In the chill of October, amazing stuff happens. But sometimes, in the moment, we don’t realize immediately just how amazing it was.
So rewind your brain to Tuesday night in San Francisco. It will be worth it -- unless you’re a Giants fan -- because the Cubs did something in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, in that moment, that it has taken us a while to process. But now we know exactly what we saw.
And by that, I mean, we saw something no one had ever seen! Not in a postseason game, anyway.
Oh, and one more thing. We also saw something that hadn’t happened in any Cubs game in a really, really, really long time. We’ll get to that too.
Let’s review what made Game 4 so unique and unforgettable:
That Cubs-Giants game was the 1,490th postseason baseball game ever played. So think about the odds of having something occur in that game that had never occurred in any of the previous 1,489. Pretty cool already, right?
As the Elias Sports Bureau computed Tuesday, the Cubs were the 828th team in history to find itself coming to bat, in the ninth inning or later, trailing by three runs in a postseason game. Only three of those teams had found a way to win. (It’s still incomprehensible, by the way, that all three did it in the same week in 1986. But that’s a whole different blog post for another day.) So teams in the Cubs’ position had gone 3-824 in those previous 827 games. And every team in that position in the previous 30 years had lost. Crazy. So the odds are getting longer with every paragraph, aren’t they?
But now here is where the Cubs separate themselves from even the three teams that had won a game like that. All three of those clubs rallied late to pull even but then had to go to extra innings to finish the job. The Cubs didn’t just tie this game in the ninth. They jumped ahead and won this game in the ninth. And that’s something no team had ever done -- in any postseason game ever, while facing the best teams and best pitchers in the sport. Once again, the magic word is “ever.”
OK, now that we’ve put that game in postseason perspective, it’s cool enough. But there’s more. My first question, after thinking about what happened overnight: Did the Cubs win a single game like that during the entire regular season? And the answer, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information's Sarah Lang, is: Kind of. Remember the Cubs-Mariners Sunday Night Baseball game of July 31? The Cubs went to the ninth trailing 6-3. Then rallied for three quick runs to tie it. Then won it in the 12th. So they did, in fact, win a game they trailed by three entering the ninth.
But if you’ve been paying attention, you should have noticed something about that game. Right. They needed extra innings to win it. So what does that mean? Repeat after me: They didn’t win any games the whole season that were quite like the postseason game they won Tuesday. So already, that makes this one a little extra special.
However, it also meant our work wasn’t done. It was then time to figure out how long it had been since the Cubs won ANY game the way they won this one. For help with that, we had to go back to the Elias Sports Bureau. Here’s what they discovered: The last time the Cubs found themselves three runs behind in the ninth inning or later and then charged back to score four (or more) to win was . . . all the way back on April 10, 2000. When they found themselves down 3-0, in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves, then put up a four-spot against Mike Remlinger, Kerry Ligtenberg and Luis Rivera. The final: Cubs 4, Braves 3 -- in nine innings. And why do I have a feeling that nobody there that afternoon -- in the home opener of that season, by the way -- suspected we’d be talking about that game in the middle of a gripping October more than a decade and a half later?
But here is why we’re talking about it. And here is what we’ve learned. Since that day, the Cubs have played 2,743 regular-season games. Plus another 31 postseason games. Which meant they wound up playing 2,773 baseball games in a row without ever once doing what they did Tuesday evening at AT&T Park:
Find themselves three runs back after eight innings. Then fire up a much-needed four-spot. And win in nine. Thanks for coming.
So there you go. Now you know. Something happened Tuesday in San Francisco that just doesn’t happen. Hadn’t happened in any of the nearly 1,500 postseason baseball games ever played. Hadn’t happened in any of the previous 2,773 previous Cubs games played over a span of 17 seasons.
And then it happened. In one of the most important games in modern Cubs history.
Baseball is amazing sometimes. But what went down at AT&T Park that night? Turns out it was even more amazing than we even knew.