Why the NLCS Hates ME

Peter TumbasCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2008

There’s only one October. Oh really Dane Cook? For me there have been two miserable fall classics that have not only broken my heart as a fan but also as a son. Imagine telling your friends at school that your father is the athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the early '90s.

“So, he teaches them how to hit,” suggests little Oliver Twist.

To which I reply, “No, he keeps them healthy.”

“Like a doctor?”

“Kind of. He works with them before the doctors. So they don’t have to see the doctors.” Even at seven years old, I had become bored with making this correction.

In essence, I was a Hollywood brat before Paris Hilton and company became famous offspring. The Pirates were in the playoffs, everyone wanted to know if I knew any players or had been to any games. Big-time attention, which I relished daily, because 600 miles to the south of my home in Virginia, the Pirates were one win away from advancing to the 1992 World Series.

But this D-List celebrity was about to have his sex tape released by a guy named Francisco Cabrera on Oct. 14, 1992.

When my mother tells the story, she likes to focus on the southern hospitality in the stands. “All the Braves wives were congratulating us before the bottom of the ninth. We all thought it was over.”

Why wouldn’t it be over? Doug Drabek’s mustache had pitched a gem of a game. Even the necklace from the Titanic was jealous of Drabek’s mastery. And yet after pitching three of the seven games in the series, Drabek, in CC Sabathia-like fashion ran out of steam and young Stan Belinda was called upon to shut down the Braves. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since.

Stan Belinda’s goofy mechanics produced a fastball high off the plate and a random, who is now famous for being a no-name, named Francisco Cabrera takes it upon himself to devastate the entire city of Pittsburgh. Who in their right mind tries to pull a fastball away with bases loaded, one out, down a run, in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the NLCS?

Francisco Cabrera. Off of Stan Belinda. To Barry Bonds. Scoring Sid Bream. Who looks eerily like my father.

A wonderful interview with Sid Bream discussing "the Slide."

I began smoking 10 packs a day, like Jim Leyland, that very night, but alas when you are that young, when free agency wasn’t a big deal, stadiums were temples, not billboards for bankrupt corporations, an ending which features Sid Bream running the bases like a gazelle doesn’t quite hurt as much.

Crying takes the sad out of you as Will Arnet suggests (Let's Go to Prison). Sure, you might not wear your Pirates hat with the plastic adjustable backing for a while, but you get ready to play kickball at recess and dream of what the cafeteria will serve for dessert the next day. Even as the son of a MLB athletic trainer, it’s a blip on your memory radar. Until it happens again.

October 2003. I am now an arrogant jaded college freshman who understands how the world works, obviously. My father is the athletic trainer for the Chicago Cubs. I am an even bigger "Big Man on Campus" because there is nothing better to do than gossip when you go to a liberal arts college on the outskirts of the middle of no where.

Shakespeare strikes yet again, as I am forced to watch my team play the Braves. I personally attend Game Three and enjoy myself immensely because my mother purchased a royal blue North Face coat for me to brave the Windy City. A night time playoff game at the Friendly Confines in which the Cubs actually won. Current Cub fans eat your heart right out.

Just to encourage my freshman drinking habit, the Cubs need five games to win the series, only this time we do it in Atlanta, thanks to Kerry Wood’s flame.

Joe Morgan announced during this series. That’s what probably doomed us in the end, because instead of having to play the Giants and Mr. I Can’t Throw Sid Bream Out At Home Bonds, the Marlins come to town. And on Oct. 14, 2003, my heart auditioned for Saw 3 and won the role.

Dear sweet infant baby Jesus, how can this happen again on the same day?

The Braves and Pirates represented an epic battle of two talented teams, perhaps even rivals with a storied past of North versus South. Blue-collar steel town versus tomahawk-chopping plantation owners.

The Marlins, featuring a storied past as detailed as a pop-up book, shouldn’t have been allowed in Wrigley Field. Sammy Sosa bought houses that cost more than their payroll. Some guy managed the Marlins. And yet a team with no history, regardless of their chop shop year in 1997, became forever linked in Cubs lore.

Entering Game Six, the Cubs were leading the series 3-2. Mark Prior, great calves, weak arm, took it upon himself to take a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning. At this junction in time, every Cub fan is thinking, “God, please prevent a mere man from opening a doorway to another dimension for he will surely not understand the recently opened Pandora’s box thus producing a flyball hit down the left-field foul line, which will only be intercepted by a Notre Dame graduate wearing a warm Lands’ End turtle neck despite the valiant effort of Moisés Alou. Thank you. Amen.”

Regrettably, it seems while every fan was thinking the above anecdote, not every one was praying as hard as they could. Luis Castillo certainly missed the memo to pray. Another "Has Been" ballplayer decides to go against the grain and destroy my dreams of enjoying just one October 14th.

Instead of striking out, or simply putting the ball in play, Castillo believes its prudent to send an impotent flare up the left-field line where a Mexican stand off between Steve Bartman’s brain, Moisés Alou’s glove, and the ball await certain and total annihilation.

Dan Patrick’s interview with Bartman—when Patrick was still respectable.

The most patient sports fans in the world became their own worst enemy during that particular sequence. Bartman, orgasmic with the notion of catching a playoff foul ball, completely blacks out, disregards the situation, and instead of offering a step ladder for Alou, sticks his hands out and ruins the lives of Chicagoans, Santa’s elves, and Vince Vaughn’s bags under his eyes. He hasn’t slept since.

Prior, flabbergasted with Bartman, promptly walks Castillo and the list of what happens next is too painful to recount. Do I prefer the Chinese water torture of the Marlins or the nuclear missile to the brain issued by the Braves?

Perhaps the bigger question is what if Prior had been wearing a Phiten necklace? Would he have issued a walk to Castillo beginning the Marlins eighth-inning shit storm rally? I don’t know. No one knows, but at least he would have been wearing a really great necklace when he was five outs away from taking the Cubs to the World Series.

“In the air to left field, and the Florida Marlins have come back from three games to one down to win the National League Pennant! The Florida Marlins, for the second time, are going to the World Series! What an amazing story!” said Thom Brennaman. 

What a great call by Thom Brennaman. Really paints a da Vinci with his language.

I wonder if the 2008 Red Sox fans feel the same way the 2003 Cubs fans did. Florida baseball squads led by quirky Merlin-like managers are the devil. The Pirates definitely need one of those as soon as possible.

What weird things happened on Oct. 14, 2008? Nothing crazy. Tim Wakefield started the game for the Red Sox. He allowed five runs in less than three innings. The former Pittsburgh Pirate knuckle baller was slightly more effective during the 1992 NLCS, winning Game Three and Game Six, which was played on Oct. 13. The Pirates beat the Braves 13-4. The same score the Rays beat Wakefield and the Sox by last week.

If you really want to witness a horrible experience with numbers avoid Jim Carrey’s The Number 23.

In the meantime, I’ll be memorizing this song, because Sid Bream is a hitting instructor in State College, PA, Philadelphia has a chance to win a major sports title, and I just realized I’ve been chewing a Wrigley brand gum while writing this article.


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