The Chicago Cubs are 2016 World Series Champions and the ride was about as imperfect, improbable and ultimately as perfect as it could have been.
Throughout the postseason I’ve documented some of my personal insight of the Chicago Cubs 2016 postseason. This is a 4,336-word narrative as we look back over the past five days, including one bold prediction.
I don’t know what anyone expected going into the postseason. The Chicago Cubs breezed through the 2016 regular season with relative ease, winning the Central by a mere 17.5 games. Their only real blip occurred just before the All-Star Break, but they were a wire-to-wire first place team.
From winning Game 1 against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS nearly a month ago, to capturing the clubs’ first World Series Championship, I think there were maybe two games the entire playoffs I wasn’t nervous.
I’ve always figured the Cubs winning the World Series would have to be dramatic. The 2004 Boston Red Sox found their drama one round before in the ALCS coming back from a 3-0 deficit, becoming the first baseball team to pull off the feat. The World Series came in a perfect sweep over Chicago’s rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 2005 Chicago White Sox ended their drought, dating back to 1917 with such ease and domination, there was no drama. They swept the Astros and nearly ran the table in October, going 11-1. Except for going down 1-0 in the ALCS versus the Los Angeles Angels, there was never much doubt what that team could do. No drama is good for the fan of the team. The drama that played out during Game 7 between the Cubs and Cleveland Indians will be talked about for a long time.
Everything that played out culminates among the storylines of a century. In what’s already being billed as the best game ever, and for what will go down as one of the better World Series anyone alive can say they witnessed, it really couldn’t have been scripted any better.
Let’s go back to Saturday, October 29th
The Cubs are trailing Cleveland 2-1 in the World Series. Folk hero Corey Kluber is making his second start of the season, already dominating the Cubs in Game 1. Kluber dominated the Cubs offense in his first start, and now enter Game 4 coming off their second shutout of the series the night before, and forth of the postseason.
They have to win tonight or the series is over, I told my dad. He agreed.
Cubs lost. They had a lead and gave it up rather easily, early in the game. Still early enough to come back, but instead the Tribe kept coming at them. I had been watching the game with my parents downstairs, like most of the series, but I had decided to go up to my room and lie down. I laid on my bed in the dark, the only light coming from the glow of the TV.
Down 3-1 in that game, I didn’t rule out the comeback. The Cubs had proven so much already that they are capable of coming back, doing so every step of the way in the playoffs, and the second-most times to the Texas Rangers in the regular season when entering the 9th trailing. Then it was 4-1 when Lonnie Chisenhall hit a sac fly to score Francisco Lindor. I closed my eyes and when I woke up it was 7-1.
A Dexter Fowler home run late cut the score to 7-2 but there was no doubt the Cubs were going to be on the brink. I knew the Cubs had to win Game 4 because going down 3-1 was less than ideal. I was pretty pissed off at the Cubs. I kept thinking back throughout the course of the season. This team had dominated. If they don’t win this year, what would next season even matter? If they can landslide the competition and still come up short, it wouldn’t matter what this team did until the next October. We’ve seen teams got hot in the final weeks of the season, just scraping by before ultimately winning the prize.
After the final out, I said screw it, we’ll just win in 7.
Sunday, October 30th
It was officially my birthday. I was scouring Facebook in the early hours of that Sunday morning, reading posts from confident Indians fans. One in particular that dedicated a post to being World Champions. Pity the fool.
All season I was afraid to get too confident. Now with the season hanging in the balance, I boldly predicted we’d run the table the rest of the way. I believed that. There was no point in playing coy and beating around the bush. We had nothing to lose.
Down 3-1 in the series, only to still have two final games on the road if we could even survive Game 5 Sunday night could prove too much to bear. Instead, the way I saw it, the pressure was square on the Indians now. Up 3-1, everyone was going to pick them to win. This wasn’t as much a typical here we go again, Cubs as it was a really good team in Cleveland proving they were, so far, the team to beat.
We throw Lester tonight. He gets us going, this is why we got him. The offense will score off Bauer.
I don’t remember feeling too nervous as Game 5 went underway. Lester was dealing early, pumping strike after strike. Then a mistake to Jose Ramirez.
