CLEVELAND – The Chicago Cubs won the World Series on Wednesday night. They won it in epic, incredible, unbelievable fashion. They won it with an extra-innings rally that followed an improbable home run that chased a grinding comeback that all melded together in a delicious soup of baseball madness that broke the heart of the Cleveland Indians. Game 7 – and the 112th World Series – will go down among the best ever.
One hundred eight years of misery – of billy goats and black cats and Bartman, of bleacher bums and broken dreams, of a curse that wasn’t ever real but always felt like it – was vanquished Wednesday. The Cubs beat the Indians, 8-7, in the 10th inning of a gave-you-everything Game 7. The City of Chicago celebrated like it hasn’t before. The City of Cleveland mourned perhaps its most heartbreaking loss yet, a dagger every bit as sharp as The Shot, The Drive and The Fumble.
This was billed as the biggest baseball game in as long as anyone could remember, a matchup packing more gravitas than Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, the first game back after 9/11, Game 7 of the 1986 World Series – one ripe with historical implications not just because of the Cubs’ century without a championship but the Indians’ streak of ignominy, 68 years now going on 69.
It exceeded any and all expectations, and not just because it was the first extra-innings Game 7 since Cleveland lost to Miami in 1997. The Cubs went ahead when pinch runner Albert Almora scored on a Ben Zobrist double. A Miguel Montero single drove in Anthony Rizzo for another run. The deluge came after a 17-minute rain delay, which followed one of the biggest home runs in World Series history. Cleveland tied the game 6-6 in the eighth inning when Rajai Davis, the center fielder with 55 career home runs in more than 1,200 games, took a fastball from Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman 369 feet over the 19-foot-high wall in left field, a two-run homer that sent the crowd of 38,104 into utter hysterics.
It almost happened again in the bottom of the 10th. The Indians scored a run off rookie Carl Edwards Jr. when Davis drove in Brandon Guyer. Mike Montgomery, the other left-hander acquired midseason by the Cubs, induced Michael Martinez into hitting a groundball to Kris Bryant. He threw it to Anthony Rizzo, the final out was recorded and history was made.
It set off madness in Chicago and started the Cubs’ swan dive into an offseason – and a lifetime – of feting from the adoring national fan base that stuck with them throughout all the years of losing, most of them not exactly lovable, and the years in which they won but couldn’t win it all. The 2016 Cubs seemed destined to tread the same path until they rescued themselves from a three-games-to-one deficit that, while towering, never felt insurmountable.
Not with this team assembled by president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, managed by Joe Maddon, led by young stars Bryant and Rizzo, and buoyed by owner Tom Ricketts, whose rebuilding efforts brought in the new brain trust, which beget the loaded team that won 103 games and went into this playoff run favored to win the World Series.
Being favorite and following through are entirely different beasts. The Cubs hadn’t even made a World Series in 71 years. They had lost seven World Series since they last won one, in 1908, with the famous Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield and a style of baseball entirely different than the one that dominated the 2016 postseason.
This was about home runs and pitching, and the Cubs got enough of both Wednesday to finish off Cleveland at Progressive Field, which at times felt more like Wrigley Field East, with Cubs fans streaming in from around the country to bring hints of blue and extra-loud voices that were heard from nearly the first pitch.
Corey Kluber, the Indians’ ace, threw it at 8:02 p.m. local time. By 8:03, the Cubs led 1-0 on Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run, the first in the history of a World Series Game 7. Thirty-six Game 7s had been played – and of them, only seven came after a team clawed back after being down 3-1. Five of those times the comeback kids won. Twice they didn’t. After Fowler’s home run, during which he ran backward between first and second while nodding to his dugout, the Cubs showed they were far more intent on being the former than the latter.
Bryant answered a third-inning Cleveland run with a pedal-to-the-medal run and slide on a ball just long enough for a sacrifice fly. The Cubs added another on a Willson Contreras double in the fourth, before the power returned and almost broke the game wide open. Javier Baez, who committed a pair of errors in the first three innings that personified the nerves that permeated the game, homered to lead off the fifth, chasing off Kluber and bringing on super-reliever Andrew Miller, who allowed a nine-pitch walk against Bryant to turn into a run when he was running on the pitch and sped home on a Rizzo single.
Maddon yanked his starter, Kyle Hendricks, with a runner on after 4 2/3 innings, handing the ball to ace Jon Lester, who allowed an infield hit that his personal catcher, David Ross, threw away to put runners on second and third. Lester then bounced a curveball that got past Ross and allowed both runners, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis, to score. The blowout was on hold.
Just not the Cubs’ lead. In the top of the sixth, Ross, the 39-year-old playing in his last major league game, launched a solo home run to center, the Cubs’ third of the night. Miller, unhittable for so long, proved fallible at the worst imaginable time. Chicago relished its 6-3 advantage, handing the ball over in the eighth inning to closer Chapman, the trade-deadline acquisition whom Epstein and Hoyer thought the final piece to round out their super-team.
Chapman couldn’t preserve the lead, and the Cubs needed Zobrist’s heroics in the 10th and Montgomery’s one-out save to close out their championship. They had delivered the karmic retribution to Cleveland, which so loudly mocked the Golden State Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals against the Cavs. They had proven their hope was not false bravado. The flame of what could be never was extinguished, not in the Cubs’ clubhouse – where before Game 5 “Rocky” and its sequels played on all the televisions – and not in Wrigleyville, where fans wrote messages on Wrigley Field’s brick façade saying they still believed.
The ancient stadium hosted the middle three games of the series, fans taking to the streets, holding signs that said “It’s Gonna Happen” and wearing shirts that referenced the end of the Curse of the Billy Goat, purportedly placed on the franchise by a local bar owner angered by the team refusing to let his hooved pet into the stadium. The fervor relented following losses in Games 3 and 4 but regenerated following a narrow victory in the fifth game and carried over to Cleveland.
While cinching the World Series outside of the North Side took away a hint of the sweetness, the entire scene in Cleveland, in Chicago, in Cubs-fan outposts around the country, was plenty saccharine. Tears were shed, friends were hugged, family was called. Twitter was a party. Facebook was abuzz. Instagram was dyed Cubbie blue. Phones recorded people signing “Go Cubs Go” and struggling to believe this really was happening.
It was over. No more curse. No more wait. No more agita. Just seven words of pure, unadulterated bliss.