came around on an Anthony Rizzo single, but the Indians quickly tied it when Carlos Santana led off the second with a monster shot of a home run to right field off Cubs starter John Lackey.

Red Sox fans remember Lackey as the winning pitcher of the clinching Game 6 of the 2013 World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. They also remember him for his occasional meltdowns when things don’t go right. And things didn’t go right last night.

Lackey didn’t implode, but he didn’t like plate umpire Marvin Hudson’s strike zone. And he couldn’t have been happy when Lonnie Chisenhall reached on a throwing error by third baseman Kris Bryant and eventually scored when Kluber, of all people, reached on a soft single to third.

But it was all moot by the seventh inning, when Jason Kipnis launched a three-run homer off Cubs reliever Travis Wood to give the Indians a swollen 7-1 lead.

And talk about stuff you simply can’t make up: Kipnis grew up on Chicago’s North Side. He grew up a Cubs fan. He went to the same high school as Steve Bartman, the much-villified Cubs fan who played a role in his team’s loss to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 National League Championship Series.

“I can’t say the words that were going through my mind,” Kipnis said of his home run trot. “Kids are watching this channel. But I have a lot of joy playing this game and to be put in a situation like this and have something happen like that, it’s a dream come true.”

The guessing here is that Kipnis’ dream growing up was to hit that three-run World Series home run while wearing a Cubs uniform, But it was the Indians who selected him in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft, not his hometown Cubs.

Another local boy done good, actor Vince Vaughn, dutifully made his way up to the broadcast booth after Kipnis’ home run to lead 41,706 fans in the nightly belting of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” And it was as spirited and all that .?.?. but, alas, a lot more in tune than the Cubs.

“We made mistakes,” said manager Joe Maddon, not exactly a stop-the-presses acknowledgement. “Absolutely, we made mistakes tonight. That was part of it.

“You’re going to make mistakes on occasion,” he said. “You have to be able to play through the tough moments by doing something offensively, and we haven’t been able to do that.”

If the Cubs and their fans don’t understand what’s at stake here, they need only Google the 2004 Red Sox. The ’04 Sox, you’ll recall, staged an epic comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, winning four straight games after dropping the first three. This inspired a day or two of drum-beating in which some fans rang up the talk shows to bellow that the season would be a success even if the Sox lost the World Series, the dumb rationale being that humiliating the Yankees was its own parade.

Um .?.?. no. The Red Sox had to win the World Series to erase “1918” as a Yankee Stadium taunt. They did, and they did.

That’s the dilemma that’ll be facing the Cubs when they send former Red Sox postseason hero Jon Lester to the mound tonight to face the Indians in Game 5.

True, both teams need a World Series championship to make their season a success, since the Indians, after all, haven’t won one since 1948 at Boston’s Braves Field. But the Cubs need it more, for the simple reason they’ve been waiting longer.

If the Cubs lose tonight, 2016 becomes another occasion for aging North Siders to sit out on the front porch and cry. Like any other year.