What a Walk Off


What a Walk Off

The best part of any walk-off home run is the celebration.

Its bigger than the home run itself. Its bigger than the victory. The walk-off celebration is bigger than baseball!

OK, the same size as baseball. But either way, theres nothing cooler than watching a guy round third base the musics blasting, the crowds going bonkers, the losers are walking off the field staring down at their cleats as rowdy teammates wait at the plate. Ready to party like its 2099.

Its pretty rare to see this kind of group celebration in baseball. In the NHL, it happens after every goal. In the NFL, it happens after every touchdown (for some teams, after every play). In the NBA, you see it after big timeouts.

In baseball, you need a walk-off. Its the only time a team ever collectively lets loose.

And when they do, its awesome.

For instance, last night at Fenway.

Forget how big of a win it was for the Sox. Forget that theyve now won five of seven games since the All-Star Break, are only one back in the Wild Card and are getting healthier by the day. For me, the highlight of last night's walk-off was still the celebration.

Cody Ross tossing his helmet and diving into the pile. Shredder Punto ripping off Ross's shirt. Alfredo Aceves sneaking up from behind and dumping a bucket of Gatorade on everyone's head. (Quick note: The Gatorade shower is what stood out the most when I watched the celebration live. And afterwards, I immediately set out to figure out the dumper's identity. When I learned it was Aceves, I felt stupid for ever asking. Of course it was Aceves. That's textbook Aceves!)

Anyway, like I was saying. The celebration was amazing. More than anything, just the chance to see these guys care about something. And to see them do it together. That they were having fun! That maybe some things are more important than how many years are on your contract and whether the manager gives you a heads up before a day off.

Who knows what will happen next, but this series against the White Sox really feels like it could be a turning point for this team. And last night's celebration was the capper.

All in all, it was just a great night to be a Red Sox fan.

Coincidentally, it was an awful morning to be a human being.

It's hard to write, talk or even care about sports in light of what happened at that movie theater in Colorado. It's so beyond screwed up that I'm not sure why I'm even attempting to talk about it. What good will any of these words do?

But I felt like I had to say something. Even if it's just out of guilt for the fact here in Boston, 2,000 miles away from the tragedy, we have things like baseball and walk-off celebrations to temporarily take our minds off what happened. That as time goes on, we'll always remember the events of today, but we'll never truly understand the aftermath.

We'll go out tonight. We'll watch the Red Sox. We'll get wrapped in errors and at-bats. We'll move on with our lives. Meanwhile, people in Colorado will be dealing with this for years. Their lives are forever changed . . . or just plain over. What a mess.

Thoughts go out to everyone involved.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.