Fan reaches out and robs Cubs

CHICAGO -- We don't know his name. We don't want to know his name. We hope no one in Chicago ever learns his name.

We hope he already has joined the witness-protection program. We hope he can start a new life somewhere, rooting for a team thousands of miles from the North Side of Chicago. We hope he forgets. We hope the people of Chicago forget about him.

But that will never happen. No way. Because the Cubs lost a playoff game they couldn't lose Tuesday night. And one reason they lost it is because a 26-year-old guy in a Cubs cap saw a baseball coming his way and decided to try to catch it.

If he'd just seen Cubs left fielder Moises Alou, no more than a yard away, leaping toward the seats in foul territory, glove outstretched, he undoubtedly would have pulled his hands away. But this was a guy stuck in his own little tunnel. And once he flicked that ball away from Alou's glove, it became a tunnel with no light on either end.

Asked if he would have caught that ball if The Fan hadn't gotten in his path, Alou replied: "I think so -- almost 100 percent. At the same time, I kind of feel bad for the guy now.

"Everybody comes to the ballpark and wants a ball," Alou went on, after the play which kept alive an eighth inning that turned into an eight-run debacle, which turned into an 8-3 loss in Game 6 of the NLCS. "It's unfortunate it happened. I was very upset. I was there. I got there in time. I jumped. I had my eyes on the ball. But everybody who goes to the ballpark wants a baseball. Hopefully, he doesn't have to regret it for the rest of his life."

But with all the national air time The Fan got, how can he not regret it? Only if the Cubs win Game 7, we suppose, and it becomes just another surreal October memory. But how do we know it can ever be that simple?

Asked if he was worried about The Fan's safety after the way he was berated, cursed and abused by his fellow Wrigley-ites, Florida's Jeff Conine said: "Yeah. I am. We're all concerned about that fan. Seriously.

"I couldn't believe, in a game this huge, that a Cubs fan would do something like that," Conine said.

But then, players almost never understand the way fans think, just the way fans almost never understand how players think.

"I see what people do for a baseball," Conine said. "They fall on their face. They drop their kids. They spill their beer. They'd do anything for a $10 baseball."

But amazingly, Alou was more understanding of the basic instinct that causes people like this to reach for baseballs when there should be a voice in their heads telling them, "NOOOOOOO."

"They don't go to school," Alou said, "to be taught what balls not to touch."

Still, this fan touched a baseball he shouldn't have touched. And now the team he roots for might never recover.

"From that point on," said Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, "it seemed like everything changed in the game."

And by everything, he didn't mean just the outcome. The entire mood of the park changed.

"As a player," said Florida's Mike Mordecai, "your concentration level is so high that most of the time, you really don't hear the fans. You're concentrating on the moment, and you don't hear what's going on around you. But once that fan interfered with the ball, it seemed like it took some of their attention away from us and put it on that guy."

And as that eighth inning careened onward, things got so ugly that security went from trying to protect The Fan to trying to persuade him to leave. Eventually, after resisting, he agreed to be escorted to a holding area inside the stadium. And he didn't even wind up with the ball.

"We'll be talking about that guy for a long time," Mordecai said. "We need to send that guy a box of chocolates."

No, they need to send him a beard and a wig and a new set of clothes. We hope he slipped out of Wrigley Field unrecognized and went off into the night in safety. We hope he can live the rest of his life without being known as The Fan Who Cost The Cubs The Pennant.

But that isn't how life works in this world of tabloids and talk shows and cameras that see everything. The Fan didn't wind up with the baseball. But he'll never get rid of the scars. Now the question is: Can the Cubs?

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.