But 2016 was the 108th year after their last title, and a baseball is sewn together with 108 stitches. This had to be the year.
On Wednesday night the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in a Game 7 for the ages. With that victory — yes, the following words are really true — the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
But it just couldn’t come easy, couldn’t be won without extra drama. The Cubs carried a 6-3 lead into the eighth inning, six outs away from a cathartic victory. But a double and a two-run home run by the Indians wiped out that lead and tied the game, and the deadlock held through the ninth inning.
Then the rain came. Of course. The top of the 10th inning was delayed for about 15 minutes by a deluge. But once it let up, the Cubs poured it on in the 10th inning, scoring 2 runs to provide the cushion they needed.
It is their third title in the World Series, a competition that was introduced in 1903, but this may be the sweetest and hardest-earned championship in the history of American sports. Making it even more sweet was that the Cubs trailed in the series by three games to one.
Upon the final out the players jumped and celebrated on the diamond while thousands of visiting Cubs fans screamed joyfully in the stands. Back in Chicago, where fans in the North Side of Chicago have waited generations for this day, revelers poured into the streets for party that will probably last days.
In Cleveland, a city with its own hard-luck sports history, the wait continues. The Indians have not won the World Series since 1948, and they now own the longest drought in baseball without a title. At least the Cleveland Cavaliers, many of whom were in attendance Wednesday at Progressive Field, broke Cleveland’s 52-year span without a major professional sports title by winning the N.B.A. championship in June.
For the Cubs, whose long history is riddled with the mythology of billy goat curses, black cats and a fan who was vilified for interfering with a foul ball, theirs is now a history of winning, and their identity changes forever.
Theo Epstein knows all about that. He is the Cubs’ top baseball decision-maker, the man who put together a team and an ethos capable of dashing history’s long reach.
Prior to joining the Cubs, Epstein was the general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2004, when that once-accursed franchise won its first World Series in 86 years. Red Sox and Cubs fans were the longest suffering at the time, and Epstein has given closure to both. — David Waldstein
Here’s an inning-by-inning breakdown of how the Cubs won Game 7:
Top of 10th: Rain Delay, Then Cubs Pounce
The Cubs are back in the lead thanks to Ben Zobrist, Miguel Montero, and a couple questional intentional walks.
After a brief rain delay, the game resumed with Kyle Schwarber facing off against Bryan Shaw. The Cubs’ designated hitter once again attacked the shift, hitting a grounder through the right side of the infield for his third hit of the game.
Albert Almora came in as a pinch-runner for Schwarber and the move paid off when Kris Bryant hit a deep flyout to center and Almora showed off some tremendous baserunning ability by tagging up and advancing to second.
With first base empty, Shaw intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo to get to Zobrist. The versatile veteran who won a World Series with Kansas City last year made him pay for it by driving in Almora with a double down the third-base line that energized the Cubs.
Shaw then issued another intentional walk, this one to Addison Russell, and with the bases loaded, Miguel Montero laced a single into left that drove in Chicago’s eighth run of the game.
Cleveland brought in Trevor Bauer with the bases loaded and one out, and the losing pitcher in Games 2 and 5 took care of business, striking out Jason Heyward and getting Javier Baez to fly out to center field to limit the damage.The Indians now have three outs to get back into the game.
Bottom of 9th: Chapman Shuts Down Indians in 9th
This game is headed to extra innings.
Aroldis Chapman was back out to start the bottom of the ninth despite having looked completely worn out in the eighth. He got Carlos Santana to fly out before ending up in a long battle with Jason Kipnis. He fired Kipnis a steady diet of sliders rather than his signature heater and ended up in a full-count before slamming the door with a 97.4-mph fastball. Francisco Lindor flied out to right, ending the inning.
Victor Mather: Extra-innings Game 7’s: 1924 Senators-Giants, 1991 Twins-Braves, 1997 Marlins- Indians. And tonight.
Top of 9th: Cubs’ Squeeze Doesn’t Work
With new life breathed into the Cleveland Indians, and rain starting to fall, Cody Allen walked the leadoff batter, David Ross, on five pitches. The Cubs looked to capitalize by bringing in Chris Coghlan as a pinch-runner for Ross, but he was erased on a force-out when Jason Heyward grounded to second base. Heyward then got something started by stealing his third base of the series, and advanced to third on a bad throw from Yan Gomes.
