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The Torch Has Been Reluctantly Passed

Congratulations to the ballclub that just broke a 71-year pennant drought [1]. Let us rejoice that its dry spell wasn’t snapped after only 70 years.

The National League has a new champion that is no longer us. It feels as if there should have been some sort of formal ceremony to mark the transfer of grandeur, maybe Terry Collins congenially turning his tiara and sash over to a tearful Joe Maddon. The passing of the torch from the Mets to the Cubs via a defeat of the Dodgers was only figurative, yet it was nevertheless pretty impressive to witness on whichever channel MLB attempts to carefully hide these events. Momentous, too. I hope Nationals fans woke their children to let them watch the last outs so that when they grow up, they’ll be able to say they saw yet another team that isn’t theirs advance.

Alas, we knew the day was coming when a team that isn’t ours would have affixed to their head what so proudly we hailed a year ago. Somebody else has been due to hoist the prestigious Warren C. Giles Trophy once the Mets bowed out of the single-elimination portion of the 2016 Autumnal Invitational on October 5 [2]. If it wasn’t going to be the Cubs, it was going to be the Dodgers. If it wasn’t going to be either of them, it was going to be two subjectively worse options.

It definitely wasn’t going to be us, yet there was a slight emeritus feel to the Mets’ 2015 accomplishment lingering in this fall’s air. It helped that we were around (briefly) at the beginning of these proceedings and it helped even more that the two teams battling to succeed ours upon the senior circuit throne were those the Mets cast aside in the previous tourney, as if our imprint was an official wrinkle in the system now. How the Cubs or Dodgers got as far as the 2016 NLCS could not be fully explained without retracing their steps from 2015, and whenever some cable-network announcer went that route, he had to note who tripped them up the last time each attempted to make a World Series.

I doubt the rest of the continent has been watching this postseason through precisely that prism, but we are ever-reluctant to remove our Howie Rose-colored glasses. Everybody else’s obvious angle, that the Chicago Cubs have won a pennant for the first time since 1945, can further be folded into our parochial view that not only do they have the honor of succeeding the 2015 Mets, but they have a chance to do what only one baseball team has ever done: get knocked out by the Mets one postseason, go all the way the next.

Everywhere else you’ll hear about 1908. We know the real feat the Cubs are after is one accomplished solely to date by the 1970 Orioles, the last team to have fully learned its lesson twelve months after the Mets took them to school. If the Cubs do indeed win their first world championship in 108 years, perhaps they can thank the Mets for toughening them up.

They probably won’t, but injecting a tenuous Metsian backstory into Cubfest ’16 guarantees us a proprietary interest in what’s going on. Then again, it shouldn’t take much to suck a (lower-case) catholic baseball fan into the upcoming World Series. If you like glimpsing at something you’ve never seen before, how can you not like the Cubs-Indians matchup that lies ahead? If you like a sure historic thing, how can you not salivate at the prospect of cashing in a winning ticket no matter who comes out on top? If you remember that the Mets compiled a combined 7-3 record over the two World Series teams in 2016, how can you not believe that on some vague level we have already proven our championship timber?

Good luck scheduling a parade based on convenient cherrypicking, but it is fun to stay involved. Sorting out the emotions attached to the Not Since 1908 Cubs and the Not Since 1948 Indians should be fun anyway. Unless antipathy for Cleveland’s unfortunately enduring secondary logo [3] gets the best of you or you hold some other private grudge toward the denizens of America’s North Coast, I don’t detect an obvious beef with the A.L. Champion Tribe [4]. The Cubs, meanwhile, are as close as we have to an ancient if recurring rival, but I’m all out of Sheadenfreude where everything from 1969 to 1984 to 2015 and obscure points in between is concerned. “Ha-ha, you’re without the ultimate prize for 109 years!” doesn’t really carry much more punch than the 108-years version as long as we weren’t directly trampled over in service to the potential erasure of 1908.

And we weren’t, although I’m sure there would have been a bounty of eyeteeth given all around Flushing to have had the opportunity to throw ourselves in the Cubs’ path. Like you, I still have my eyeteeth.

Like my NLDS refund, that’s modest consolation.

