All or Nothing

All or Nothing

Friday, May 14, 2010
1:29 AM

Game 7. Thats what it gets down to. Everything determined by the seeming flip of a coin. Its the thing that baseball, basketball and hockey have over football. Not much else, but they have that. The entire hopes of a season come down to being able to get it done one more time or its time to go home. The cumulative scores of the previous six games dont matter, a win is a win and a loss is a loss, but, often, the cumulative affect of those games does. Each game a chapter in a story that always becomes more compelling as it goes along. The pressure on the athletes is staggering. As one who only gets to watch these games being played, I often marvel at that. Do they know? You often hear players after such games say that the key was to treat it like any other game, to stay within themselves. That they must have the ability to block out all of the extraneous thoughts and play the game the way they have for their entire lives. WHATEVER! Game 7s drive me crazy! I often wonder if theyre worth watching. (Kidding of course!)

Something else Ive also heard athletes say is that it was harder on everyone else around them in their lives than on them. I can relate to that. It comes down to control: I have none! Im just along for the ride. Hey! Rooting for my teams is like being with my wife and kids! (Ill be here all week!) The thing about Game 7 is that the finality is staring you right in the face. The key phrase in any season is: Theres still time. Weve heard it a million times, and thats just from both of the baseball teams here this season! (Try the veal!) Patience is always preached, during the season and in the playoffs. One game does not a season make, until this one that is. My patience is gone!
What I have right now is a mix of trepidation and that dangerous thing known as hope. You follow your team for an entire season, watching games, checking box scores and getting any information on them from any source you can, its all part of the journey. Then as the playoffs start, if your team is good enough to get in, you realize there are only two ways for the journey to end. The elusive ultimate triumph, or having your heart ripped out, AGAIN! Sorry, Im conditioned to react that way. The key then, for a fan, is to have realistic expectations. No need setting myself up for heartbreak, I mean, what are the odds that one of my teams would win?

For me this year, in hockey, its a tale of two teams. In my adopted hometown of Chicago, Ive gotten caught up in the Blackhawk fever thats sweeping the city. Not that Im a newcomer to following this team, since Rocky took over Ive watched about every game, but my expectation finally mirrors what is going on around me. I realize how hard it is for a team to win the Cup, so to this point Ive tempered my enthusiasm, but this team is truly built to win THIS year. Developmentally and contractually, this might be their best shot. Im still concerned with the good Blackhawkbad Blackhawk thing that theyve been displaying pretty much since the Olympic break, but their good games lately have been the best hockey Ive seen them play. Definitely they have championship talent, but I think its going to be everything else that determines whether they can win eight more games.

Then comes the thing that I cant get off my mind. The beginning of the Flyers season was loaded with hype. No less than Mr. Hockey Hair himself picked them to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, against the Blackhawks no less. Then as the season progressed, the Flyers play was a source of constant grief for Melrose from his TV mates. Oh, well. When the Flyers lucked into the playoffs on the last day of the season, after a shoot-out, needless to say I was not expecting much. Knocking the Rangers out of the playoffs on that final day was going to have to be my source of enjoyment of a season gone wrong.

Well, its going to be more than that now. In spite of a rash of injuries, (Theyve lost their leading scorer, their hottest goalie and their top penalty killer: has that happened to anyone else? No! ) the Flyers find themselves one win from HOSTING Game 1 of the Eastern Finals. They have this chance after rallying from being down 3-0. Each of the three wins to get back in it have been excruciating, to WATCH! At any time the season could have been over. And even if they had a lead, which they did most of the time, it seemed like the clock was moving backwards! Now all of that will be for naught if they dont seal the deal. Close is never enough! Do I like and respect this team more than I thought I would? Absolutely! But to win this game, to come back, against Boston would be, short of winning the Cup and beating the Russians, one of my all-time hockey moments, not to mention a great way to stop the chowder-heads in their tracks when they start to babble at the bar.

It will only take one game, one game for them to be immortalized. I dont know if I can watch. And for Frankie O irony,(is there any other kind?) I wont get to watch it live. It seems game-time coincides with dinner and a movie with the Boss for her birthday. (Chick flick or Game 7? Now thats funny!) I think its a sign. Just in case, thank goodness for TiVo and an occasional restroom break with my Crackberry! Any way it will give me more time to dream: What if? That, and time to thank God Im not from Cleveland!

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping rookie Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch hitting. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”