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Cubs' futility never gets old

The 1908 Cubs pose for a photo.

The 1908 Cubs pose for a photo. Credit: AP

The Cubs began their first-ever postseason series against the Mets Saturday night at Citi Field with limited experience in playoff games in New York City -- none of it successful.

Entering Game 1 of the NLCS, they were 0-4 all-time in the postseason New York -- losing by a combined score of 30-13 -- with all of the defeats coming during sweeps of the 1932 and '38 World Series by the Yankees.

In '32, the Cubs lost Games 1 and 2 in the Bronx, 12-6 and 5-2. The first game featured a home run by Lou Gehrig; the second marked the final World Series home game of Babe Ruth's career.

In '38, the Cubs lost Games 3 and 4 at the Stadium, 5-2 and 8-3. The final game of that World Series was Gehrig's last in the Fall Classic.

But with all due respect to those World Series in the '30s, by far the Cubs' biggest and most historically important game in New York came decades earlier, en route to what remains their most recent World Championship in 1908.

It happened on Oct. 8, 1908, at the Polo Grounds, a replay of the famed Merkle's Boner incident of Sept. 23 -- a game that would decide the National League pennant.

To make an extremely long, complicated story short, the Giants and Cubs were forced to settle the pennant by replaying the Merkle game, one of the most controversial in the sport's history.

It was ruled a 1-1 tie after what appeared to be the Giants' winning run was invalidated when 19-year-old Fred Merkle, who had been on first base with a runner also at third, failed to touch second base after a base hit.

Merkle was trying merely to save himself from a celebratory mob at the time, but the Cubs' Johnny Evers' got his hands on a ball and touched second base for what was ruled a forceout.

The rematch was a national sensation, with the Cubs arriving via the Twentieth Century Limited train, and attracted a crowd estimated at 40,000 in and around the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan, including fans watching from Coogan's Bluff, rooftops and telegraph poles.

A detailed account of that crazy day in the 2007 book "Crazy '08" describes a near-riotous atmosphere in which fights broke out as people tried to enter the grounds and others fell as they sought good vantage points, resulting in at least two deaths.

There were no advance ticket sales in an attempt to slow the scalping trade -- but that only made matters worse. At one point fans tore down a 75-foot section of fence and thousands rushed onto the field, where fire hoses were used to disperse them.

The Cubs went on to win, 4-2, after which they had to barricade themselves in their clubhouse to avoid angry New York fans, who became increasingly unruly in the late innings.

Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown got the win in relief, with Christy Mathewson taking the loss to end a season in which he went 37-11, struck out 259 and had a 1.43 ERA in 390 2/3 innings.

That morning, he was said to have told his wife, "I'm not fit to pitch today. I'm dog tired."


Mathewson's nickname was "Matty." Saturday night, the Cubs returned to New York to face another Matt, this time one named Harvey, whose workload also has been a source of interest and concern.

The World Series was anti-climactic after the regular-season finale. The Cubs beat the Tigers, four games to one. The last game in Detroit drew an audience of 6,210, the smallest in World Series history.

More than a century later, those 6,210 remain the last humans to witness the Cubs winning it all.


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