Paul Sullivan: Baseball is life, and life during this election season imitates the World Series — again

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

Baseball is life, or so they say, and the last few days have reaffirmed that old axiom.

With apologies to Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell, whose 1983 collection of baseball essays was titled “How Life Imitates the World Series,” here’s how the 2020 presidential election has played out like Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

It started with a collective feeling of optimism for traditionally skeptical Chicago Cubs fans on an unseasonably warm Cleveland night in early November, based on the back-to-back successes in Games 5 and 6 that forced the do-or-die finale.

Ditto for supporters of Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who looked at the poll numbers and listened to a number of media pundits telling him a win over incumbent President Donald Trump was in the bag and possibly would turn into a landslide.

As the night wore on and the Cubs grabbed a quick 5-1 lead, the champagne was on ice and ready to be uncorked. Ditto for Biden supporters, who saw the electoral votes piling up and imagined the proverbial Blue Wave finally was coming to fruition.

An easy win for the Cubs and Biden, or just wishful thinking?

In the back of their minds, Cubs fans and Biden supporters all knew the answer. A little adversity was about to occur, as happens in life and baseball.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon surprisingly lifted starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth inning, leading to massive head-scratching and second-guessing from Cubs Nation as the Cleveland Indians pulled within two runs.

“What was Maddon thinking?”

On Tuesday night, Biden supporters watched the states of Florida and Ohio turn from possible flips into the blue column to certain victories for Trump. The TV pundits declared that Biden failed to court the Cuban voters in the Miami area.

“What was Biden thinking?”

Then an unforeseen turn of events changed the entire narrative in a heartbeat, putting Cubs fans and Biden supporters on edge with visions of a catastrophic ending dancing in their heads.

For Cubs fans, it was watching Rajai Davis’ game-tying, three-run home run off closer Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. Back in Chicago, hearts stopped.

For Biden supporters, it was watching Trump take a significant lead in the blue-wall states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. George Stephanopoulos wondered aloud on ABC’s election coverage whether it was looking like a reprise of 2016. All across the nation, stomachs dropped.

Would it be deja vu all over again for the luckless Cubs and the Democrats?

Many headed off to bed, fearing the worst and unable to deal with the possibility of another brutal loss.

“Why me?” was a common refrain.

But just when it seemed as though the Cubs and Biden had blown it, a pause occurred with the outcome still very much up in the air, giving everyone a chance to relax and catch their breath. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo later called it “the greatest rain delay of all time.”

Then came the words of inspiration that stopped the bleeding.

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward called his teammates together in the weight room in the visiting clubhouse and let them know the game wasn’t over.

“We’re the best team in baseball, and we’re the best team in baseball for a reason,” Heyward said, according to Tom Verducci’s book “The Cubs Way.” “Now we’re going to show it. We play like the score is nothing-nothing. We’ve got to stay positive and fight for your brothers. Stick together and we’re going to win this game.”

The mood was “tense,” reliever Mike Montgomery told reporters afterward, but Heyward’s speech “rallied the troops” at a most opportune moment. “Everyone said: ‘Hey, don’t worry about this, we’ve got this,” Montgomery said.

Game 7 resumed after a 17-minute delay. Kyle Schwarber singled to lead off the 10th inning before pinch runner Albert Almora Jr. advanced to second on Kris Bryant’s flyout to center. After an intentional walk to Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist doubled down the left-field line to bring home the go-ahead run.

Gloom turned to ecstasy in a heartbeat. It aint over till it’s over.

The Cubs would survive some anxious moments in the bottom of the 10th for an 8-7 win, igniting a celebration that would last for months.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night in Wilmington, Del., where Biden addressed his supporters to tell them it wasn’t over.s

“We feel good about where we are, we really do,” Biden said. “We believe we are on track to win this election.”

Sitting in their cars, Biden’s supporters honked their horns in approval, while bleary-eyed Biden supporters watching the results at home breathed a sigh of relief.

A walk-off win still was a possibility.

As the votes were still being counted in several battleground states and anxious voters awaited the outcome, the champagne was on ice, ready to be uncorked.

Would Biden have his Zobrist moment, or would a potential fairy-tale ending turn into a nightmare?

The waiting was the hardest part.

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