Weird, wacky Wrigley night has Mets on brink of Fall Classic

ByJayson Stark ESPN logo
Monday, November 2, 2015

CHICAGO -- So who says the baseball gods keep forgetting to visit Wrigley Field in October?

Heck, we witnessed a postseason game Tuesday at Wrigley where the baseball gods appeared to wreak all sorts of havoc. It just didn't happen to be the kind of havoc conducive to the home team busting up any curses or 107-year droughts.

What we had here was a postseason game in which the winning run scored on a strikeout. Of course it did . . .

And a baseball got eaten by the fabled Wrigley ivy, wiping what looked to be a really big run off the board. Not that that made any sense . . .

And a 6-foot-4, 255-pound first baseman laid down a sacrifice bunt. Which was something he hadn't done in more than four years . . .

And a guy who hits a home run every darned day got maybe the biggest infield hit of his life. Because, well, baseball . . .

All of that happened to the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs in a span of two innings Tuesday in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. So we can't tell the story of how the Mets fought to within one game of a trip to the World Series without mentioning that baseball is a really weird sport sometimes.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Unless you're the Cubs.

"It's baseball. And weird things happen," outfielderMichael Cuddyersaidafter his team's totally wacko 5-2 win over the Cubs, which left the Mets leading this NLCS three games to zip.

Then Cuddyer looked directly at a certain correspondent who has a hopeless addiction to these sorts of occurrences and said: "You're the one who writes articles about all the weird stuff. So you know that that stuff happens all the time. ... And I love those articles, by the way."

Well, if that's the case, he'll especially love this one.

But first . . . these important announcements:

The Mets have never swept a best-of-seven postseason series. But they're now a game away from sweeping this one. So that's a slightly big deal.

And baseball teams that go up three games to none in best-of-seven series have gone on to win those series 33 times in 34 instances. True, the one exception happened to involve a certain Red Sox team, when Cubs president Theo Epstein was in charge of them. But we'll leave it up to you to decide how much to make of that.

We should also note the Cubs did once win four games in a row in the same postseason. Uh, that was in 1907. Teddy Roosevelt was president. Yale was the national champion in college football. So it was kind of a while ago. But yeah, we're saying there's a chance.

On the other hand, though ... about that game-winning strikeout . . .

It happened in the sixth inning with the score tied 2-2. There were two outs. The Mets had Yoenis Cespedes on third base. And of course he'd gotten there thanks to a steal of third, which was set up by Lucas (The Big Lebowski) Duda's first sacrifice bunt since Aug. 9, 2011.

Duda revealed afterward he was bunting on his own (for a hit, actually) because the Cubs were in a shift. He also knew he needed to move Cespedes over, and his 3-for-23 postseason performance wasn't exactly his favorite stat of the year.

Asked if he'd ever even seen a bunt sign in his career, Duda laughed and retorted: "You never know. The way I'm swinging the bat, maybe I should bunt more often."

But moments later, Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill would snap off a 2-and-2 curve ball that looked, for a millisecond, like the end of another Mets threat. Michael Conforto swung over it, missed it by six inches and should have been the third out. Except . . .

The baseball hopped past catcher Miguel Monteroas Cespedes scored and Conforto scrambled safely to first. And the only word to describe the vibe inside Wrigley Field at that fateful moment was . . . shock. Unless you happened to play for the Mets.

"That was kind of an emotional swing right there," Mets reliever Tyler Clippardsaid. "You see Conforto strike out, and you're like, 'Dang it.' Then you see the ball go to the backstop, and then you start celebrating and slapping hands. So however runs are scored in the postseason doesn't matter, as long as you get them."

Wait. That's really what they said there? "Dang it?"

"Uh, maybe not that particular word," Clippard conceded. "But in the bullpen, we are the biggest cheerleaders in the world, so we were pretty excited."

