When in need, Cubs find another hero

MIAMI -- It's never what you expect. It never follows the scripts. This is why we love postseason baseball. You think you've seen it all. And then comes tomorrow.

We all knew how Game 3 of the National League Championship Series was supposed to go Friday night. It was supposed to be Kerry Wood Day.

But by the time the Marlins and Cubs had finished weaving their latest October classic, it was 12:33 in the Florida morning and Wood was as distant a Cubs memory as Orval Overall.

By the time the next-to-last man on the Cubs' bench, Doug Glanville, had finished tripling in the 11th-inning run that made the Cubs a 5-4 winner of a wild, 4-hour, 16-minute ride through the postseason arcade, these teams had run through more plot twists than Harrison Ford.

And by the time Mike Remlinger had wandered out of the Cubs bullpen to save his first game in 2½ years, there was reason to doubt whether these guys could possibly have the strength to come staggering back to the ballpark Saturday and do this again.

"It's nerve-wracking, man. I'll tell you that," said Kenny Lofton, the Cub who took off on a steal of second and didn't stop running till he'd scored the winning run. "Your mind starts to get drained. Your body can handle it. But with the situation at hand with these playoffs, your mind just takes a beating. Your brain starts to get fried."

Then again, all of our brains are starting to get fried by these games. Just when you think they're over, they're not. Just when you think one team has won, it hasn't. Just when you think you can't stay awake for one more inning, you stay awake for five more.

"It's not just us," Lofton said. "I talked to some fans, and they said they're just as on edge as we are. Even my family said they're always on edge, they're always nervous. I said, 'What are you nervous for? You ain't hitting the ball. I am.' "

A week and a half into this postseason, we know now that nobody plays crazier October baseballs games than the Marlins. Unless it's the Cubs -- a team that is becoming increasingly convinced that the red ivy now foliating on the walls of Wrigley Field is some kind of omen.

A couple of days ago, Glanville and backup catcher Josh Paul formed what Paul has begun calling "The Red Ivy Initiative." The more they stared at that red ivy on the wall, the more they wondered whether any Cubs team had ever kept playing baseball after the fabled Wrigley ivy started turning red.

So Paul picked a leaf of red ivy and wore it in his cap Wednesday night. Amazing things have happened ever since. A 12-3 blowout Wednesday in Chicago. Followed by this thrilling extra-inning win Friday in Miami.

"Since we won tonight," Glanville said, "we're guaranteed to get back to Chicago (either for Game 6 of this series, or for the World Series). So who knows -- maybe the ivy will be purple when we get back. We're going back in time now -- to the Stone Age, the Metal Age, all those Ages. Maybe the ivy will go from green to red to purple to fuchsia."

But that's only fitting, because, as a nation full of Cubs fans attempted to survive watching this game, they were no doubt changing colors, from green to red to purple to fuchsia, themselves.

Let's just try to run briefly through a few of the things that happened in this game that nobody could possibly have seen coming:

  • Wood, who apparently had convinced most of America he wasn't going to lose again until he was 46 years old, couldn't hold a two-run lead. He even was in danger of losing (for the first time in almost six weeks) after allowing the latest heroic hit in Pudge Rodriguez's spectacular October, an RBI single off a 98-mph flame ball with two outs in the seventh.

  • But then Chad Fox, a man who had never blown a lead as a Marlin (25 appearances, 11 leads preserved), came on and -- what else -- blew his first lead as a Marlin, on a two-run Randall Simon homer in the top of the eighth.

  • So then the Cubs were going to win. Except the Marlins now think their mission in life is to make all their late-inning holes disappear. So they pulled even yet again, in the bottom of the eighth, on a two-out pinch single by Todd Hollandsworth. Naturally, Hollandsworth hit precisely .143 this year with two outs and runners in scoring position.

  • Which meant the Marlins were poised to pull off their fifth comeback win just since the beginning of this postseason -- and their ninth comeback win, from the sixth inning on, just since Sept. 1. Except they didn't. They left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Which merely set us up for more extra-inning insanity.

    Conan O'Brien was nearly ready to start delivering his monologue when Lofton singled with one out in the 11th. On a 2-1 pitch to Glanville, Lofton took off to steal second. But then he heard the crack of the bat. And he saw the ball roaring through the vacated shortstop hole. And he knew his sprint to second had just turned into a marathon.