I still wasn’t nervous because it was only one. The Indians were exploding in the dugout, knowing full-well how close they were. In the 4th inning still down 1-0, FOX analyst John Smoltz said the Cubs, “Need to put something on the board right here.” Boom. Ka-Boom, Kris Bryant, did with a home run to left-center, tying the score and providing the jolt the Cubs needed.
We knew, everyone knew, the game was a race to five innings. Andrew Miller represented a vaunted Indians bullpen that had proved lethal in the playoffs. Cleveland had rewritten the book on playoff managing, led by their own curse-breaking skipper Terry Francona from the 2004 Red Sox.
Baseball is a funny game. All season a team can dominate, with seemingly no glaring issues. Then everything becomes magnified in October. Often utilizing a four-man rotation, and in the Indians case a three-man come playoff time, teams are throwing their best pitchers at all times. Each pitch so much more important than the last, and every managing move so scrutinized. The days of starters going the distance practically extinct. For every great starter, more teams rely on their bullpen specialists to gather the outs.
We’ve seen Randy Johnson come into close Game 7 of the 2001 World Series–still considered by many to be the greatest World Series–against the New York Yankees. Madison Bumgarner became an instant playoff legend with his gutsy performance in Game 7 against the Kansas City Royals in 2014. But you never see a World Series in which no starter went more than six innings.
Literally. It’s never been done. Until now.
In the regular season, it’s a manager’s dream-scenario to get into the other team’s bullpen early in a game, the exact opposite playing out in this series. Cleveland knew if they could get five innings with a lead and their starter, it was virtually game over with the combination of Miller/Shaw/Allen, talking about Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and closer Cody Allen. Miller had gone multiple innings so much this postseason bridging the middle innings gap. He very well might have been the most famous middle reliever in baseball history, claiming the ALCS MVP against the Toronto Blue Jays.
That Bryant home run in Game 5 was the spark that ignited the Cubs and their offense, putting three up in the inning. Closer Aroldis Chapman pitched the final eight outs of the game, a move that definitely brought the nerves back as I watched on. He’d already expressed his dismay for pitching multiple innings, and he’d already let inherited runners score that postseason.
“I didn’t expect to come in so early, but I mentally prepared myself. I was ready to come in at a moment’s notice.”
Domination. One Indians hit and that was it. Cubs win 3-2 and live to see another day. Happy Birthday to me. One down, two to go.
Monday, October 31st
It was now Halloween, and as Wrigleyville celebrated with another blaring rendition of Go Cubs Go, heard a mile away, it was standard operating procedure for the Cubs. Joe Maddon had brought his trickery to Chicago, but also his good-natured fun and calming influence. Known for cross-country themed road trips and wearing PJ’s on the plane, the Cubs players were practically ordered to go Trick-or-Treating with their families and get a Halloween costume for the late plane trip to Cleveland that Halloween night.
That was the sense of utter normalcy and sheer calmness that was another underrated attribute for a team in anything seen as less than a normal predicament. That the players, down 3-2, could be joking with one another about buying a Halloween costume as they prepared to pull off something that had only been done five times in history, and not since 1979, on the road. Overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to win the World Series.
Jake Arrieta was the perfect pitcher going for the Cubs. His Game 2 performance went unmatched by his Cleveland counterpart, and in history going back to 1969, as he twirled a no-hit bid for 5 1/3 innings, the longest since Jerry Koosman for the New York Mets.
If you know your Cubs history, it just figures something would tie to the ’69 Mets.
Arrieta was just as good in Game 6. It helped to take the pressure off when Chicago scored three out of the gate. The Addison Russell grand slam off Dan Otero in the third inning all but sealed the looming Game 7 fate.
Two down, one to go.
Throughout the postseason I’d have countless nights where I know I tossed and turned anxiously waiting for the next night’s game. Whether excitement or a bundle of nerves, Game 7 couldn’t get here fast enough.
I was definitely nervous. I liked our chances with Kyle Hendricks. Our offense had shown life. And I wasn’t all that fazed with the prospects of facing Kluber for the third time. Despite his impeccable resume of four wins, gaudy 0.89 ERA, his next quest came in the form of becoming the first pitcher to start and win three World Series games since 1968. The first to win three World Series games since Randy Johnson did it with the 2001 Diamondbacks.
