It is not often that we get to watch history unfold in front of our eyes. Rather, the greatest moments in history are usually those moments that are unexpected; when the improbable scenario creates the impossible moment and miracles are believed in. Starting Wednesday night November 2nd 2016 and finishing early Thursday morning, the Chicago Cubs became the champions of the world when they beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings in Game 7 of the World Series for the first time since 1908. Greatest game ever? Greatest World Series ever? Or something more profound.
This is a baseball blog, so I won’t be taking into account other sports championship series for discussion. That said the history of the World Series simply has much more to offer. The NBA Finals has been around since 1947, the SuperBowl turned 50 this year, while the 2016 World Series was the 112th edition. As the Cubs battled the Indians throughout Game 7, all that history was evident in tangible ways.
Furthermore no other sport has a team like the Cubs. Endearing losers. Beloved by their fans with the highs and lows. A history of almosts. The Browns are the only team I can think of with a losing history anywhere close, and their fans are known more for bags over their heads than being lovable.
When it comes to Game 7 of the World Series, after a League Championship series best of 7, after a Division Series of 5, and possible since 2012 a one game Wild Card playoff, after a season of a mind numbing one hundred and sixty two games…we expect something special to happen. It is the penultimate moment when we are pushed beyond our physical and mental faculties and only guile and resolve remains.
Baseball is the sport with no time limit. As Early Weaver notes you can’t just take a knee and run out the clock; you have to throw the ball over the plate and make the plays. There is no cheating the final out in baseball, and the Cubs of 2016 certainly had to earn it.
This World Series had already seen its share of surprises. The Indians, who lost two core starting pitchers before the post season, had relied on their talented bullpen including super reliever Andrew Miller to pitch their way through the playoffs and see an offense play beyond itself to get to a 3-1 World Series lead.
Thirty four times before in World Series history teams had taken a 3-1 lead, and only 5 teams before had they failed to finish it off. Make that six.
Why was the game itself so great? Not just how the game went, but who was involved and the stories of how they got there and what they meant to the team.
Dexter Fowler led off the game for the Cubs with a home run. First lead-off Game 7 home run in history. Dexter Fowler who was a free agent last off-season and reportedly had signed a deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Until he strolled into spring training with the Cubs and the team celebrated. Everyone made out well on that one.
The Cubs had built a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the 5th. Indians starter Corey Kluber was not as sharp as he had been in Games 1 and 4, trying to pitch Game 7 and win one more game.
Kyle Hendricks, who started the season as the 5th starter for the Cubs but ended up leading the league in ERA was on the mound and things were going well. Then Manager Joe Maddon, known for his unorthodox managing moves made another one that could have gone down on the wrong side of history. He brought in starting pitcher Jon Lester after a walk with some questionable pitch calls.
Jon Lester, who sports a 4-1 record with a 1.77 ERA in the World Series, was brought in to help in the post season, but this? He promptly proved the second guesser’s point by allowing an infield single and a wild pitch that brought in two runs. Now the score was just 5-3. With Lester coming in came backup catcher David Ross as well.
David Ross debuted in 2002 and ended up hitting his first career home run in a blowout game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pitching that night was first baseman Mark Grace. Now, when the Cubs needed him most he provided a home run in the 6th inning off of Andrew Miller no less. First home run of his career: Mark Grace. Final one: Andrew Miller. Just as you expected, right?
With the score now safely again 6-3 and Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, any other fans but Cubs fans would have breathed a sigh of relief. Except visions of black cats, goats, Leon Durham and Steve Bartman kept flashing in front of their eyes.
Lester pitched well into the 8th, before allowing a hit after getting two outs to start the inning. Four more outs is all that the Cubs needed to erase 108 years of disappointment. It did not go well. He was greeted by a Brandon Guyer double before up came Rajai Davis.
