Ex-Cub Matthews re­calls just miss­ing World Se­ries

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Ben Walker AP Base­ball Writer

With the Cubs one win away from their first World Se­ries since 1945, Gary Matthews, a for­mer player and coach with the team, re­called be­ing in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion twice — only to see the club fall short.

Once in a while, Gary Matthews re­lives how close his Chicago Cubs came to reach­ing the World Se­ries.

Ac­tu­ally, a lit­tle more of­ten.

“Wow,” he said. “Think about that ev­ery day.”

With his for­mer team just one win from its first World Se­ries trip since 1945, fans ev­ery­where al­ready are en­vi­sion­ing the ex­cite­ment at Wrigley Field. The Cubs lead the Los An­ge­les Dodgers 3-2 in the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries and can clinch the pen­nant in Game 6 on Satur­day night.

Matthews knows well that feel­ing of an­tic­i­pa­tion. Too well, in fact.

In 1984, Matthews hit two home runs in Game 1 of the best-of-five NLCS as the Cubs romped over San Diego 13-0. The pop­u­lar left fielder nick­named Sarge con­trib­uted to a win in Game 2, too.

But with a fren­zied city pre­par­ing to host the Fall Clas­sic, the Cubs went to the West Coast, dropped three in a row to the Padres and lost their chance.

In 2003, Matthews was the Cubs’ hit­ting coach un­der man­ager Dusty Baker. Chicago rushed to a 3-1 lead in the NLCS over the Florida Mar­lins, but once again lost three straight and got elim­i­nated.

Matthews still has a home in Chicago, and would love to soak up the World Se­ries at­mos­phere at Wrigley. Maybe throw out a first ball along the way. But he’s acutely aware that things can fall apart quickly. Es­pe­cially when the Cubs are in­volved.

“My stom­ach is ac­tu­ally turn­ing even now re­al­iz­ing they only need one more game,” he said Fri­day. “Been there ... didn’t get it done.”

“It would be nice to talk about some­thing else be­sides ‘they al­most made it.’ Or, fa­vorite line of the Cubs or in Chicago — ‘wait till next year,” he said. “Then we can put that to bed.”

That’s even be­fore they can take aim at the Billy Goat Curse and try to win their first crown since 1908.

Matthews got more than 2,000 hits and scored more than 1,000 runs in an Al­lS­tar ca­reer. He was the 1983 NLCS MVP for Philadel­phia when he home­red three times and drove in eight runs in a four-game se­ries with the Dodgers. He home­red in the World Se­ries that year as the Phillies lost to Baltimore.

The next year, he was traded late in spring train­ing to the Cubs. Matthews led the ma­jors in on-base per­cent­age in 1984, team­ing with Ryne Sand­berg and Rick Sut­cliffe to help Chicago make its first post­sea­son ap­pear­ance in nearly 40 years. In the de­cid­ing Game 5 against the Padres, the Cubs took a 3-0 lead into the sixth in­ning be­fore it got away.

“Talk with Ryne Sand­berg, he thinks about it ev­ery sin­gle day,” Matthews said.

The dis­ap­point­ment of that near-miss was still in his mind two decades later when Matthews was in the dugout as the Cubs took on the Mar­lins.

“Re­al­iz­ing the his­tory of the Cubs, not win­ning since 1908, that we can fi­nally put that goat to rest,” he said. “He’s still — baaaaaaah — out there.”

In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, with the Cubs one win from earn­ing that elu­sive World Se­ries spot, they took a 3-0 lead into the eighth in­ning. In what be­came known for the night fan Steve Bart­man de­flected a foul fly, Chicago let it get away. The next day, the Cubs fell in Game 7.

“Six outs. That close,” Matthews said.

Matthews was vis­it­ing the New York area this week­end to see a son who works for Ma­jor League Base­ball. Another son, Gary Jr., was an All-Star out­fielder.

The 66-year-old Matthews en­joyed a good run as a player, coach and broad­caster in the big leagues. He’s now root­ing hard for Kris Bryant, An­thony Rizzo and these Cubs to fi­nally break the jinx.

“I think they have as good a chance as any of the Cubs teams,” he said, smil­ing, “since 1908.”


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