Last night in Cleveland, the Cubs turned a must-win finger-biter into a not-tense laugher-atter. All it took was some early battering of Josh Tomlin followed by an Addison Russell grand slam to force a Game Seven, something that had yet to happen in the 2016 MLB postseason. Instead of a parade, Cleveland had to watch LeBron James roll his eyes, knowing he’d have to show up at another baseball game.
These playoffs have shown us that game sevens are highly unnatural, and forcing one into existence as the Cubs did last night is extending the baseball season for an extra day that isn’t supposed to happen. How that aspect of this game will manifest itself remains to be seen, but it is more than plausible that at least one major American city will burn.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, they found a crocodile in the Schuylkill River, and the regional rail lines have been completely shut down, paralyzing commuters on the crocodile-infested roads of our city. Baseball has not been in the news for quite some time; not since Ryan Howard burst into tears after being forced to acknowledge the amount of time he'd spent in this place. Given the thinness of our World Series scrapbooks around here, there's not a lot of experiences from which to draw parallels this time.
The closest thing the Phillies have to tonight's Game Seven in their history is Game Six of the 1980 World Series, a championship played exclusively on synthetic fibers, in which the Royals’ Willie Wilson set a new precedent in strikeouts, and people just couldn’t stop watching.
...together the Phillies and the Royals produced the most-watched game in World Series history: 54.9 million viewers saw Game 6.
Like tonight's game, there were epic(ish) droughts in play. Both the Phillies and Royals were trying to win their first-ever World Series trophies, though to be fair, the Royals had existed for only 11 years at that point, while the Phillies were the last of the league's original franchises to still be without a banner. It was only a combined 108 years of drought between the two of them, rather than the Cubs and Indians' shared 176 going into tonight, but it was the last time two teams with no World Series wins in their history had played each other for the title. Passing that centennial mark in futility is always of note, I would say, so thanks for chipping in those last 11 years, Royals; as was characteristic of the Phillies of the late seventies, they were close (97), but not quite all the way there.
So, with all of us adjusting those maroon, fancy-P Phillies caps to watch tonight's totally relatable contest, what can we expect? Get this - it's another Philadelphia sports mainstay: gut-churning misery.
This Game 7 is accompanied by so much angst and anxiety that it's easy to get swept up in the overarching storylines and forget we've got two very good, very worthy ballclubs that have fashioned a fascinating Fall Classic that stands on its own terms, droughts notwithstanding.
Yeah, sure, the majesty of America's pastime under the bright lights of autumn, the splendor of the sport being played on its most elite level (Unless the ball is hit to Tyler Naquin), and Javier Baez's slap-tags at second base cutting the head off would-be base thieves - it's all great. Surely, if we are still watching, there is an appreciation - or addiction, or habit, or whatever - for the game itself. Clearly the gods want all this to happen, having gifted the Cleveland region temperatures 16 degrees higher than the average for this time of year so nobody can complain about outside influences affecting the outcome.
But not far past all of the rollicking lead-in music and jokes about Pete Rose being monitored and tranquilized is what this World Series is all about: intense pain.
Some would argue this is an aspect that should faced directly.
The #Indians should just confront their demons head on and have Jose Mesa throw out the ceremonial first pitch tonight.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 2, 2016
[Jose Mesa?! When will this World Series stop being about the Phillies?!?]
But most of us know that emotions like "anxiety" and "dread" are meant to be pushed down, deep inside of our persons until the final pitch is thrown. Then, they are to be let out in an explosion of joy and actual explosions; or, if your team loses, they will surface as more of a blanket-feeling of sadness covering the next few months (or years, or decades) and be used as an excuse for why you're not smiling in any of your daughter's birthday pictures.
Mike Napoli may be spouting usable, family-friendly quotes like "One thing's for certain: There's going to be a champion tomorrow," but in places so proud of their wretched sports history like Chicago or Cleveland or Philadelphia, there are far more certainties in play: That one group of people is going to feel ravaged by disappointment, which will take the form of furious questions on radio call-in segments or useless hypotheticals that become the folk legends for the prologue of their next World Series appearance.
Fortunately, both cities have franchises elsewhere to turn to - not on the local football field, but still - and the same is true in Philadelphia. "Uh, which sports team would you be referring to, friend?" you may be wondering. Well, maybe you didn't hear, but this city's sports scene is tough - we didn't even let a little crocodile sighting cancel one of the biggest regattas in the country. I can't think of more cliche "Philadelphia" terms than "crocodile" or "regatta." So don't tell me there's not a sports narrative to be proud of at the moment in our city.
For all of the ecstasy to be felt by one team tonight, just know - despite MLB.com's attempts to stifle this aspect - that in the other dugout will be an equal, opposite reaction that continues the usage of the phrase "long-suffering." As we watch from the safety of our homes in Philadelphia, insulated from the sadness by 430 miles and an arsenal of hastily crafted croc traps, perhaps that is the side with which we can best relate.