CHICAGO -- Finally.
So this is what it looked like. This is what it felt like. This is how the earth shook the night Chicago finally toasted a moment it had waited a century to drink in.
It was 6:54 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Hector Rondon held the baseball in his hand. Sixty feet away, Stephen Piscotty wagged his bat, waiting. Rondon took a deep breath, tugged on his cap, then turned toward the plate to deliver That Pitch.
Thousands of smart phones would record it. Families hugged in the stands, waiting for it. Rally towels spun in the breeze. To describe the deafening sound of Wrigley Field in this moment was just about impossible, because there has never been a sound quite like it. Not in this town. Not in this lifetime.
Rondon came to the stretch, paused and fired. Piscotty waved wildly at a slider in the dirt. Elation erupted in the Illinois night. Rondon leaped into the arms of his catcher, Miguel Montero.
So this is what it looked like. This is what it felt like. This is how it sounded, the night the Chicago Cubs finally tasted the sweetness that only victory in October can bring.
It only took a century. Only took until the 100th season after they moved into storied Wrigley Field, in the same year the hamburger bun was invented. Finally, in the 7,907th game the Cubs have played at this fabled intersection of Clark and Addison, they clinched a postseason series in their town, in their park, on their turf.
So maybe you're thinking -- and you have every right to think it -- that they "only" won a National League Division Series, with their emotional 6-4 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday. It felt like something more, something bigger, something that transcended the normal meaning of games like this, moments like this.
"Nobody here will ever forget that they were here," said Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, standing on the infield grass, in the eye of this euphoric storm. "And that's amazing."
Ernie Banks never experienced this moment. Fergie Jenkins never got to feel this feeling. Granted, there was no such thing as a Division Series to rescue the Cubs of Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson or Wildfire Schulte, but they never got to witness what Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez got to witness Tuesday night.
That, too, is amazing.
Schwarber is 22 years old. So is Baez. Rizzo is 26. They all hit home runs in this game that lit up the Chicago night like a lightning storm.
Baez pounded an opposite-field rocket that finished off a four-run second inning. Rizzo lofted a dramatic sixth-inning shot into the right-field bleachers, a half-inning after the Cardinals had risen up to tie the game at 4. Then Schwarber finished off the daily Youth Patrol home run barrage with a 438-foot Mars mission that cleared the brand-new right-field scoreboard and disappeared.
"Wow," said veteran catcher David Ross. "That one might be in that lake out there."
Every one of those dudes was born more than 80 years after the Cubs last won a World Series. So pardon them if they laugh at all the tales of goats and curses and Bartman, and all the things that folks in their town were sure could never be done -- not in Chicago, not by the Cubs.
"Our guys don't buy into those old narratives," said Cubs president Theo (The Curse Buster) Epstein. "They're doing this for each other. The pressure and the history don't matter to them. They were in Instructional League last year. You think they're worried about history? They were just worried about getting their laundry done."
Well, the Cubs' dirty laundry is smelling cleaner by the day now, thanks to as dynamic a collection of young players as you'll ever find in one place, except possibly in the Futures Game. The Cubs hit 10 home runs in this series -- the most in a Division Series that went four games or fewer. Exactly one of them was hit by a player older than 26. Incredible.
So that was different. So was this: On the day the Cubs finally won a postseason series in Chicago for the first time, their manager sent eight -- count 'em, eight -- different pitchers to the mound. It was only the second series clincher in history in which a team used eight pitchers. The other game (in the 2005 Atlanta-Houston NLDS) wasn't quite the same as this game -- considering that it went 18 innings.
This game, on the other hand, was Joe Maddon bullpen choreography at its finest. That was fitting, too, because it was a little less than a year ago when Maddon began talking -- right out loud -- about a moment just like this one. On his very first day on the job, too. And as usual, he nailed it.
"I visualized this," he admitted Tuesday night, as the sounds of "Sweet Home Chicago" blared across the friendly confines. "I've already visualized the next step. We'll see how it all plays out. But you've got to be a little bit of a dreamer to make it all come true."
Could any of this have happened if Maddon hadn't dreamed those dreams? We'll never know. Will we? We can see with our own eyes how comfortable his players are with the quest to make those dreams come true. That can't happen unless the manager creates an environment that somehow makes pressure -- and curses -- disappear into the mist.
So, on a Tuesday his town will never forget, Schwarber would whomp what Ross would later describe as "a 900-foot homer." As he rounded the bases, listening to the thunder pouring out of the seats, it hit him, he said, "that this is what it's all about."
"This is what you live to play baseball for," Schwarber said, "is playing in front of your home crowd in the playoffs."
At 22, he no doubt thinks there will be a million more days like this. At 38, Ross knows better.
"I'm holding onto the memories right now," he said. "I'm holding onto each moment that I'm never going to get back. So I want to take it in. I want to enjoy it. I want to relish it, for these guys but for myself, too. It just doesn't happen every day. It doesn't happen where you change the culture in an organization, a clubhouse and a city, where all of a sudden, winning is expected. That doesn't happen every day. And that's what's happening here."
It doesn't happen every day? Ha. In this town, it doesn't even happen every century. When it does happen, it's a powerful force. It's so powerful, in fact, it's even causing Cubs fans to -- we kid you not -- believe.
"I think it validates what we're all about," Maddon said. "I think it gives our fan base hope for the future. ... They're not waiting for something bad to happen all the time. Something good is on the horizon, not necessarily something bad. I hope that's going to be the takeaway from this."
As he spoke, thousands of people remained in the seats of Wrigley Field, more than an hour after the final out, trying to freeze a moment they thought would never arrive and now never wanted to end.
"You never know when you're making a memory," Maddon said, poetically. "That's [a song line by] Rickie Lee Jones. That's exactly right. That just happened tonight. And it's fabulous."
They have another round ahead of them. Maybe two more rounds. Maybe there will be more memories to make. Maybe those memories will have to wait for some other year. They are building something special. Heck, they've already built it.
You know all those things they kept hearing about that have never happened here, could never happen here? Well, guess what?
"They're happening, man," said Ross. "And I hope they keep happening."