(Reuters) - The Chicago Cubs, who have gone 107 years without a World Series title, gave their long-suffering fans a shot of optimism with a victory in a do-or-die Wild Card game on Wednesday to reach the National League Division Series.
“It’s tremendous for the city, it’s been a while,” said Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who threw a four-hit, complete game shutout in the 4-0 road win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Chicago has been waiting for this. But it’s only step one.”
Cubs fans packed into a Chicago bar that was captured on TV roared with delight, hugged their partners and friends and waved signs, including one that read “It’s Gonna Happen.”
Chicago are blessed with young talent bursting to prominence in Major League Baseball, but high anxiety has plagued fiercely loyal fans frustrated by a bitter history of near misses.
They have blamed the agonizing dry spell on “The Curse of the Billy Goat,” “The Black Cat Curse,” and an incident in which a Cubs fan became the 2003 scapegoat of the latest painful disappointment for the Cubbies, who have not reached the World Series in 70 years.
One of the most successful teams in MLB’s early years, the Cubs were the first team to win back-to-back titles (1907-08), and between 1910 and 1945 they reached seven World Series but failed to claim the crown.
In 1945, the Cubs led the Detroit Tigers 2-1 in the best-of-seven World Series when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his pet goat, who had a paid ticket, smelled bad.
Escorted out, Sianis declared a curse on the Cubs. Chicago lost the game and the series in seven games and have not been to the Fall Classic since.
In 1969, the Cubs built an eight-game lead over the Mets in August. When the teams clashed in New York in early September, a black cat circled third baseman Ron Santo as he stood in the on-deck circle and eyed Chicago manager Leo Durocher in the dugout.
From that game on, the “Miracle” Mets mounted an 18-5 record on their way to the World Series and the Cubs went 8-12 and faded from the postseason picture.
Thirty-four years later, fans turned on one of their own.
Leading the Florida Marlins three games to two with a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs were one win away from getting to the 2003 World Series.
A fly ball headed down the leftfield line and a Cubs fan, sitting along the front row of the Wrigley Field stands in foul territory, reached for it and kept Cubs outfielder Moises Alou from a chance at making a catch.
The fan had to be escorted to safety by security officers as fans jeered him and hurled beer and objects at him. Florida went on to score eight runs to win the game, then won Game Seven on the way to a World Series title.
The fan, whose image was splattered on tabloid back pages as a villain, changed address and took to hiding to avoid threats.
Determined to break through, the Cubs hired away Theo Epstein from Boston, who as MLB’s youngest general manager built a Red Sox team that ended the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” by winning the 2004 World Series to end an 86-year wait.
The curse-buster hired manager Joe Maddon away from the Tampa Bay Rays, who he turned from cellar dwellers to American League champions in 2008.
“They can ask whatever they want,” Maddon said about facing questions about the curse.
“I don’t vibrate on that frequency,” added Maddon, a cool child of the ‘60s, whose team will now rock on in the playoffs.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue