Unfriendly Confines? Cubs hit the road
Chicago escapes to LA after struggling at Wrigley Field
If the Cubs, and their fans, have one regret, it should be this: Ending the 2008 regular season with the best record in the National League.Not so much because that status came with raised expectations -- right now quite deflated with a 2-0 deficit to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
But because it also came with home-field advantage, which, where the Cubs are concerned, qualifies as an oxymoron.Wrigley Field? Try, the Unfriendly Confines. Thursday night's ugly 10-3 loss in Game 2 stretched the Cubs' postseason losing streak to eight games (reverting to their 8-3 win at Florida in Game 4 of the 2003 NLCS). Five defeats of that string have come at Wrigley Field -- where the Cubs have an all-time postseason record of 7-20. That is by far the poorest home postseason record in any current Major League venue. The next most hospitable place -- for visitors -- has been Turner Field, where since its 1997 opening the Braves have gone 14-19 in postseason games. But in recent history, at least, the Dodgers are not too far behind. Or, rather, ahead: They have dropped six of their last seven playoff games at Dodger Stadium. So the Cubs will be far better off playing on the road, when the NLDS resumes with Game 3 in Dodger Stadium on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET. And their dumbstruck fans will be better off watching them on TBS than they were watching them amid the ivy-covered walls. Not that the Cubs have been killers on the October road, either. Their postseason away record since 1918 (the year Wrigley Field opened) is 9-22. But getting away from the anchor and symbol of their Century Crush, Wrigley Field, can only help everyone.
The Cubs have lost their past eight playoff games.
Even the opposing manager concedes that."I think that's a good point," said Dodgers skipper Joe Torre, "because I'm a believer that in postseason, when you play at home there's a lot of pressure on you to play well and win. You're supposed to win. "Probably these guys had to deal with a lot of pressure ... aside from game pressure. That's the whole trick. But I think getting away ... certainly can't hurt them. I think the biggest problem for them right now is they're down two games to none. But I don't think it's necessarily a negative going on the road for them." Having Rich Harden on the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night won't hurt, either. Although the former Oakland Athletics ace has never pitched in that park, he won three of his four road decisions following his July 8 trade to the Cubs. Mostly, though, the Cubs will benefit from the change of venue because they won't be playing under the pleading eyes of their fans. In Los Angeles, they'll be playing just for themselves, not for those other 42,000 souls. The rhetoric about not feeling a hundred years' burden is just that -- lip service. Ryan Theriot is not thinking of that legacy when he muffs a simple bouncer -- but it certainly crosses his mind after he sees the ball get away, and as he hears the crowd's groan. Engineering comebacks -- which the Cubs needed in the first two games, after the Dodgers grabbed leads of 4-2 in the fifth and 5-0 in the second -- was an impossible emotional task at Wrigley Field. Just sitting on the bench, Lou Piniella could easily pick up the vibes. Following the Game 2 defeat, he sounded like he disapproved. "This isn't life or death," said Piniella. "It's a game. It's entertainment. There are important issues in this country that people should be paying attention to, not only what the Cubs do or do not do." Torre, as a former Yankees manager, lived that mentality in at least a couple of places. "There's some similarities to Boston, where it's sort of like, 'Oh, here we go again,' or that type of mentality," Torre said. "To me, I think that gets overdone. But you can't ignore it, because everybody asks you questions about it, and I think in the back of your mind you feel you should win because you're home." Piniella's "This isn't life or death" proclamation sounded suspiciously like Manny Ramirez's dismissal last October after the Cleveland Indians had taken a 3-1 lead over his Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. "If we win, fine. But it's not the end of the world," Ramirez had said -- to the shock of Red Sox Nation. But the Red Sox, of course, would never lose again. Sweet Lou being Sweet Lou could also work.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.