This was another case of a great pitcher being talked about to no end by the media. We went through that with Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS. The Cubs led that series 3-2, but the Dodgers could lean on Kershaw who had dazzled them in Game 2 with a 1-0 shutout. In both Game 6 against the Dodgers, and now Game 7, Hendricks got the ball for Chicago, and he had already dominated the Dodgers in that pennant-clinching game. Kershaw was not vintage regular season Kershaw, but the old Kershaw that people thought exorcised the playoff demons. Or rather, the Dodgers went to the well too much with him, and I believed the Indians were doing the same with Kluber.
I knew the Cubs had to score early and often as that rested Indians bullpen stood to wait. Shaw and Allen hadn’t pitched since Sunday. Miller since Saturday. Rested or rusty?
To contrast, Chapman had pitched the final eight outs Sunday and then pitched 1 1/3 innings Tuesday night. Just like I warn against overusing Kershaw and Kluber, Chapman was undoubtedly tired and the Indians had also seen quite a bit of him.
Chicago getting the scoring started with a Dexter Fowler lead-off homer was the perfect Game 7 start. But this reality show is just getting started. Indians tie it in the 3rd, and suddenly a 4th inning that plays more like a late-inning regular season game looms all because we know who’s waiting out in the Indians bullpen.
Right on cue, the Cubs strike gold. Russell’s sac fly gives the Cubs a 2-1 lead and Wilson Contreras’ double extends the lead. I want more runs. Hendricks is easily in another groove and it’s clear Kluber is less than advertised as he exits the first start of his career that doesn’t include a strikeout. This is the same guy that set a World Series record striking out eight of the first nine batters he faced in Game 1.
Javier Baez had made a legendary name for himself this postseason, with is defensive trickery and offensive heroics. But he had made two errors in this Game 7. Home run, 4-1 Cubs. Still need more runs. Anthony Rizzo brings Bryant around and now with a 5-1 lead and a dominating Hendricks on the mound, this thing is in our grasp. Still not ready to celebrate, still wanting more runs and only less nervous, I was definitely confident.
In the bottom of the 5th Hendricks is still dealing, even when he just misses a strike call and walks Carlos Santana. Here comes Joe to the mound. Hendricks 2016 season is over. For much of the postseason, the Twitter critics and TV analysts and arm-chair GM’s hee’d and hawed at idiot Maddon and his over-managing or panicking.
Though the strike Hendricks just missed with two outs and a four-run lead barely seemed to signify any real threat, perhaps Maddon saw something from Kyle, or rather the Indians hitters that could potentially lead to something greater. Unsung hero Jon Lester was coming in. Though he just pitched two nights before, it’s all hands on deck for Game 7 of the World Series. You can rest tomorrow. Lester coming in means it’s also time for his longtime catching partner David Ross to come back out for one more appearance before he retires.
Lester was wild.
Whether it stems from his long warmup sessions in the bullpen, coming into a Game 7 or coming into a dirty inning, something Maddon expressed his unwillingness to do, the inning was in Lester’s hands. The 5-1 lead, hardily a stranglehold, evaporated when a wild pitch in the dirt bounced and ricocheted off Ross’ face mask. Ross’ feet went out from under him and by the time he recovered to get the ball it was 5-3.
Well if Baez can make his amends with the home run after two errors, so can Ross. 6-3, top 6th. Storybook, poetic justice for a celebrated backup catcher to hit a home run in his final game.
Lester was cruising into the 8th inning. With two outs and after a single that got up the middle that Russell wasn’t able to field, here came Chapman. He was responsible for the last four outs. Brandon Guyer, a player acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, and one Joe Maddon managed, was at the plate. Guyer worked a tough at-bat, beating Chapman and taking him to right field scoring the Tribe’s fourth run. Now I was more nervous.
Rajai Davis, 0-3 and pinch-hitting, was up representing the tying run.
“I’m thinking I’m going to win this battle. I just felt like this was going to be a fight that I was going to win” said Davis via Anthony French, USA TODAY.
Drove into left! were the words by Joe Buck. The ball down where Davis wanted it and crushed it to left over the wall.
Shock? Anger? Numbness. Utter numbness. 6-6, bottom 8th. I was hating Chapman but no one felt worse than him.