    "It's like (Astro)turf out there in that outfield," Lofton said. "The grass is cut so short. So I just kept going. ... I was running. Glanville was running. It was fun."

    The ball eventually scooted all the way to the gap. So by the time all that running had stopped, Lofton had scored the winning run. And Glanville was on third with a game-winning pinch-hit triple.

    Now let's try to put that in perspective:

    Glanville hit no triples this year. Before this game, in fact, the Cubs hadn't hit a pinch-hit triple in 18 months (since April 24, 2002, to be exact). But this was their second pinch-hit triple in this game -- because Tom Goodwin had hit one three innings earlier, right before Simon's home run. Naturally, Goodwin also hit no triples this year.

    Before Glanville got this monstrous hit off Marlins reliever Braden Looper, he'd gotten one hit (in nine at-bats) against Looper in his career. And his last RBI hit with a runner in scoring position was back on Aug. 23. Outside of all that, though, everything had gone exactly according to form.

    Glanville didn't want the world to think he'd never gotten a hit this important, though. So he vividly recounted the last hit he got that was this exciting -- a big home run off a dominating right-hander named Mike Wilkins ... in Little League.

    "I was using a gold aluminum bat," he said. "And I was 8 or 9. And I was facing the 11-year-old that nobody had fouled a ball off against the whole year. I hit it over the right-center-field fence, and I had no idea what to do. It ended up in someone's garden. And I think after that, they put up a fence to protect their carrots and green beans."

    A sellout crowd of 65,115 witnessed this hit. But Glanville said that hit off Mike Wilkins also came before a packed house.

    "I think that was a sellout crowd, too -- of about 23," he said. "And the lemonade was cold."

    All right, so maybe that hit wasn't quite as important as this hit. But "it's all relative," he said. "Your biggest hit to that time in your life was still the biggest hit of your life."

    And so was this. When you consider all the unlikely twists and turns these playoff games take, Glanville was just about the perfect hero, too.

    It's a dozen years now since the Cubs made him their first-round draft pick. It's almost six years since they traded him to the Phillies.

    It's four years since he had a 204-hit season in Philadelphia. It's six months since he wrecked his first season in Texas by tearing a tendon in his hamstring. And it's 2½ months since the Rangers traded him back home to the Cubs, who managed to get him just 51 at-bats down the stretch.

    But the story of special baseball teams is full of tales like Doug Glanville's. And one of the Cubs' best October attributes is that their bench is filled with veteran players who recognize a big moment -- and how to rise to it -- when they see one.

    "You just have no clue at any given time what can happen," Glanville said. "Anybody can contribute. Anybody can do the job at any time. We're just trying to do something great here. We're trying to play for the red ivy."

    Uh-oh. There it is again, another reference to the mystical force behind this magical Cubs October -- that red ivy.

    The longer they play baseball, the redder their ivy figures to get. We know that. We also know that visiting teams that have taken a 2-games-to-1 lead on the road in previous best-of-seven baseball series, as the Cubs did Friday, have gone on to win that series 64 percent of the time.

    So if history tells us anything, it tells us that the Cubs are likely to give us several more chances to examine just how powerful that red ivy is. And while we have to admit we're skeptical -- because they taught us to be skeptical back in journalism school -- Josh Paul keeps telling us that before this October is over, we'll be convinced.

    As Glanville came to the plate in the 11th inning, Paul said, he was screaming, "Red ivy," from the bullpen. Of course, at the time 65,000 people were busy drowning out the fireworks show at Disney World. So there's no way Glanville could have heard him.

    "He didn't have to," Paul said. "Telepathy."

    Then Glanville swung. And the baseball headed for the alley. And Lofton was crossing the plate. And Glanville was charging into third. ... "And I knew right then what he was thinking of," Josh Paul claimed. "He was thinking of me and red ivy."

    Red ivy, huh? It makes no sense. We know that. But then another game time rolls around, and we all find ourselves taking one more madcap ride on this spectacular October roller coaster. And we realize there is no explanation for the stuff that happens this time of year.

    Red ivy, huh? Hey, why not?

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.