Chasing History

Will the last cursed team in baseball please turn out the lights?

I feel betrayed. The curse, the hex, whatever you want to call it, was supposed to be an all-powerful force that afflicted teams were powerless to overcome. It didn't matter how many big-name free agents came, or blockbuster trades were orchestrated, because it was understood that history would always catch up with the present.

This post-season, however, has demonstrated a critical lesson that the Cubs must heed: To overcome a curse, you must play as if there is no curse.

Three games into the American League Championship Series, few people were blaming the seemingly insurmountable hole that the Boston Red Sox dug for themselves on Babe Ruth. Nor did there appear to be another Aaron Boone hiding in the dugout, or an endless eighth inning on the horizon when every fan in Sox nation screamed at the television for Pedro Martinez to be removed.

In some ways, the 3-0 ALCS deficit was the best thing that has ever happened to the Red Sox. Why? Because for the first time in their recent playoff history, they had nothing to lose.

No one expected the Sox to come back, and other than the first two innings of Game 7, no one really worried about when and how they would find some excruciating way to blow it all again.

So the team played game four. And won. Then they played game five. And won. All of the sudden, they were one good start from Curt Shilling away from evening the series. The team did not wilt. As game six progressed, it was the Yankees that started to look like the team with 86 years of history pressing down on their shoulders. It no longer mattered that Game 7 would feature a Red Sox starter that had been demoted to the bullpen squaring off against one of the nastiest, albeit declining, starting pitchers in the league.

Yankee Stadium went silent in the second inning, buried under a hole that even their beloved team could not dig out of.

In the National League, the Houston Astros faced an unkind playoff history as well. The franchise had never won a single playoff series. But the 2004 version came into their matchup against the Atlanta Braves as the hottest team in the league, oozing with confidence.

The Astros knew they had three essential factors going for them: two solid starting pitchers, a lights-out closer, and a prolific offense. While the Astros eventually came up one game short of the World Series, many playoff demons were quashed and there will be few off-season regrets.

Prior to the post-season, I wondered if I, or any Cub fan, would be able to enjoy the playoffs – no strings attached. During the Division Series, I struggled with the fact that the Cubs were not there. But as the Championship Series' unfolded, I attained a certain level of peace.

Watching the four teams battle it out, it became clear that the Cubs did not belong in such high company. Not once did I remark to myself, "The Cubs should be playing right now, because they would beat all these teams."

The Cubs would have been the fifth best team in a four-team horse race. These four teams don't just have sluggers; they have hitters. Lineups full of guys that execute by bunting, stealing and driving the ball the other way.

In Game 7 of the NLCS, the Cardinals executed a suicide squeeze with their own pitcher! With all due respect intended, I doubt that Dusty Baker would have enough confidence to call for anyone in his lineup, let alone the pitcher, to execute such a bold play.

The fourteen championship series' games should be required viewing for every player on every team that did not make it to the post-season this year. Throughout both series, it was painfully clear exactly what it takes to make the final four.

In 2003, the Cubs belonged there. In 2004, they did not.

It is that simple to understand, and it is up to the Cubs to determine how simple it will be to return.

Write to Brian Lustig: Click HERE.

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