Michael Martinez was brought in as a defensive replacement in right field to help prevent a sacrifice fly from scoring a run, but Shaw took care of Javier Baez by striking him out on an awkward two-strike bunt attempt. That brought up Dexter Fowler, who had been one of the Cubs’ better hitters all game, and he laced a ball up the middle that looked like it would get through before Francisco Lindor chased it down behind second base and threw Fowler out at first.
The Indians now have a chance to win the game and the series at home in the bottom of the ninth.
Bottom of 8th: Tie Game!
A day after he was controversially brought into a blowout rather than being preserved for a Game 7 appearance, Aroldis Chapman proved to be human by giving up Chicago’s three-run lead in just two batters.
Jon Lester had gotten the first two outs of the inning but was pulled from the game after Jose Ramirez hit a ball up the middle that Addison Russell couldn’t quite handle.
Brought in for a four-out save, Chapman fired seven consecutive fastballs to Brandon Guyer, topping out at 100.3 miles per hour, but it was the last one that cost him as Guyer drove the ball to left–center for a double, bringing in a run. Chapman then imploded, allowing a two-run home run to Rajai Davis that tied the game and blew the save attempt. Coco Crisp piled on with a single but Yan Gomes, who had entered the game in the eighth inning, struck out to end the inning.
Chapman ended up throwing 21 pitches and looked like he was completely out of gas despite the radar gun indicating he still had his velocity.
Top of 8th: Allen Shuts Down Cubs
A dropped strike three forced a throw to first base, but Anthony Rizzo was easily retired to start the inning. Then Ben Zobrist looked completely overwhelmed by Cody Allen’s stuff before eventually grounding out to first. Addison Russell watched strikes one and two sail right past him before popping out to first base to end the inning. Allen has need just 17 pitches to record five outs.
Bottom of 7th: Lester Gets Job Done
Coco Crisp flied out to left to start the inning and then Jon Lester ran the count full against Roberto Perez before walking the catcher on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. Tyler Naquin came in as a pinch-runner for Perez before Carlos Santana hit a come-backer to Lester. The yips that have been a topic of conversation throughout the playoffs were in play as Lester barely looked at second before throwing underhand to first to get one out on a play that would have gotten two with almost any other pitcher on the mound. Lester did not end up paying for it as he struck out Jason Kipnis to end the inning.
Top of 7th: Cubs Chase Miller, but Fail to Score
Dexter Fowler improved to 3 for 4 by singling to start the inning. That brought Kyle Schwarber to the plate in a tough lefty-on-lefty matchup against Andrew Miller and the ace reliever won the battle, getting Schwarber to fly out to left.
But with that that, Miller’s day was over, with Terry Francona replacing him with the team’s closer, Cody Allen. Allen was able to strand the runner he inherited from Miller by striking out Kris Bryant, as Fowler was caught stealing after the pitch for a double play.
While Miller is not on the hook for a loss, the game was well below his standards. He threw 43 pitches in two and one-third innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs.
Bottom of 6th: Indians Come Up Short
Mike Napoli continued his struggles by striking out to lead off the half-inning. That brought up Jose Ramirez, and the third baseman grounded out to shortstop, nearly beating Addison Russell’s throw to first base that Anthony Rizzo made a great stretch on. Brandon Guyer came in as a pinch-hitter for Lonnie Chisenhall and he hit a two-out single to left, but Rajai Davis grounded out to strand him at first.
Victor Mather: Oct. 14, 1908. Bennett Park, Detroit. Orval Overall outdueled Wild Bill Donovan, and the Cubs won the World Series. They are nine outs away from doing it again.
Top of 6th: Ross Makes Up for Mistakes
David Ross helped erase some of the damage his defense had done in the previous inning by launching a one-out home run to center field that pushed Chicago’s lead back to 6-3. Jason Heyward was the second out of the inning when he grounded out to first, and Javier Baez struck out to end the inning.
Andrew Miller, who looked unhittable earlier in the playoffs, has now allowed two earned runs and gotten just four outs.