Not as excited as Conforto, though. He found himself standing on first base after a strikeout -- and the eventual winning run had just scored. It was only the second time in 111 years of postseason history that any sort of run had scored on a strikeout -- and the first time an actual winning run had scored on a whiff. So it couldn't help but dawn on Conforto that life was good right about then.

"Yeah, I was laughing. I was smiling," he said. "And that's all you can do about it. But that's the game of baseball. It's crazy. Those things happen. And it happened in our favor that time."

When he got back to the bench a few moments later, Cuddyer approached him with a question: "Was that the biggest strikeout of your career?" And Conforto wasn't about to argue, because really, "all you can do is laugh right there."

Unless, of course -- and stop us if we've mentioned this before -- you're the Cubs.

It was hard to envision at that point that this inning, or this game, could possibly get much weirder. But, well . . . start envisioning.

With Conforto running on the pitch, Wilmer Flores smoked a sinking liner to right. Right fielder Jorge Soler dove and whiffed on it. And as 42,231 stunned occupants of Wrigley summoned their inner Ron Santo and oh-no-ed it in 42,000-part harmony, the baseball hip-hopped toward the wall as Conforto and Flores motored around the bases.

But not for long. The ball then disappeared into the distant ivy leaves. And center fielder Dexter Fowler immediately held up his hands, the international sign of "I'm not going in there to get it" distress.

So back went Flores to second base. Back went Conforto, from the dugout to third base. And all the while, Mets manager Terry Collins stomped around, trying to convince crew chief Ted Barrett that common sense should overrule the correct interpretation of the 78-year-old ground rule that took a seemingly huge Mets run off the board.

"I know the rule," Collins admitted later. "We all know what the rule is. My argument was, 'My runner's halfway to third base, if not three-quarters of the way to third base.' I just ask[ed] him if . . . he said, 'I can't do it.' That's just the rule. Can't even challenge it. I wanted him to go to the cameras upstairs. But I knew the rule. It's just, it kind of sucks when it happens to you."

For a minute, it seemed Wrigley Field was trying to rise to rescue its team in its most desperate moment. But if it did . . . never mind.

The Mets then scored two more crazy runs the very next inning, revolving around a bloop double by David Wright, an infield single by Daniel (The Bambino) Murphy and two balls that actually hit the gloves of various Cubs but drove in runs anyway. It was something to behold, all right.

Asked afterward to rank the three weirdest phenomena of the night -- the game-winning strikeout, the baseball that was digested by the local ivy fields and Duda's once-every-half-decade-or-so sacrifice -- Cuddyer thought long and hard.

"The weirdest was probably the ivy ball," he decided, "just because you usually don't ever see that, where it comes into play like that. Then Duda's sac bunt, because I've seen a guy score on a passed ball. So that's the least weird out of all of them."

Hold on, though. He was then informed that there had been only one other game in postseason history in which a run scored on a strikeout. Which prompted an immediate re-ranking.

"Oh," he said. "Then I guess that's right up there, too. I think we'll just have to tie them all for first."

But it was easy to chuckle after a game like this, because the result of all that weirdness was: Mets three wins, Cubs zero wins. So was it really weirdness? Or maybe karma?

"I am a little bit of a believer in [karma]," Clippard said, "in a sense that when you approach each game, you've got to approach it with the mentality to win. And if you can kind of keep that mentality and that momentum through each game, things seem to go your way. And that's kind of what's going on with us."

Well, in truth, the Mets are a team built more on data than karma. But it's October. And they've been locked into a make-your-own-karma mindset from day one -- with slight assistance from the fact that their pitching has been awesome and Daniel Murphy homers every day whether he needs to or not.

But Clippard insisted teams like this can, in fact, make their own karma. So don't knock it, OK?

"I think so, man," he said. "When you're feeling good and you're feeling like good things are going to happen, then good things happen. And that's kind of how it's always been in the game of baseball."

Yeah, that's how it's always been in the game of baseball, all right -- unless (yep) you're the Cubs.