Cubs relief pitcher Rodrigo Lopez walks off the field after giving up a walk-off home run to Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols (right) in the 10th inning Sunday in St. Louis. | Jeff Roberson~AP
Updated: September 22, 2011 12:31AM
When the Cubs return from this road trip, their fans will be back at Wrigley Field.
They always are.
But I believe for the first time, deep down within me, without sarcasm, hyperbole or even anger, that true Cubs fans have now been wounded in a way that can’t be healed.
Oh, it’s not because Albert Pujols hit his second game-winning, trot-off home run in two days against the Cubs.
The fade from a 2-1 ninth-inning lead was ugly and depressing. But it was not unusual. Certainly not unexpected.
Pujols had been feeling a little down, so the Cubs always try to make him healthy. The bomber went 6-for-11 in this series with four homers and seven RBI.
So be it.
There cannot be a Cubs fan anywhere who didn’t say to himself, or yell to those around him, ‘‘Why do the Cubs always do that?’’
Of course, they don’t always do that. The monstrous 446-foot blast Pujols laid on Cubs relief pitcher Rodrigo Lopez was just a little saucier than the usual burnt pies. Lopez — anybody recall he lost 16 games for the Diamondbacks last year? — was touted as just the man to get Pujols out because Big Poo was a lifetime 0-for-12 against Lopez. Like that matters when you’re a Cub.
And most of the Cubs’ failings are not of the one-game, two-game type.
They are yearly, multifaceted fold-ups that come with hope, expectation and even — in those odd seasons of near-success — a kind of collective citizen giddiness that were it rewarded with a World Series championship might melt the North Side of Chicago.
But it has happened too often.
People have been hurt too much.
Awhile back I lost my wallet with some then-very personal stuff within, not to mention the $40, driver’s license and credit cards.
I searched for the wallet for weeks. I replaced everything that was needed and gave up on the other stuff. Months went by. Years.
Four years later, I got a call from a housewife in Milwaukee, the third owner of the car I had sold about the time my wallet disappeared. Her husband had found my wallet stuck beside the driver’s seat in a spot even the auto detailers had missed. She sent the wallet back, everything intact.
Was I happy? Kind of. But it was all just . . . too late.
You know what I mean, Cubs fans?
Who hasn’t been wounded and wounded again by the Cubs?
I was a college student in Evanston in 1969, taking the Jackson Park train to Addison with pals, when the first betrayal occurred. Lose the pennant after an eight-game lead? Weird. Disorienting.
Then came 1984, the Padres and Leon Durham’s legs, hurting another generation.
There was 1998, when the Cubs went 90-73, winning a wild-card tie-breaker against the Giants to make it to the postseason. The crazed and ebullient fans got to see the Cubs get swept by the Braves 3-0.
In 2003, there was the Cubs’ meltdown just five outs from the World Series, a failure that is symbolized by the Bartman hand gesture, though Bartman is as responsible for the Cubs’ collapse as a mosquito is to an airplane crash.
Then came 2007 and 2008.
Swept, swept in the postseason.
A smashed water pipe, silent rage, Lou Piniella broken like a China doll dropped from a high-rise.
That’s all Cubs fans can ask.
Now that the team is owned by the Ricketts family — all of the kid owners avowed Cubs fans — there is something new in the air.
It’s a sense that the Cubs’ 103-year project has been assumed by nice people who are suddenly aware that this staggering thing is perhaps beyond anyone’s control.
The Ricketts family has a crumbling home field, huge debt assumed during the worst real-estate meltdown since the Great Depression, failure of the highest-priced lineup in the National League and nothing left to squeeze, leverage, promote or pray to.
Nice guys can finish last
Manager Mike Quade might be the nicest, most sincere man I’ve ever met in baseball.
Does it matter? With the Cubs? The team is this close to being the worst in the majors.
We are now working our way swiftly into the second century — century — of failure. I no longer believe I will live to see the team win it all.
And if they ever do?
I know I and many other Cubs fans will receive it not with a cheer but a sigh.