By Paul Schmidt
Watching the Cubs’ struggles over the last few weeks has led me to try and come up with a comparison, something that mirrors the feelings that I’ve had over the eight game losing streak they just posted, and their continual struggle to score runs.
After days of thought, the realization washed over me – The current Cubs slide completely mirrors every trip I have ever taken to Las Vegas.
Now, maybe you don’t understand that comparison – maybe you’ve never been to Las Vegas, or maybe you’re always successful gambling, flirting, and drinking while you are there (and if so, well, quite frankly, I hate you). But that’s why I’m here, to explain an analogy that, on the surface, might not make much sense.
The Rise in Action
Every trip starts with a run. A good run. It’s how Vegas sucks you in. If, as soon as you landed at McCarren International Airport, you started hemorrhaging money like Clint Malarchuk getting slashed by a skate, you’d tighten up the purse strings, spend some time by the pool and walking around seeing the sites. Maybe even plan a trip to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam (well, maybe not ).
So the Vegas gambling gods really want to reel you in. You can only be over-confident after you’ve won a little of the house’s money. Sometimes, even a lot of the house’s money.
The Cubs, came into May reeling a little, but won 11 of 14 games heading into May 16th. That was the rise in the action. Reminds me of the time, when in Vegas for a friend’s 30th birthday, I sat down on the first full day of the trip, plunked 200 dollars down at a 25-dollar-minimum blackjack table, and 2 hours later stood up with 2,200 dollars. Did you know, the 1,000 dollar chips are colored orange at Planet Hollywood? They are.
That’s what the rise was for the Cubs. After the May 16th 5-4 win against the Astros, that was the season’s high water point at 21-14. Fans were just starting to get confident, with three huge games on the road against St. Louis, and then three easier games out in San Diego looming in the coming week.
Now not just a name of a Lost season finale! It’s, quite obviously, an occurrence, something that happens that changes the course of action.
Every Vegas trip probably has several Incidents, but what we’re looking at here is the incident that starts the losing. To quote Tony Soprano, “Everything I touch turns to (excrement)!” That type of losing streak.
The incident for the Cubs was the first loss in their streak, what originally looked like a harmless 6-5 loss to the Astros in their series finale. Brian Moehler stoned the Cubs lineup, Ivan Rodriguez hit his 300th homer, and the Cubs looked fairly disinterested offensively until the ninth inning. Just like most other incidents, little did we all know how indicative that would be of the future.
The incident that this reminds me of was a gambling debacle that most people in Vegas won money on: The Michigan State-George Mason first round NCAA Tournament game a few years back. Me and friends were up big after a huge morning of backdoor covers and were flush with cash, at one point prompting this exchange between myself and a buddy:
“How much money do you actually have on this Michigan State game?”
“More than I’m really comfortable having.”
“Ok…I’m the same. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone.”
I mean, we knew we were in a little trouble here if Michigan State somehow lost to George Mason (a team that EVERYONE in the sports book had bet on, with the line moving from MSU -5 to the Spartans just laying 2.5 at game time, despite the fact Mason would be missing their best player, Tony Skinn, who had punched a player in the nards in the CAA championship game a week prior), but in the end, we would just be giving back the gains we’d made in the morning and early afternoon. But they were missing their best player! How good could the rest of the roster be?
Well, what happened is for the history books, as Mason came through with the outright win, and continued to roll on to the Final Four. The worst part? Listening to the entire sports book exploding in celebration with every basket.
The Wheels Have Fallen Off the Wagon
Now we’re getting into the heart (or heartbreak, as it were) of the Cubs’ issues. They went 27 innings in St. Louis, scoring only one earned run. With Joel Pinero heavily involved in nine of those innings. With a fresh-off-the-DL Chris Carpenter throwing five more. ONE FREAKING EARNED RUN!!!! NONE SCORED BEFORE THE NINTH!!!!
Words can’t describe, except to say that our wagon was wheel-less, and perhaps even sinking into the mud a little.
In Vegas, this is when you start giving up your own money. In large quantities. I followed up the Michigan State loss by running to the betting window and trying to win all that cash back by betting on Kansas. It was a ridiculously talented Kansas squad, and they’d be looking to make a good showing after choking in the first round one year before in losing to Bucknell. Plus, their opponent was from the Missouri Valley Conference. And it wasn’t Southern Illinois or Creighton, it was Bradley! Bradley. I mean, come on. There was no way that Bradley was beating the KANSAS JAYHAWKS, coached by former Illini guru Bill Self!
As some Bradley Brave torque-wad banked in a three-pointer from half court at the halftime buzzer to go ahead by double digits (I’ve drank away the memory of most of this game), I screamed in frustration to the ceiling of the Paris Hotel and Casino, then was going to stalk off to get back to my room to shower for the night’s festivities. Before I could, I got grabbed by a little Asian guy, who told me, “Hey, it could be worse,” and pulled back his jacket to reveal a Kansas Jayhawk Alumni t-shirt.
Touché, little Asian guy, touché.
I have a friend who pronounces the word with the emphasis on the AS of disaster, and it indicates something worse than a normal disaster, something that involves, quite frankly, a Katrina-like meltdown.
It should be obvious where this is going with the Cubs. Even though we had just been swept in St. Louis despite pretty good pitching, we were headed to San Diego. And even though the Padres had won 5 straight, they still weren’t very good. And even though the Cubs offense hadn’t been producing, come on, they had to turn it around there, right?
Well, no dice. At this point, we all know the stories of what happened. The Cubs offense only managed three runs in Petco Park in getting swept by the Padres. They came back home to entertain the Pirates, and scored more runs in the first four innings than they had their entire road trip, but still lost by giving up 10 runs. Ted Lilly got ejected for arguing balls and strikes in a game he didn’t even pitch in. Milton Bradley exposed a massive umpire experience against him and all board games.
Most importantly, the Cubs fell under .500 for the first time since April and for only the second time this season.
I wish there were only a couple examples of this from my Vegas history, but that’s just not true. There’s the awful double-deck blackjack night at the 4 Queens after finding out I knew one of the strippers at the Glitter Gulch from college; there’s the stretch of NCAA tournament games in 2008 where I lost 11 straight bets; there’s the blackjack tables (yes that’s plural) that I lost hands on for 30 mintues straight – no wins; and there’s the time the stripper stole money from me and fell asleep on me at Sapphire.
And now I’m even sadder…
The Cubs and Vegas have one very specific thing in common: They know how to suck you back in.
With the Cubs, just when you’ve given up on them they turn things around. This time, it was in the form of two nice wins against the Pirates to get back above .500 (even if, in the end, it may cost them Carlos Zambrano for a couple of weeks because of a ridiculous – if not justified – temper-tantrum).
With Vegas, the gambling gods can’t let you leave on a down note – you’d never come back. So you always get a little victory to put a hop in your step as head to the airport.
I’ve got a few of these little victories, but my most recent sticks in my mind. I had a great run on a craps table at the Imperial Palace of all places, playing for a half hour and rolling for a solid 20 minutes of that time, winning back over 200 dollars, and with me actually getting a round of applause from the table when I told them I absolutely had to leave. The gods had to leave me with a smile on my face, and make me start counting the days until I’d get to go back again.
Vegas, baby, Vegas.
And don’t forget, Go, Cubs Go.