I was turning 23, and my sister bought me a ticket to the Treasure Island Music Festival.
"You should always do something to celebrate your birthday," she told me, and off I, a broke editorial intern, went with some friends to go see deadmau5, LCD Soundsystem, and Die Antwoord; music with which I was not the most familiar or literate, but hey, I was doing something "cool" for my birthday. There was to be a headphones dance party, lackadaisical security pat-downs, a spectacular view across the bay of the San Francisco skyline, and most importantly, a tent away from all of the music with free internet access.
I sat in there, hunched on a couch as the Bay Area’s wretched weather twisted the evening and watched MLB Gameday update me on how magically the Phillies were losing an NLCS game to the 2010 Giants. They weren’t in too much trouble yet, so the frustration was a mild 8.0/10, in that I had abandoned the group I was with without telling anyone, disappeared for an hour to furiously click a refresh button, and glared knives into anyone with the audacity to talk to or look at me. "Sometimes things get complicated," the electronic music artist in the giant blinking mouse helmet onstage tried to explain. But of course, this was before It All Happened. This was before the start of a decade, the even years of which seemed destined to be stolen from us by the loosest collection of parts to ever consistently topple into the playoffs.
I watched Matt Moore log his tenth strikeout of the night on Tuesday, leading the Cubs 5-2 in a bid to tie a series that looked like Chicago had all but wrapped up days ago. Nobody should have let their guard down, but we all had ("Not me!!" scream the stubborn cynics, but even they had felt a glimmer of foolish hope), and that’s exactly when the Giants get in. We’d seen it all before, and we knew where it was going; Moore’s performance would be praised, Madison Bumgarner’s intensity would be worshiped, Hunter Pence would be profiled as baseball’s confused deer, Conor Gillaspie would narrate the DVD yearbook, and Bruce Bochy would sit back in a lawn chair, pop off his shoes, and enjoy tongue bath after tongue bath.
As I sat there, it was all too easy to see with infuriating clarity the parallels of what was happening now to what was happening then. And I couldn’t do it anymore. But I also wasn’t going to stop watching the post season, so at that point, I was a ticking time bomb. Who knew what would happen when my mind finally shattered as the Giants raised a 2016 World Series flag? I probably would have just torn a hole in the apartment wall, crawled in there, and lived forever with the possums.
Of course the Cubs were better. The other team was always better; that was the whole point, because it always made no sense. The narrative this year was the cruelest one yet - they were going to beat the Cubs! Good lord, did they have to drag the Cubs into this?! Think of the contributors to humanity who may have been conceived as the result of a city beating a 108-year championship drought! Who would the Giants have robbed us of? How many years would our species have been set back because Conor Gillaspie got hot? Meanwhile, if the Giants had won they probably would have just skipped the parade; not worth the clean-up for the fourth time in seven years, and they’d just have to have another one in ‘18 anyway.
Chicago’s 2016 plot had been flowing so seamlessly, and then suddenly they were almost one mistake away from an abrupt end and a thousand questions. I for some reason had bought in; the Cubs just had it. There was no member of their roster I didn’t want on the Phillies [EDIT: Except Chapman]. They had the game’s most prolific architect and the game’s most wily manager. Kris Bryant. Anthony Rizzo. Jon Lester. Jake Arrieta. Jason Heyward. Javier Baez. Javier Baez. Javier Baez.
But even the sparkling acrobatics of a defender like Baez were nullified multiple times this series, because there was nothing, nothing that could counter the blazing stupidity of the Giants playing playoff baseball every other year.
You can’t really get vindication for a playoff elimination. You never really feel better about it, you just think about it less. And that 2010 NLCS, the one I watched from a bar surrounded by UC Davis students who barely understood what they were looking at, the one that we should have had in the bag, the one full of villains I don’t even want to name, the one in which Ryan Howard watched 97 wins slap against Buster Posey’s mitt, couldn’t end, because every other autumn, we had to watch it again.
Not this time, you horrible monsters. This time, the Cubs broke us out of a sick loop. They stole a win from the Giants, breaking the hearts of their fans and inserting a crappy memory into what had seemed like a happy one - "the biggest ninth inning comeback in a clinch game in post season history." With a young, skilled team, the Cubs could be back in the post season for years to come, perhaps starting a new cycle. Perhaps repeatedly meeting new Giants teams and haunting them. Perhaps restoring balance to the baseball universe.
Thank you, Cubs.
We are free now.
Largely unburdened in the long term by the scathing 2010 loss, my sister has had a productive seven years. She worked hard. Traveled far. Got married. Got a dog. Had a baby. So this year, as I celebrate my 30th birthday, I’m once more taking her advice. I’m going back to California to meet a Phillies fan; and I know the story I’m never going to tell him.