Cubs' campaign continues to be a ‘wonderful surprise’

August 17th, 2023

My friend’s name is Robby Macdonald; he is 87 years old and has loved the Chicago Cubs since he was 9 and his mother, a big Cubs fan herself, took him to two games of the 1945 World Series. That was the last Fall Classic the Cubs played until they finally made it back in 2016, and then won it all for the first time in 108 years. Maybe you heard.

Over the past couple of years, Robby felt as if he’d lost the Cubs again, something that had happened to him plenty of times since 1945. But now, here they come. There have been so many good things that have happened in baseball this season. The Cubs being good enough to make a run -- at the National League Central crown, or at least at a NL Wild Card spot -- is one of them.

I was talking to him on Thursday morning after had hit his three-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat the White Sox at Wrigley Field the night before.

“This season,” Robby, who has loved the Cubs longer than anybody I know, said, “continues to be the most wonderful surprise.”

Then Robby, who still reads the box scores in the newspaper every single morning, said: “I worried that they had traded away a pretty great team when they got rid of those guys two years ago [Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez]. But now I feel as if I have my team back.”

After the victory over the White Sox, the Cubs found themselves in the third Wild Card slot, in a virtual tie with the Reds for second in the Central, and just 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers. The Cubs were 26-36 after getting swept by the Angels in June and seemingly going nowhere. Since then, they are 36-22. They were still six games under .500 the first week of July, and a game under .500 just a few weeks ago. But they keep coming.

This is a new, exciting Cubs team. It’s Patrick Wisdom at third base with 20 home runs, Morel with 19 and Cody Bellinger, back to playing baseball the way he did as a kid with the Dodgers, at 18, with 59 RBIs and a .327 batting average to boot. There was so much chatter ahead of the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline that the Cubs might move Bellinger. Except a funny thing happened on the North Side:

The Cubs just kept winning.

So Bellinger is in play for the postseason, the way he always was with the Dodgers. Dansby Swanson, the shortstop on the Braves team that won the World Series two years ago, has 18 home runs himself. Ian Happ, the left fielder, has hit 14 home runs and Nico Hoerner, the second baseman, has a batting average of .280. This isn’t just a good team and a hot team. It is a team that has been so much fun to watch.

Marcus Stroman was 10-8 before a fracture of his rib cartilage. But Justin Steele, a 28-year-old lefty, has a 13-3 record. The closer, Adbert Alzolay, has 16 saves. Michael Fulmer, the setup man, has a 1.65 ERA over his last 30 appearances.

The Cubs don’t have the record that the Orioles and Rangers, the other surprise teams of the season, have. But the Cubs are just as big a story as them, and maybe even bigger, just because they are the Cubs. They are one of those storied teams, playing in a storied baseball place. And now they are very much back.

And as big a moment as they have had in this run of theirs, and perhaps all season, came because of the swing Morel made in the bottom of the ninth, on a 100 mph fastball thrown by Gregory Santos. The video of Morel’s tour around the bases was something to see. First, an arm in the air. Then, the helmet being tossed near second base. Then, the jersey coming off at third. When he came out of the dugout later, he wasn’t wearing a shirt at all.

When it was over, Morel was asked, through an interpreter, what he was thinking as he went around the bases.

“Cubs win,” he said.

This is Boog Sciambi’s third year doing play-by-play for the Cubs' television broadcasts, after a long career at ESPN. He talked on Thursday about the terrific baseball show to which he has had a ringside seat this season, one that keeps getting better.

“Wrigley is still that place,” Boog said, “with all of its hopefulness. And now, even getting close to the possibility that this team could do something great has brought back the Wrigley buzz in full force. It’s a combination of the way the team has played and the passion of the fan base, and it’s all been a beautiful thing to see. And hear.”

Boog paused and said, “I guess the only way to really describe it this way is this: It’s the Cubs.”

They’re back. That Wrigley buzz never gets old. And it makes even 87-year-old Cubs fans feel young.