David Waldstein: I promise, were not making all this up. David Ross, who is playing in his last professional baseball game at age 39, who has played on 21 different professional teams at all levels, who is the elder statesman of the Cubs, just hit his first World Series home run. It came after a wild inning behind the plate where he made one error, then got punched in the mask by a bouncing wild pitch that allowed two runs to score. Is it meant to be?
Bottom of 5th: Lester and Ross Open Door for Indians
The move to bring in Jon Lester as a reliever had major implications for the Cubs, mostly because of the corresponding move to put in his personal catcher, David Ross. Because of two miscues by Ross, the Indians scored two runs, cutting Chicago’s lead in half.
Kyle Hendricks was allowed to come out to start the inning even though Jon Lester was ready in Chicago’s bullpen. He got a soft grounder to second from Coco Crisp for the first out, and struck out Roberto Perez for out two. But Hendricks walked Carlos Santana and his day was done, with Lester being summoned to face Jason Kipnis.
Kipnis hit a soft grounder that was fielded by Ross, but the veteran who had just entered the game, threw the ball well out of Anthony Rizzo’s reach, which resulted in Francisco Lindor coming up with runners on second and third with two outs. Lester threw a ball in the dirt that caromed off of Ross’s mask and as the catcher tried to go after it, he stumbled, taking so long to recover the ball that both runners scored.
Lester was able to strike out Lindor to end the inning, but the game certainly got more interesting.
Because Hendricks did not pitch five innings, he is not in line for the victory should the Cubs hold on.
David Waldstein: Lester (and to a lesser degree, Ross) coming into the game was supposed to be the Cubs’ Madison Bumgarner moment, but it looked more like an old-fashioned Cubs moment. Terrific, aggressive base running by Jason Kipnis to score from second base on a wild pitch. He never hesitated and made a beautiful slide under the tag, then got up and punched the air. Terrible inning by Ross, who made the error to allow Kipnis to get all the way to second, and then was staggered by the ball when the wild pitch hit him in the mask. It feels like a game again.
Top of 5th: Baez Ends Kluber’s Night
The Cubs extended their lead to four the hard way, by getting one apiece off of Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller.
Javier Baez took a hard cut at Kluber’s first pitch of the inning and crushed a home run, ending the ace’s night. Terry Francona immediately headed to the mound to replace him with Miller and start what could be a long night for the Indians’ bullpen.
Dexter Fowler was the first batter to face Miller and was not intimidated by the reliever, stroking a 1-2 slider into left for a single. But Kyle Schwarber gave Miller some help by grounding into a 6-4-3 double-play.
Kris Bryant came up with two outs and worked a full-count off of Miller. He somehow ended up drawing a walk on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, after seeing Miller’s “unhittable” slider on six consecutive pitches, and then was running on the pitch when Anthony Rizzo sliced a single to right. Bryant, running hard the entire way, was able to score and Rizzo reached second after the throw.
It looked like Chicago could do even more damage when Ben Zobrist hit a ball to deep center field, but Rajai Davis caught it on the warning track to end the inning. Miller, who the Indians would like to soak up at least a few innings, has already thrown 20 pitches.
David Waldstein: The Cubs are really swinging well now in the warm weather, much like they did in the regular season when they scored 808 runs, the most by a National League team at sea level (Red Sox had 878 runs, the Rockies 845). Perhaps it was only a matter of time, perhaps it was fatigue among the Indians’ pitchers, perhaps it was the addition of Schwarber lengthening the lineup. Even Baez, who was 4 for 26 with 4 singles (and 2 errors in Game 7) hit a home run off the previously impenetrable Kluber. They are even hitting Andrew Miller hard.
Victor Mather: If this were the last time the Cubs won the World Series, the game would be over. The decisive Game 5 of that Series, in 1908, lasted 1 hour, 25 minutes. No game in the series lasted more than 2:10.
Bottom of 4th: Hendricks Works Well With a Lead
Kyle Hendricks undoubtedly has an incredibly short leash from Joe Maddon, but he started things off well in the half-inning by retiring Jose Ramirez on a soft grounder to first base. He retired Lonnie Chisenhall on a soft fly to left for the second out, and got Rajai Davis to fly to right to end the inning. Hendricks has thrown just 50 pitches, but it would be surprising if he stayed in the game beyond the fifth inning.
