By Steve Silverman
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The Chicago Cubs have done their part to make it an October to remember. Now the Mets must follow suit on Thursday night in Los Angeles to give Major League Baseball its most memorable National League Championship Series in the event's history.
The reminders of 1969 are all over the place. That year, the Mets and Cubs were intertwined all season since both were in the NL East in the first season of divisional play. The Mets were chasing a powerful Cubs team for about four months that season, and that's when the Tom Seaver-Jerry Koosman-Gary Gentry-Nolan Ryan pitching staff hit full stride and put the heat on the Cubs' memorable lineup.
The Cubs had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo and they could mash. They also had a bull's eye painted on their rear end, in large part because Santo liked to run, jump and click his heels to celebrate a Chicago win. It was obnoxious.
The Cubs also had an old-school manager in Leo Durocher, who had been a legend in New York as the leader of both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. He will always be a part of baseball history because he commandeered the Giants when they ran down the Dodgers and won the 1951 pennant, thanks to the famous Bobby Thomson home run.
But Leo was a stubborn cuss, and he didn't believe in resting his starters, ever. The Cubs grew tired and the Mets passed them at full speed.
That '69 Mets are still known as the "Miracle Mets," with the inference being that they caught lightning, put a saddle on it and rode it to the finish line.
But that's neither fair, nor correct. History shows the 69ers were something special. No, they didn't have the great names of the "Big Red Machine" that would follow shortly in Cincinnati, but they had tough players who played their best when the game was on the line.
Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Donn Clendendon & Co. came through against an intimidating Atlanta Braves team and an even better Baltimore Orioles team nearly every single time. The pitching was at the top of the charts, and the rest of the team was fully competitive.
This time around, the Mets will not have the benefit of playing against a stubborn manager or obnoxious players. The Cubs have perhaps the best manager in the game in Joe Maddon, who knows how to get the most out of his players and deploys them with near-perfection.
The young Cubs have these home-run hitting mashers like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber who have gotten the best of the Pirates and Cardinals, and they are playing sensational baseball. Unlike their predecessors, they are also humble and likable.
They represent a tremendous challenge for the Mets or Dodgers in the NLCS, but there is no reason to doubt the Mets at this point.
They have Jacob deGrom, who got the best of Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 and will now take on Zack Greinke.
If Seaver was the standard bearer for the old '69 team, deGrom plays that role on the current team. He wants the ball in the biggest games, and he thirsts for the competition. He simply wants to get the best of every batter who steps in the batter's box, and he knows he has an excellent chance to win the battle each and every time.
Greinke is a brilliant pitcher who may win the NL Cy Young, but he does not have the same kind of big-game presence as deGrom. He will outpitch you and outthink you, but will he outfight you at the biggest moment? Doubtful, very doubtful.
When the heat is on, there's a much better chance that Greinke will crumble -- or at least stumble. At the biggest moment, deGrom is a giant who is going to rise to the occasion.
The Mets got to Greinke for two second-inning home runs -- by Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto -- in Game 2 of the series. The Mets let the Dodgers off the hook in that game, but that's not going to happen with their ace on the mound.
Tough and smart, deGrom knows how to execute in all situations. No, he has never been asked to clinch a series before, but there is no reason to believe he will be anything but at his best.
If it goes that way, it will set up an NLCS that has everything, including a wonderful historical backdrop.
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