CHICAGO -- It was still early Monday afternoon when Kyle Schwarber walked up into the stands of Wrigley Field. He slipped into a seat in an empty stadium and tried to picture what was about to unfold in the storied ballpark all around him.
"I just sat in the stands," he would say later, "thinking about what it would be like."
He imagined the noise and the bedlam. He imagined the brilliance of the ace who was about to take the mound. He imagined the electricity of a pivotal October baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, two longtime rivals who had never met before in Wrigley in a game of this magnitude.
Whatever pictures, whatever sounds filled his head, Schwarber never imagined this. He never imagined six Cubs home runs soaring through the jet-streamed Chicago sky. He never imagined Jake Arrieta having his roughest night on the mound in four months -- and winning anyway. He never imagined that 42,411 human beings in the seats could find a way to achieve a decibel level normally reserved for, say, space-shuttle launches.
Schwarber definitely never imagined a scoreboard that read Cubs 8, Cardinals 6 on a night of history, a night of magic, a night for the ages. Not to mention a night when the Cubs moved within one game of closing out a postseason series at Wrigley for the first time in history, by taking a 2-1 lead in this NLDS.
"So I'd say it exceeded my expectations," Schwarber said, afterward, "by infinity."
The thing about infinity, of course, is that it's just too large to comprehend. In some ways, so was this baseball game. Not merely because of what happened but because so many of the guys who made it happen are so young, you'd expect them to be playing in the Texas League, not the National League Division Series.
It made you wonder: For the Cubs, was this a glimpse of their future? Or was it a glimpse of their present?
"I think it's both," said one of their rare 30-somethings, Chris Coghlan. "I don't think you can just call it the future, because it's happening right now."
Oh, it's happening, all right. But when it happens on the grand October stage, it leaves an imprint the size of a meteor. On this night, it also left a massive imprint on the history books. So here we go. Time to run through the highlights:
• This was the 1,453rd game in postseason history. It was the first game in which a team -- any team -- hit six home runs.
• Before this game, no team had ever even had five different players hit a home run in the same postseason game. The Cubs had six.
• Even more incredibly, it was their 1-2-3-4-5-6 hitters who hit those home runs. According to ESPN Stats & Info, there have been only two REGULAR-SEASON games in the entire live-ball era in which any team's 1-2-3-4-5-6 hitters homered. The 1954 New York Giants did it. And the Mets' 1-through-7 hitters all homered in a game in Philadelphia two months ago. That's it.
• Three of those home runs came from players aged 23 years old and younger -- Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Schwarber. It was the first time in postseason history that three hitters that young homered in the same game.
• Four of those home runs came from players aged 25 and younger -- those three, plus 25-year-old Starlin Castro. It was also the first time in postseason history that four players that young homered in the same game. Anthony Rizzo would have made it five, if he hadn't turned 26 a mere nine weeks ago. Then again, it was also the first time five players aged 26 and under homered in a postseason game. So there's that.
• The Cardinals hadn't allowed five home runs in a postseason game since Game 4 of the 1928 World Series, when Babe Ruth hit three, Lou Gehrig hit one and Cedric Durst hit the fifth. On this night, even Ruth and Gehrig got drummed out of the record books.
• The Cardinals also scored six runs -- in a game started by Arrieta -- and lost. They were working on a 54-game winning streak, counting regular season and postseason, in games in which they scored six runs or more. So much for that.
• In one more non-home-run tidbit, 23-year-old Cubs outfielder Soler came to bat five times and reached base five times -- meaning he has now reached base in the first nine postseason plate appearances of his life. He's nearly doubled the old record of five, held by Johnny Damon. But of course, "he still could," said Coghlan. "He still hasn't made an out, so it's still going."
That's kind of fitting, because so are the Cubs.
Their home ballpark has stood for 102 seasons now. This team now has a chance to do something at Wrigley Field that the teams of Ernie Banks and Hack Wilson and Ryne Sandberg and Gabby Hartnett never did.
If they win Game 4 on Tuesday, they can clinch a postseason series for the first time at the fabled intersection of Clark and Addison. Maybe on Tuesday afternoon, Schwarber and his buddies can grab an empty seat and contemplate that, too. Oh, wait. They already have.
"Let's do it," said Rizzo. "I don't want to go back there."
The Cardinals will have something to say about bringing the series back to St. Louis for a fifth game, obviously. After all, they've come to think of playing in the NLCS as one of their annual Missouri traditions, every single October. Just like Halloween. They've played in four of them in a row. And if they make it to No. 5, they'll join the Atlanta Braves as the only National League teams to do that.
So when we watch this Cubs youth patrol do things that have never been done against THIS team, it takes on a little extra meaning -- because you get the feeling the Cubs don't just want to beat Goliath. They want to BE Goliath.
"We just saw some really huge home runs, off proven postseason arms who have done it year after year," said Arrieta, after a start in which he gave up as many earned runs (four) in 97 pitches as he'd allowed in his previous 1,393 pitches (over 13 starts). "I mean, this team we're playing -- they're the best of the best. They've proven that. And they deserve to be called that. But we really enjoy the chance to play these guys, because we know if we can play with these guys and beat them, in this situation, in the postseason, we can beat anybody."
This wasn't supposed to be the year that happened. Not in theory. Not on their drawing board. It's happening anyway. As baseballs fly through the ions in the Illinois ozone, and thousands of witnesses find themselves screaming until their vocal cords turn to linguini. Us amateur historians just do our best to digest it all.
"Just keep following us around," said Coghlan, "and you'll have loads of information."