Wrigley is, for a true baseball fan, a near religious experience. I have been fortunate enough to make the trek a few times, but this time my girlfriend Rachael (who is not a Phillies fan and actually likes the Braves) accompanies me on my trip to Chicago.
We have other plans for the week, but no trip to Chicago is complete without a visit or two to Wrigley Field.
We arrive plenty early on Tuesday so that Rachael can soak in the atmosphere outside the stadium and in the nearby neighborhood. We receive the pleasant surprise that it’s Ryne Sandberg bobblehead night. The Phillies might have foolishly traded him away 25 years ago, but I’m bringing him home!
We witness most of batting practice and see Pedro Martinez warming up with his new teammates for the first time, preparing for his first start as a Phillie the following night. I thought it was going to be Cliff Lee originally, but there is definite intrigue to being there for Pedro’s first start.
Tonight though, it’s J.A. Happ vs. Rich Harden. And we are seated in the very last row of the upper deck. Thanks, Stub Hub.
The seats are not bad, but please heed this warning: If you ever sit in the last row at Wrigley, even in August, bring a sweatshirt or jacket or something. Because of the wind, it is easily 20 degrees colder up there than it is in the rest of the stadium. A t-shirt and shorts don’t cut it.
It’s obvious very early that Happ doesn’t have his best stuff. Harden, meanwhile, is dealing. He has been a disappointment for my fantasy team all year of course, but now he’s pitching what looks like the game of his life against the Phillies.
The Phillies are down 2-0 after five innings and don’t have a baserunner yet. The perfect game watch is on. Carlos Ruiz ends that with a one-out walk and Rollins thwarts the no-hitter bid with a home run to tie the game. Finally, something to cheer about.
Happ ends up hanging in there for six innings to keep it 2-2. Gary “Sarge” Matthews regales the Cub crowd with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, then Chan Ho Park hurls a scoreless seventh.
In the top of the eighth, the Phillies manage a run on no hits as Carlos Marmol walks three and plunks another. He is booed mercilessly by the Wrigley faithful as he exits.
The Phils cling to the 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth after an obviously foul ball by Carlos Ruiz is ruled a home run and then overturned on instant replay. The umpires must have read this article I wrote a few weeks ago.
Anyway, Brad Lidge time. Last year, this was automatic. But this season it is very different. The Cubs fan next to me asks if his ERA is really 7.20. I confirm it and try to make excuses for Lidge while trying to think positive.
Lidge takes about three minutes to blow the save. 3-3. Extra innings. We get to freeze some more.
We get to the 12th and the Phillies still have just two hits. Something inside me makes me turn to Rachael, who is completely chapped by the wind, and say “The Phillies are going to win it for you this inning”.
Of course, she doesn’t care who wins. She just wants to get out of the cold. But just then, Ben Francisco leads off the inning with a home run to stake the Phils to a 4-3 lead. I see Chad Durbin, just off the DL, warming up. If he is going to blow this lead, he might as well lose it. I don’t want to be here all night.
Durbin allows a one-out walk, but gets the next two hitters. Phils win. Cubs lose. No stupid Cubs victory song. The blue flag with the white “L” flies high atop Wrigley. All the freezing is worth it.
But our Wrigley journey is only halfway over. We return the next night to see Pedro in his first start of the year. His opponent is Jeff Samardzija, making his first career start for the Cubs.
No bobblehead tonight, but they do hand out t-shirts. Our seats are thankfully in the lower level and we do not suffer frostbite. There seem to be a couple more Phillies fans than the previous night, but still none close enough for me to high five after a home run or anything.
Rachael plays along but that’s just because she’s a good sport and a good girlfriend rather than being an actual Phils fan.
The Phillies jump all over Samardzija immediately, with Victorino, Utley, and Howard lining three straight extra-base hits into the right field corner. I already hear murmurs in the crowd about this being Samardzija’s last start.
Lucky for the Cubs, the Phils only lead 2-0 after the top of the first. Chicago gets a run back in the second, but Victorino nearly puts one out onto Sheffield in the top of the third to give the Phils a 4-1 lead.
The next inning, the wheels completely come off for the Cubs as the Phillies pound out eight runs on eight hits, including home runs by Rollins and Ibanez. Werth and Feliz have two hits in the inning, and Pedro Martinez actually makes two of the outs.
It’s 12-1. And from this point on, it’s no contest. The Cubs peck here and there, but by the end they still lose embarrassingly, 12-5. Even more embarrassing is the behavior by one fan who dumps a beer on Shane Victorino as he catches a fly ball.
If this happened in Philadelphia, ESPN and the rest of the media would shove it down our throats for forty years like snowballs being thrown at Santa Claus. But I doubt you will hear much of anything about it since it happened in Chicago and the Cubs are such lovable losers.
If you haven’t ever been to Chicago, you are missing out on a great city. And please see a game at Wrigley if you never have. I would put it right behind Cooperstown on the list of places that every baseball fan should visit.
The two wins I witness bring my all-time Phils record at Wrigley to 3-3. And it’s likely to stay that way for a while because I have a couple other places I would like to go before I venture back there.
Seeing those games reminds me of how great it is to be a Phillies fan right now. I did not have that sense of automatic dread that my team was going to lose.
Instead, they gutted out a 12-inning win that they should have lost, and then dominated with an offensive explosion. Our time is here and it feels so good.
The games taught me something else: Being a Cubs fan is and has always been pure hell.