Almost everything went well for the Chicago Cubs in 2016. They had excellent starting pitching nearly wire to wire and brutalized opposing teams with a balanced offense. By season’s end, management addressed the bullpen — the team’s only weakness up until then. After vanquishing the Dodgers in six games, the Cubs made the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1945. Then, in one of the most exciting World Series finishes in recent history, the club erased a championship drought that started in 1908.
If history taught us anything, it hasn’t been easy for Chicago. Cubs fans have seen some epic collapses in the postseason — ones you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Not counting the disasters of 1929 and 1945, we’ve seen botched plays in the field, fan interference, and hot bats instantly gone cold. Here are the three biggest chokes in Chicago Cubs postseason history. We’re thankful we didn’t have to add 2016 to this list.
1. NLCS vs. San Diego (1984)
The year was 1984, and the Cubbies had the Padres right where they wanted them in the NLCS. After taking the first two games by a combined score of 17-2, Chicago needed only one more win to claim its first NL pennant in four decades. However, that win never came. Ugliness followed ugliness as the Chicago Cubs managed to drop all three games in San Diego.
In Game 3, Dennis Eckersley was the goat. The right-hander gave up nine hits and five runs as the Friars waltzed to a 7-1 win. Game 4 had the Cubs and Padres tied 5-5 in the ninth before Lee Smith allowed a single to Tony Gwynn and a walk-off home run to Steve Garvey.
Game 5 was close until the late innings. With ace Rick Sutcliffe on the mound and a 3-0 lead in the sixth, things unraveled in a hurry. Sutcliffe gave up two hits, a walk, and two sac flies to make it a 3-2 game. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, first baseman Leon Durham botched an easy grounder that allowed the tying run to score. One Gwynn double and Garvey single later, San Diego had a 5-3 lead — and that’s how it ended.
2. NLCS vs. Florida (2003)
As far as some Chicago Cubs fans are concerned, the above photo is akin to evidence of a hideous crime. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, the ground ball Alex Gonzalez booted minutes later is what made Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS an epic choke. At that point, Chicago was up 3-1. Florida had runners on first and second with the slow-running Miguel Cabrera at the plate. If Gonzalez fields the grounder cleanly and the Cubs turn a double play, they head to the ninth up by a minimum two runs.
Awful pitching by the Cubs bullpen — on clear display in the eighth-inning meltdown — may still have blown the game. But Cubs fans liked their chances up by two handing the ball to their closer. A win meant a trip to the World Series. Instead, the Marlins plated eight runs, the game was lost, and the series went seven. In the clincher, Cubs fans saw the dream die in frightening fashion. Florida won 9-6.
3. NLDS vs. Los Angeles (2008)
If there is a Chicago Cubs team that should have reached the World Series, the 2008 club was it. Winners of 97 games with the NL’s best offense and a top-three pitching staff, Chicago took on the 84-win Dodgers in the NLDS. As lopsided a matchup as it was, LA swept the Cubs in three by a combined score of 20-6. Every Cubs player besides Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa went down in flames. One especially brutal stat: Chicago committed six errors in the three games, leading to five unearned runs.
Ryan Dempster bombed in Game 1; Carlos Zambrano blew up in Game 2; and the vaunted offense went AWOL against Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley. After hitting 79 home runs during the regular season, the trio of Aramis Ramirez (.182, 0 RBI), Alfonso Soriano (.071, 0 RBI), and Geovany Soto (.182, 0 RBI) simply choked. LA benefitted from a blistering performance by Manny Ramirez (.500, 2 HR, 3 RBI), but the Cubs controlled their own destiny and failed.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
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