Nolan Arenado and Javier Baez stood in the cool moonlight of Wrigley Field’s infield and shared a warm embrace. The world — and game — raged on all around them, but it all faded into background noise as the tender embrace turned to gentle back-patting and ear-to-ear smiles.
It was a bizarre moment for a hug. The bottom of the 11th of a winner-take-all game with the play still going on. It was not what anyone expected to happen when Willson Contreras hit a chopper to the left side with two on and one out. Managers, umpires, and players seemed a bit mystified. Everyone knew Baez, as a baserunner, wasn’t allowed to do that. Everyone also saw Arenado smile and show complete indifference toward making a throw.
So the game went on without an interference call. The Rockies recorded the final out of the frame. An incredible controversy was avoided. Colorado almost hugged itself into elimination. Two innings later, they squeezed the life out of the Cubs. All it took was three straight two-out singles by Trevor Story, Gerardo Parra, and Tony Wolters to eke out the second, game-winning run.
The Cubs season didn’t end in one big explosion. It ended in a thousand cuts. It ended because the pressure finally broke them. Over the past two days, that pressure’s been applied by unlikely sources.
Kyle Freeland. Tony Wolters. Chris Rusin. Orlando Arcia.
It’s also come from within. With everything on the line, Joe Maddon’s offense couldn’t do much of anything. It mustered only two runs and nine hits in 22 innings. Blessed with an embarrassment of riches, the North Side’s fortune was lost.
Tuesday night was the exact type of situation the deep and versatile roster was supposed to solve. Every position player saw action. None could provide the clutch hit. Kyle Schwarber struck out. Jason Heyward, the $184 million man, came on in the seventh and went 0-for-3 with four men LOB. Terrance Gore, who had all of 19 plate appearances in his career, got two at-bats and fanned in each.
The Cubs have an entire offseason to wonder about two things: what could have been and how they came to be the first team bounced from the 2018 playoffs. A talent-rich roster with deep pockets led the National League Central by five games in September and saw it all turn to ruin.
It’s been a slow-motion car wreck. A nightmare escalating in severity. Hope slipping though fingers like sand, a few grains at a time. It’s gone now. The how is less important than the what.
Arenado’s hug was more of mob move, where the marked man is given false hope. Usually that man is not long for this world. And the 2018 Cubs weren’t. They need another type of hug now. The kind that you give when something dies.