David Waldstein: That was a great inning by Hendricks. One of the most important things in pitching is the shutdown inning after your team scores. Hendricks had his cleanest frame of the game and that was vital in terms of solidifying the lead and demoralizing the Indians. The tension and the excitement that was felt in this stadium just an inning ago has changed perceptibly. Now it feels just a tiny bit more like a sense of inevitability. The Cubs seem to be rolling ever since Game 5. Still a ways to go, though. The meat of the Indians’ order comes up at least two more times.
Top of 4th: Cubs Back on Top
A shallow pop-fly to center and some aggressive baserunning by Kris Bryant put the Cubs back in the lead. Willson Contreras tacked on an R.B.I. double and with a 3-1 lead, Chicago had some breathing room for the first time this game.
Bryant led off the inning by working a full-count against Corey Kluber, and on the eighth pitch of the at-bat he singled on a hard grounder to left. Anthony Rizzo was hit in the right shoulder by a pitch, bringing up Ben Zobrist with two runners on and no outs. He hit a grounder to first that Mike Napoli fielded and threw to Francisco Lindor who was covering second. Rizzo slid in under Lindor’s feet, but was ruled out even though Lindor’s foot may not have been on the bag.
That brought up Addison Russell with runners at the corners and he hit a shallow pop-up to center. Bryant, knowing that Rajai Davis does not have a strong throwing arm, broke for home as Davis caught the ball and he slid in just ahead of the tag from Roberto Perez.
Kluber looked like he had Contreras on the ropes with two outs, but the young catcher launched a 2-2 curveball into deep center that got over Davis’s head. Zobrist scored and Contreras got into second base easily. Kluber ended the bleeding by retiring Jason Heyward on a pop-out to shortstop.
David Waldstein: Now the Indians are making the miscues. The Cubs scored twice, but it could have been and maybe should have been zero. The Believelanders are feeling like Bereavelanders.
Victor Mather: Wilson Contreras, 1-for-17 coming into tonight, has probably been the Cubs’ worst Series performer. But he comes through to give the Cubs the 3-1 lead. His rookie season was a key part of the Cubs’ fine year; now he adds a big World Series R.B.I.
Bottom of 3rd: Indians Get Aggressive
The Indians tied the game thanks to a leadoff double, a well-placed bunt, and a run-scoring single. It looked like it could get far worse for the Cubs, but Kyle Hendricks once again worked his way around a few baserunners.
Coco Crisp got things started by showing some serious aggressiveness, lacing a ball into the left field corner and legging out a leadoff double. Hoping to take advantage of the baserunner by playing some small ball, the Indians had Roberto Perez bunt Crisp over to third. Carlos Santana then crushed a 1-0 curveball to right for a single, bringing Crisp home and tying the game.
With one run in, Jason Kipnis hit what looked like a double-play ball to shortstop. Addison Russell flipped to Javier Baez who dropped the ball, and all runners were ruled safe after a review of the play.
The defensive miscue set Cleveland up with runners on first and second with one out. But Francisco Lindor flied out to left and Mike Napoli lined out to third to end the threat.
Victor Mather: It’s been a tough Series for Napoli, who was 4-for-19 without an extra-base hit coming into this game, is 0 for 2 tonight and just missed his chance with men on first and second and two outs. It was a great advertisement for replay when the terrible out call on Santana at second was overturned. Baez never had it.
David Waldstein: The Indians are squaring up on Hendricks, so Cubs Manager Joe Maddon instructed Jon Lester to start warming up.
It was so important for the Indians to get back even, which is why they played for the one run. Some may have wanted the Indians to play for the big inning since they seemed to be on Hendricks, but Francona elected to draw even. Roberto Perez did a terrific job of executing the bunt with Rizzo only about 20 feet away from him. The Cubs, particularly Baez, are looking shaky.
Top of 3rd: Schwarber Runs Cubs Out of Inning
Javier Baez put a big swing on a 1-1 curveball but just missed as he flied out to left for the first out of the inning. Dexter Fowler, he of the leadoff home run, then jumped on the first pitch he saw from Corey Kluber in his second at-bat, but lined out to right. With two outs, Kyle Schwarber swung into the shift and punched the ball through the crowded right side of the infield. But Schwarber got greedy and tried to stretch the hit into a double and was thrown out easily at second base by Lonnie Chisenhall to end the inning.