When the National League Wild Card Game came and went, I needed a couple of days. The Toronto-Texas ALDS transpired without my grabbing more than a gander of its sweeping Canadian activities. Cleveland and Boston drew my attention toward the end, mostly because there was a rainout and thus an extra day that allowed my psyche’s Bumgarnerian bruises to heal. Nonetheless, as with the Jays and Rangers, I was happy the Red Sox and Indians were done in three games. I preferred resolution over drama — just get everything over with already. No Game Four for Big Papi? Boo-bleeping-hoo. Where the hell was our Game Two? (Also, hearing Ron Darling [5] on TBS doing any games that aren’t ours always makes me suspect he’s cheating on us.)

The NLDSes took longer and encompassed stronger biases, so once I was ready to partake, I wasn’t necessarily in the same kind of rush to brush them aside. The team that ended our postseason, naturally, needed to be dispatched after what they did to us. Forming an ad hoc alliance with the Cubs was easy for me despite the three Octobers in this decade when I allowed an affinity for all things Giant to sublet my baseball affections. I nurtured a cache of warm memories from San Francisco’s runs to glory in 2010 [6], 2012 [7] and 2014 [8], codas to seasons when the Mets were nowhere to be found after 162 games. In 2016, all residual vicarious fondnesses from those orange-and-black dalliances were tossed into the nearest Dumpster-brand trash receptacle. Conor Fuck That Guy and Madison Can Go Screw Himself put the kibosh on what had heretofore been a perfectly lovely platonic postseason relationship.

The Cubs and Giants wound up producing a riveting quartet of contests, and I watched as many of their climactic scenes as I could when not nodding off (because a West Coast game is a West Coast game no matter the time of first pitch). Since I didn’t get to use my tickets for NLDS Games Three and Four, seeing the team that phantomized them go down in front of their home crowd was as satisfying as this October figured to get.

Until the Nationals lost their series in five, that is, which was more awesome than I would have guessed. A little piece of me wanted to see a sequel to Daniel in the Cubbies’ Den, and a larger chunk of me wanted to learn Chase Utley [9] had been shoved from the top of the Washington Monument with only a cement trampoline below, but I could live with the Dodgers advancing as long as it was at the Nats’ expense.

Utley is now gone, which is splendid, as is the tableau that remains in the wake of his demise. The Cubs, a team I’m certain I don’t despise anymore [10], and the Indians, a team a good friend of mine has boosted loyally since the days of Daddy Wags [11], are on the cusp of meeting in a space they’ve rarely gathered on their own let alone in the company of each other. You could say both sides’ fans have suffered enough to each earn a ring, and you wouldn’t get an argument. Proper appraisal of the magnitude of 108 years and 68 years free of fulfillment will rub your empathy glands raw, but after a while, those figures amount to little more than vicious Fun Facts. For those who are truly Cubbed Up as well as those who were initiated as legitimate members of the Tribe from 1949 forward, the experiential equivalent of “never” is long enough.

Let’s be honest, though. If it’s your team, ten minutes without winning something substantial is too long. The laurels of 1986 were still fresh in memory when the names “Terry Pendleton [12]” and “Mike Scioscia [13]” planted and replenished a bad taste in our mouths that nearly three decades’ worth of Listerine has failed completely washed out. All of our 2015 N.L. Champs merch and “The Pennant Will Rise” apparel is still within easy reach, yet Fuck Conor Gillaspie [14] now and forever. It’s not about suffering. It’s about the incandescent desire to do the opposite. Winning something substantial is a drug of the most addictive sort. Being deprived of winning something substantial after having very recently won something substantial brings on the DTs. The Wild Card provided a nice hit of methadone. It let us feel like we were a part of all this even if our prescription expired mere innings after it was filled. It certainly gave us a healthy jones for the smiting of our enemies, and on that count we were sated, albeit via hands that were not our own.

It’s been said losing feels worse than winning feels good. I’d contend not winning feels worst of all. You don’t realize there’s a difference between losing and not winning until you are reminded how good winning feels for those who have made it to the World Series and still not lost it one year after you had that feeling [15] for yourself.

I’d prefer the Mets be taking on the Indians Tuesday night at Progressive Field (which is a funny name for a place where Chief Wahoo continues to hold sentimental sway). I’d prefer we had elbowed aside the Cubs in the NLDS and Dodgers in the NLCS, reversing the order in which we vanquished them last year. My preferences, however, were not given special consideration by the baseball gods. No particular fan’s are, which is why sooner or later or — in the case of the Cubs — much later everybody gets the kind of shot the two teams left standing have coming to them.

Though, as of this writing, not the Nationals, which remains awesome.