For the last 107 seasons, any hope the Chicago Cubs held heading into postseason play was almost immediately followed by agony.
What took place in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday night is supposed to happen to the Cubs. Chicago is never the team that dishes out heartbreak.
But at AT&T Park, the Cubs borrowed—or maybe stole—some of the magic that has guided the San Francisco Giants to World Series titles in each of the last three even years.
Down by three runs, with a decisive Game 5 on the minds of everyone in attendance and watching at home, the Cubs scored four runs to take a 6-5 lead.
Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman saved the game with three swinging strikeouts in the ninth.
While the Cubs have been the champions of misfortune, it’s important to note that only one team has ever done what they did Tuesday.
Chicago’s comeback from a three-run deficit tied the largest ninth-inning deficit overcome in a postseason game. The 1986 New York Mets did the same in the clinching Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
It gives reason to believe that this is the year for the Cubs.
Tuesday’s theatrics are commonplace at AT&T Park in October, only fans are used to seeing them performed by the home team. Chicago’s victory snapped a 10-game winning streak by the Giants in elimination games.
That means en route to winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, San Francisco faced elimination nine times. Their 10th win in an elimination game came Monday, when they captured Game 3.
That’s suggestive of the kind of magic it takes to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy. It’s what the Cubs have been missing but finally seem to have.
All series, Chicago struggled offensively. Only third baseman Kris Bryant, who hit .375/.412/.688 in the four games, was hitting. And he began the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single.
But seemingly everyone got in on the action. Anthony Rizzo walked, Ben Zobrist lined a run-scoring double and Javier Baez singled home Jason Heyward, who has struggled all year at the plate, for the game-winning run.
Manager Joe Maddon added a little of his out-of-the-box style to the inning, too.
With shortstop Addison Russell, who had 95 RBI this season, coming to the plate and the game-tying runs on second and third, Maddon elected to pinch hit.
He used left-handed batter Chris Coghlan, who hit just .188 and drove in only 30 runs this season, to get a lefty-righty matchup against Giants pitcher Sergio Romo.
Coghlan turned out to be a decoy.
Once his name was announced—the official designation that a player has entered a game—San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy countered by bringing in southpaw reliever Will Smith.
Maddon then removed Coghlan before he even stepped into the batter’s box and inserted right-handed hitting catcher Willson Contreras, who hit .311 against left-handers this season.
The Cubs had the matchup they wanted, and it paid dividends: Contreras singled home Rizzo and Zobrist to tie the game.
It was a picture-perfect ending for Chicago, which is typically the victim in a horror film.
The Cubs await the winner of the NLDS between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. Those two teams will play a Game 5 on Thursday.
As if winning an NLDS wasn’t enough for Chicago, the Dodgers used ace Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s Game 4. The Nationals will throw their ace, Max Scherzer, in Game 5.
That means regardless which team the Cubs play in the NLCS, which starts Saturday, they will not face that team’s ace until at least Game 2.
But by virtue of closing out their NLDS in Game 4, Chicago will get to throw its ace, Jon Lester, in Game 1. Had San Francisco forced Game 5, Lester would have pitched Thursday, and had the Cubs advanced, he would not have been available until Game 3 of the NLCS.
Everything that could have gone the Cubs’ way Tuesday night did.
And while Chicago’s shocking comeback reverberated around the baseball world, it also left onlookers wondering whether the sport’s even-year magic had changed addresses.
It seems as if the Cubs are finally destined for some good fortune.
Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.