Wrigley Field: Tough room

Cubs fans to Ryan Dempster, who was fourth in the N.L. in ERA: What have you done for us lately?

Published October 2, 2008 6:15PM (EDT)

It's hard to be a Chicago Cubs fan. Everyone gets that. There's this thing about how they haven't won a World Series in, oh, I forget how many years. I wish someone would mention it on TV. I think it's like nine. And there have been so many close calls, like in 1962, when they missed the postseason by 42 and a half games.

It's like they're cursed!

Anyway, it's been rough. But things are looking up. The Cubs have won back-to-back division titles, they're in the playoffs for the third time in six years and they had the best record in the National League this year by a comfortable margin.

On Wednesday they opened the playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They sent their ace, Ryan Dempster, to the mound. Dempster went 17-6 with a 2.94 ERA, the fourth-best mark in the league. According to the ERA-plus stat at Baseball-Reference.com, which takes ballpark effects into account, Dempster was the third-best pitcher in the league, behind only Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum, the two favorites for the Cy Young Award.

Alas, Dempster didn't have it. The Dodgers have a good, hot offense, but really this just wasn't his night. He walked four and gave up a couple of singles in the first four innings, but kept escaping and took a 2-0 lead into the fifth. Three more walks loaded the bases with two outs, and then James Loney hit a home run, possibly with an assist from the wind, to center field. After Matt Kemp doubled, Dempster was relieved, trailing 4-2.

And booed.

Now, this column fully supports the right of the paying customers to lustily boo whoever they want, especially at these prices. But come on. The guy had an off night.

It's a little silly but not ridiculous to argue that if Dempster hadn't rebounded from several years of bullpen mediocrity to become the most surprising ace pitcher of 2008, Cliff Lee included, the Cubs wouldn't have won their division. And in the second postseason appearance and first postseason start of his career, he reached into the ol' bag of tricks and found it not exactly empty, but not overflowing, and that's it? Boo his ass?

It's not like he got shelled. He turned in four shutout innings before his mistakes caught up with him. When he left, the Cubs were very much in the game. They ended up losing 7-2, but a two-run deficit in the top of the fifth inning was not exactly time to give up hope for fans of the team with the best offense in the league.

Cubs fans at Wrigley Field are famous for being more interested in Wrigley Field than in the Cubs, and playoff crowds are always a little less sophisticated, baseball-wise, than regular-season crowds. And there's this whole psychological baggage thing that goes along with being a Cubs fan that we fans of more successful teams like the San Francisco Giants, who won a World Series as recently as 1954, can't hope to understand.

But booing Dempster Wednesday still seemed beyond the pale to me. Repeat after me, Cubs fans: The last 99 years don't mean anything. You're rooting for the best team in the league, and they've only lost one game in a best-of-five series.

There'll be plenty of time to boo once elimination becomes inevitable.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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