When the bitter end finally comes
Being eliminated from the playoffs brings a crushing feeling of disappointment
I spent a lot of time on major league teams that were eliminated by late August. Despite the frustration of spending an entire season climbing uphill, chasing the Braves or watching key players get traded away at the deadline, the sting of a long, rough season seemed to be spread out over the entire year.
But when you get bounced from the playoffs, the sting stays for a while. You don't have the luxury of looking back at a whole season to pin the shortfalls on. It is all about a moment, a move, a decision, a missed call, a clutch hit.
During my one journey into the postseason, I was on a Cubs team that made it as far as possible without reaching the World Series. We lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, a place few teams ever reach. On paper, that would be a successful season. The previous March, the Cubs were not picked to finish first. Dusty Baker was getting his feet wet, and like the 2010 San Francisco Giants, we made moves at the trade deadline that resembled an auto parts shop more than a team destined for championship glory.
On one level, we were not supposed to be there, but that was not what we thought as players. Our rotation was flirting with what the Phillies had in 2011. Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement were no joke, and we seemed to have a platoon for every situation. Grudzielanek-Womack, Simon-Karros, Lofton-sometimes Glanville.
Since the glass was half-full, we had high expectations that were crystallized when Baker motivated us for the Braves before the National League Division Series by quoting 50 Cent and telling us to not read into his "we are just lucky to be here" comments in the paper. Behind closed doors, we were not the underdog. We were a good team that had caged the Cardinals and shot down the Astros' rocket ship to see October.
How did we get here?
I had arrived in Chicago on the heels of a trade that happened right at the deadline, and from that day forth, every pitch was "Apocalypse Now." A third of the season was left, and I felt as if we were in the World Series in July. Up until that time, I didn't have a lot of experience being on a team that was clearly in the race and believed it to its bones. My experience in Philly was often clouded by Braves dominance, even with the fiery Larry Bowa fanning the flames. Yet those same Braves in 2003 became beatable to the Cubs.
Needless to say, when you have that kind of focus for that long a period, you are probably exhausted and don't know it. The late-season, five-game Cubs-Cardinals series was a playoff by itself. Ejections, intimidation, packed houses and trash talking happened daily. I wasn't sure where we could go once we won four out of five. It was similar to the Red Sox finally knocking off the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Playing St. Louis seemed academic. I credit the Sox for staying focused after they overcame the biggest nemesis in their history.
We knocked out the Braves and were riding high. Yet once we were knocked out by the Marlins in the NLCS, it took a lot of energy to deal with coming down. It was as if we were staring at a mirror for a couple of months straight and then someone moved it out of view. You nearly pass out from finally exhaling after staring for so long.
When I got back to my apartment, I could not move off my couch for hours. Chicago could have burned down, and I am not sure I would have been able to make it to the front door. It was one of the most exhausted states I had ever experienced, and I had only one at-bat in the entire series.
Everything crashed into a moment, a moment that you expected to continue, that you wanted with all your soul. Then in a flash, it passes. It ends abruptly -- and not on your terms. The meter runs out with the meter attendant standing there, and you were out of quarters.
One would think that you would have some level of satisfaction by making it so far in the playoffs, that somehow it would feel better to knock on the door of the World Series than to be on a team that was out of it by the All-Star break. But being out of it at the break was much easier to stomach, even with an NL Central banner coming Chicago's way.
So on that couch I lied for about half a day. Nothing mattered much other than how tired I felt. I finally dragged myself out to eat dinner a few blocks away in hopes of finding some charge. I couldn't recall feeling that way at the end of a regular season when we finished eight or 10 games back. Maybe it was because in those years the writing was on the wall for a while. You saw it coming, and you had warning of your disappointment.
Not true for the playoffs. It is a rush, an all-out blitz of disappointment that hits you. There is no writing on the wall. The wall just comes out of the shadows and stops you cold without passion or prejudice.
Then it is a long walk home. Even being at home in Wrigley, the walk took an eternity. In some ways, everyone involved with that 2003 team is still walking.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville
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