If you are going to endure years, no, generations, of futility and heartbreak, then when you do finally win a championship, you might as well make it a memorable one.
The Chicago Cubs did just that, shattering their 108-year championship drought in epic fashion: with an 8-7, 10-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series that began Wednesday night, carried into Thursday morning and seemed to end all too soon.
After the Indians rallied with three runs in the eighth inning, including a two-run thunderbolt of a home run by Rajai Davis off closer Aroldis Chapman, and then a brief rain delay, the Cubs pushed two runs across in the 10th on Ben Zobrist’s double and Miguel Montero’s single.
The Indians got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Davis singled home Brandon Guyer, who had walked with two out against Carl Edwards Jr. But Mike Montgomery, the Cubs’ fifth pitcher of the night, got Michael Martinez to hit a slow roller to third base.
Kris Bryant scooped it up and threw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs poured out of the dugout and mobbed one another in the center of the diamond.
The heart-stopping end to the series was the Cubs’ third straight victory over the Indians, allowing them to become the first team to rally from a three-games-to-one deficit in the Series since Kansas City in 1985, and the first to do it on the road since Pittsburgh in 1979.
But they did not so much beat the Indians as survive them. In this matchup of long-suffering franchises who shared the longest World Series droughts in baseball, the Indians’ drought will last longer.
They have not won since 1948, and the excruciating way in which they suffered the defeat with three consecutive losses will take its place atop a list that until now was topped by the 1997 World Series, when the Indians lost a ninth-inning lead, and eventually the Series, to the Florida Marlins.
The crowd of 38,104 was evenly split and spent the evening alternating full-throated roars. Not even the 17-minute rain delay in the 10th inning dampened their spirits. When the tarp was removed from the field, Kyle Schwarber began the 10th with a single to right off reliever Bryan Shaw, and Albert Almora pinch-ran for him. Bryant, who had homered in the previous two games, drove a ball deep to center that Davis caught on the warning track.
It was far enough to allow Almora to tag up and take second. Shaw then walked Rizzo intentionally.
Zobrist then sliced a double into the left-field corner that scored Almora and sent Rizzo to third. The usually composed Zobrist wildly pumped his fists and screamed as he arrived at second base ahead of the throw. After Addison Russell was intentionally walked, Montero followed with a single that brought home Rizzo. It was all the Cubs would get as Trevor Bauer came on to strike out Jason Heyward and retire Javier Baez on a fly ball to center. To win, the Cubs beat two of the most dominant pitchers in this post-season, the Indians’ ace, Corey Kluber, and their versatile reliever Andrew Miller, who gave up more runs in Game 7 than they had allowed throughout the playoffs. Then they had to bounce back after Davis’ home run.
It was the latest moment that the Cubs, who won 103 games in the regular season, the most in baseball showed their mettle throughout the playoffs. In the division series they rallied from four runs down in the ninth inning to eliminate San Francisco, which had won 10 consecutive elimination games. After being shut out for 21 consecutive innings by Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series, they rebounded to win three in a row, beating Clayton Kershaw in the clincher.
When the Cubs came to Wrigley Field on Sunday knowing they would have to win three in a row, Rizzo lightened the mood. He arranged for the “Rocky” movies to be played on all the televisions in the clubhouse and then shadow boxed around the room while half dressed.
Rizzo’s message: The series was going the distance. The glow around the Cubs has largely cast the Indians as foils, just as they have been throughout the playoffs as they sent Boston’s David Ortiz into retirement and then quieted Toronto’s brash sluggers who were carrying the flag for Canada.
But the Indians are a compelling story themselves. They began the season with an $86 million payroll, the 24th highest in baseball, and played before fewer fans than every team but Oakland and Tampa Bay. They lost two players to performance-enhancing drug suspensions and have been without their most established player, outfielder Michael Brantley, for almost the entire season. On the eve of the playoffs, they lost two of the American League’s more formidable pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. (Salazar has returned in a limited relief role for the World Series.) Once the playoffs began, the starter Bauer cut his pinkie trying to repair a drone.
They found themselves down, 6-3, in the eighth and down to their final four outs. The Cubs had built their lead thanks to solo home runs by Dexter Fowler, who hit Kluber’s fourth pitch of the game, Baez and David Ross, the 39-year-old catcher who was playing in the final game of his 15-year career.
Chapman was called upon with one out and a runner on first after Jon Lester, who started two games in the Series, had thrown three innings of relief for Kyle Hendricks. But Chapman, who had thrown 42 pitches on Sunday and 20 on Tuesday, appeared to be pitching on fumes.
After a double by Guyer brought the Indians within 6-4, Davis ripped a 97-mph fastball, far off Chapman’s best, to left field. As it cleared the wall, Davis pumped his fists as he raced around the bases and the crowd, which included LeBron James, erupted. Davis was surely relieved as well, after a couple of fielding miscues allowed the Cubs two early runs.
But all Davis’ hit did was get the Indians even. In the top of the ninth, Heyward stole second and reached third on catcher Yan Gomes’ throwing error, leaving Baez at the plate with the count full and one out. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, known for his bold decisions, called for a safety squeeze trying to get the go-ahead run home. But Baez, who had earlier homered, fouled the pitch off and was out. Heyward was stranded when Francisco Lindor ranged up the middle to gather in Fowler’s grounder and throw him out. The score was tied going into the bottom of the ninth, and extra innings loomed.
New York Times