What Rajai Davis did next might have added to my list of top moments that were almost famous because of how the game ended, but it doesn’t take away from what he accomplished in that moment. He led the league in steals this season at 37 years old but choking up on his bat against the 100 MPH throwing (this night more like 98) closer Chapman he got a hold of one and sent it over the wall in left field. The game was now tied! Cubs fans left living rooms everywhere in agony, but the drama wasn’t over yet.
After a scoreless 9th inning the rains came down and the tarps were rolled out onto the field. It was as if heaven didn’t know who should win this game, or perhaps the drama so dense it would be deemed a sin to end it.
Whatever the case, the Cubs took the moment to regroup. Jason Heyward, the free agent signing was was benched to start this World Series after a miserable season at the plate gathered up his Knute Rockne and told the Cubs to stay within themselves. When the game resumed, they did just that.
The Indians went to the third of their relieving triumvirate in Cody Allen. Kyle Schwarber, who played all of one game before being activated for this World Series started things off with a single. Albert Almora Jr came in to pinch run for the Ruthian Schwarber and as Kris Bryant hit one deep to center field, Almora Jr leaped into action to take second base on the sacrifice fly.
With a base open, Anthony Rizzo was walked to bring up Ben Zobrist, a creation of Joe Maddon in his Tampa Bay days and 2015 World Champion with the Kansas City Royals. He was part of the Royals team that brought their first championship since 1985. That ’85 team was the last World Series team to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Now Zobrist honed in on his gameplan and hit the ball the opposite way, bringing in Almora Jr from second and sending Rizzo to third. Two batters later, the third catcher of the night for the Cubs, Miguel Montero, singled in another run for his first hit since his grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS. A two run lead going into the bottom of the 10th, but with Chapman tired and relatively ineffective who would pitch for the Cubs in the most important inning of the franchise history?
Rookie Carl Edwards Jr, at 25 a representation of the young talent the Cubs have stockpiled in their rebuild got first crack at things. He ended the party at Napoli’s with a strikeout before Jose Ramirez grounded out. Two outs. One to go. The last one is always the hardest one.
Brandon Guyer drew a walk, and that offensive foe Rajai Davis singled him home after Guyer took second. The lead was down to one. That was all for Edwards Jr, someone else would have to get the final out. Who would Maddon trust? Who wouldn’t wilt under the pressure of 108 years weighing down? Somewhere in Chicago Steve Bartman let out a whimper.
That duty fell to Mike Montgomery, who had never before saved a major league game. Part of the original Wil Myers to Tampa Bay trade in 2012. Now he came on with Chicago both believing in him more than ever and preparing for disaster.Michael Martinez hit a roller to third base, where it was only fitting that franchise cornerstone Kris Bryant would field the ball and throw it to fellow foundation-mate Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs had won the World Series. Late Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray said it best: “Holy Cow! Cubs Win!”.
Best game ever played? Best series ever played? Those were the questions we sought out to answer as we began our analysis of this game. Can we come to a conclusion after a recap of the events that got us to a final score of 8-7?
There wasn’t a signature emotional moment that ended it, though Ben Zobrist’s go-ahead hit certainly helped build his case for Series MVP. No Kirk Gibson fist pump, no Mazeroski Game 7 walk off or even a Carlton Fisk waving it fair moment. No ball through Buckner’s legs moment, Don Larsen perfect game, or even a Jack Morris pitching 10 innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series accomplishment.
Yet what it lacked for in exceptional baseball it made up for in exceptional stories. David Ross, who carried this group of young Cubs all season long finishing it out with a home run. It was Andrew Miller carrying the Indians along when their starters could not all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Two of the games best managers in Joe Maddon and Terry Francona pulling out all the stops and all of their players as they tried to find that edge. It was those moves failing, like Lester’s wild pitch but then redeeming itself as the second move of putting in Ross paid off the next inning. It was 176 years of championship-less history chasing both teams and refusing to make any team forget about it
For all of those reasons, Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was the most meaningful baseball game of all time.