Chapman regrouped for the final out and now we were tied. I said aloud to no one in particular, that it was time to forget all that happened to that point. Just get a run in the 9th. Because the thought of the Indians having an opportunity to walk-off in the final at-bat was terrifying.
The reality of the situation was the Cubs had come back already, numerous times this postseason. Living by the bend but not break philosophy. No one said it would be easy, and it was as if this had to happen this way. No easy sweep reminiscent of their ’05 crosstown rivals. I always imagined it would take something dramatic for the Cubs to win it all. Short of it being the Cubs and Red Sox before their drought ended, short of a bottom of the 9th, two outs, bases loaded with an earthquake on the final pitch, we may as well have lived through that last night.
In the 9th the Cubs worked a walk and Allen was proving less effective as his pitch count rose. In came Chris Coughlan to pinch run for Ross, officially ending Ross’ career. Jason Heyward was up, having the utmost of opportunities to deliver his biggest hit of the season. It’s no secret expectations did not come to fruition for Heyward and the Cubs in year one of his blockbuster contact. But here he was with a chance to remove all postseason frustration with one swing.
He fought off new reliever Shaw but ultimately grounded out. Cogs out at second, Heyward on first. I knew Heyward would steal and when he made it to 3rd thanks to an error by Yan Gomes, the potential winning run was 90 feet away. Baez had a full count on him and though he had pulled off magical bunts in the past, the squeeze in that situation failed him. Potentially failed the Cubs.
Foul ball strike three.
Fowler now at the plate, and had what I thought was the go-ahead RBI single up the middle. But instead a great grab at the ball for out three. I knew Chapman couldn’t possibly enter the ninth. He had absolutely nothing left when he came in the 8th. But there he was. The season officially hanging in the balance and on his shoulders. Now I’m the most nervous of the night. The season.
There was no world-defining earthquake but there was the call for tarp as the game entered my worst nightmare scenario. Extra innings.
I thought about everything to that point and how it was potentially a good thing for the Cubs. The rain delay only lasted 17 minutes and I figured there was a chance this could interfere with the Indians pitcher. Any momentum could be affected.
12:15 am Game Resumes
The Cubs had to score now. Schwarber worked a single to right. Just out of the hands of the shift.
*Raises arms in joy*
In comes Albert Almora Jr. to pinch run. Thanks for everything Schwarbs. I’m pleading with Bryant to get on base. A deep fly out to center, which made me think it was a home run, fell into the glove of Davis. Almora however, tagged up at second, making the Bryant at-bat a success.
Rizzo is intentionally walked and Zobrist, another Maddon-ite from the Tampa days, is at the plate. A knack for the clutch hit, a member of the 2015 World Champion Royals and a guy who came to Chicago for this purpose.
RBI double through diving gloves on the left side. 7-6. Shaw is done and Trevor Bauer, the Indians’ Game 2 and 5 starter, perhaps more infamously known for his drone accident during the ALCS, is in. The decision to intentionally walk Russell to load the bases brings in Miguel Montero, the veteran catcher’s role largely reduced by the youth of Wilson Contreras and even Schwarber from a year ago, but delivered the biggest hit of his career with a go-ahead and eventual game-winning grand slam against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Single to left. 8-6. Now I’m ecstatic but I want more. Heyward is up with the bases loaded and you gotta think, that this would be the most perfect, career-defining time for Heyward to get that big hit. As much grief as he’s taken, there isn’t a bigger professional as far as accepting his reduced role in the playoffs. He could use this hit.
Strikeout. Baez flew out to end the inning. I’m confident and nervous.
Carl Edwards Jr. is on for the three biggest outs of his career, the entire franchise existence, and fans everywhere.
Two outs. This is going to be it.
Pesky Guyer up and he works the walk.
Couldn’t be more nervous.
Guyer takes second, with Davis, the 8th inning hero trying to do it again.
Base hit, 8-7. Mike Montgomery is coming in for the final out. A reliever acquired from the Seattle Mariners July 20th, five days before Chapman came along. No way he could have envisioned being in Game 7 of the World Series and nailing the final out for the Cubs. This was the exact reason a guy like Chapman is acquired!
The winning run is now represented at the plate. A part of me could see it ending in the most chilling, cruelness of ways. But then a soft grounder to third. Bryant is an excellent third baseman who usually handles all balls his way. He made two rare errors in Game 4. So it was only fitting that he fielded the last out over to his lineup mate, Rizzo.
Thursday, November 3rd, 12:48 am
Thinking back on it, the rain delay was probably the most symbolical, apropos aspect that could have happened. We’ve heard about all the fans that longed to see the Cubs win the World Series. Loved ones that didn’t make it. Now it was tears of joy. The iconic Harry Caray, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks were up in the sky, but perhaps it took a little magic from them.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) November 3, 2016
After the game, it was mentioned how Heyward regrouped the troops during the brief delay. Obviously he could have been bitter about his play and as a result his lack of playing time. But the team was what shined through everyone. Whether it was in a team-defining series against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS facing the prospects of a decisive Game 5, getting shut out in back-to-back games against the Dodgers or being forced to rally down 3-1 on the road in the World Series.
The 2016 Cubs overcame 108 years of misfortune, bad luck, bad management, Steve Bartman–not his fault–and goats. The storylines of the World Series going in reached unparalleled, monumental heights. Disney would have thought a similar script to be too cheesy. With the World Series now over, there’s even more symmetry. Let’s count them.
- Theo vs Francona: The man hired to break the curse in 2004. Maddon was also hired for those 2004 Red Sox.
- Schwarber vs Miller: Before the Cubs swung a trade for Chapman, the Yankees tried to urge the Cubs into taking Miller for Schwarber.
- Chapman vs Miller: The dynamic duo began the year as teammates with the Yankees.
- 1908 vs 1948: The two largest droughts in baseball.
- Ross retiring at the end of the season.
- Fowler spurning a multi-year offer from the Baltimore Orioles to come back to the Cubs on a 1-year deal, surprising teammates one day in Arizona during Spring Training.
- The final box score: 10 + 8 = 108.
- 108 stitches on a baseball.
- The Cubs clinched the World Series on November 3rd, exactly two years prior to the day Maddon was officially introduced as Cubs manager.
- The Indians are now 0-2 in Game 7’s of the World Series–both seasons there were two ties in the NFL.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 series deficit in June to win the NBA Title. Indians lose 3-1 series lead.
The mettle of the Cubs was tested. They won the regular season in dominating fashion but history was always against them in one way or another. Even possessing the best record in the sport, the Cubs are the first team to win over 100 games and win the World Series since the 2009 Yankees. They are the first team to be shut out four times and win the World Series, breaking the Dodgers record of three shutout losses in 1981. They had to get through Bumgarner, Kershaw, Kluber and the rest. They snapped the Giants winning streak in elimination games, going back to 2002 when a kid named John Lackey pitched the Angels past the Giants in the World Series.
Down 3-1, the cardiac-Cubs were just getting started. I said the series was just beginning. Joe’s slogan of “Try Not To Suck” culminated into “We Didn’t Suck.” The fact that the season came down to one pitch in Game 7 of the World series was exactly the most fitting way it would have to end. It was the right matchup, the right everything.
As probable as the Cubs winning might have been based on Las Vegas odds before the season, there’s no way a script could have written this tale. Back To The Future tried. Of course the Cubs, or particularly its fans, ultimately had to be tested on this rollercoaster, through the ultimate mindset that it might not happen. The resurgent Giants and Dodgers did everything they could. The Cubs had to ultimately go through the Indians very best when it mattered most. Checkmate. Their 102-mph fireballer had to give up the game-tying runs. There had to be the most improbable pitchers getting the final three outs. There had to be extra innings and rain and a down to the final out chance for both teams. It couldn’t be anything but improbable for even the most probable favorites.
One hero, one goat
Thursday, November, 3rd, 3:30 am
My dad went to bed at 9:00 pm during Game 7 because he had to get up at 3:00 for work. I was tired but too jacked up following the game to go to bed. Plus I wanted to tell him how the game went. I didn’t say who won, I just showed him the highlights via YouTube, highlighting each aspect aloud, the good, the bad, the rain, and then the celebration played before us.
RIP 1908 Cubs. RIP billy goats, Billy Sianis, black cats, all the previous Cubs teams and Cubs fans everywhere 1909-2015.