Victor Mather: Maybe you aren’t a baseball fan. Well, Akron and Toledo are involved in some exciting college football MACtion on ESPN2. As you might expect, with an Indians World Series on the line, the crowd is sparse in Akron.
David Waldstein: Lonnie Chisenhall has had an adventurous World Series, but he has a great arm and Schwarber never should have challenged it, especially with a surgically repaired knee. The shenanigans in the outfield in Game 6 were mostly miscommunication and the fault of the center fielder, Tyler Naquin, and that is why he is on the bench.
Bottom of 2nd: Hendricks Helps Himself
The Indians had runners reach base twice in the half-inning but got nothing to show for it.
Jose Ramirez led off with a grounder that caromed off of Kyle Hendricks before rolling toward shortstop. With the ball coming at him fairly slowly, Addison Russell tried to barehand it but came up without the ball as Ramirez reached first. The play was ruled a single rather than an error, as Russell likely did not have a play. Ramirez, however, underestimated Hendricks’ ability to hold on runners and got picked off of first.
Lonnie Chisenhall singled, but Rajai Davis grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that was truly impressive considering Davis’s speed.
David Waldstein: Great play by the icy-veined Kyle Hendricks to pick off Jose Ramirez off first. But everyone knows Hendricks has a terrific pickoff move, so it is kind of unforgivable to get caught. That really messed up the inning because Chisenhall’s single would have put two runners on base with nobody out.
The Indians were very sloppy in Game 6 and cannot afford to do that again, especially with the Cubs’ batters getting warmed up in this weather.
Top of 2nd: Kluber Settles In
Kluber got through the inning in an efficient seven pitches. Addison Russell was the offensive star of Game 6 with a two-run double and a grand slam, but Corey Kluber was able to retire him in his first at-bat tonight on a towering popup to shortstop. Willson Contreras then hit a pitch into right-field foul territory that Lonnie Chisenhall tracked down with little effort. Jason Heyward shattered his bat popping out to shortstop.
David Waldstein: Kluber settles down to retire the last six batters, all on fly balls. Kluber is 12-1 in his last 14 starts at Progressive Field with a 1.87 earned run average, including postseason games. But this is the only time he has started three times in nine days. Now it’s up the the Indians hitters to get him back even.
Bottom of 1st: Indians Can’t Match Cubs’ Start
The Indians were not able to match the Cubs’ strong start to the game.
Leadoff man Carlos Santana crushed a liner to right on Kyle Hendricks’s first pitch, but it was right at Jason Heyward, who easily caught the ball for the first out. Jason Kipnis followed him and flailed meekly at a low changeup for strike three. Francisco Lindor then hit a grounder to second that appeared to be an easy out, but Javier Baez slipped when trying to throw from his knees, which allowed Lindor to reach safely. Hendricks was able to work around the error by inducing a broken-bat grounder to shortstop from Mike Napoli to end the inning.
Victor Mather: Hendricks last pitched in Game 3, when he threw 4 1/3 somewhat shaky innings, giving up six hits and two walks. But crucially, like the first inning tonight, he gave up no runs.
David Waldstein: Terry Francona was on a pregame humor jag, making jokes about how he had a dream after Game 6 that someone was breaking his ribs. He woke up to discover he had been sleeping on the TV remote and it was stuck in his ribcage. He also admitted he was dipping pretzels in peanut butter in bed and when he woke up there was peanut butter on his glasses. “My bedroom looked like a national disaster last night,” he said. Too much info?
Top of 1st: Fowler Crushes One
Corey Kluber is trying to become the first pitcher to win three starts in a single World Series since 1968, but he got off to a terrible start when Dexter Fowler launched the fourth pitch of the game over the center field wall, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead and quieting the Indians fans at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. It was the first leadoff home run ever in Game 7 of a World Series.
After Fowler’s blast, Kyle Schwarber hit a slow grounder to the right side of the infield. The Indians had the shift on, and Francisco Lindor, the shortstop, was able to field the ball, but Schwarber, running on a reconstructed knee, was able to beat the throw for an infield single.
Kris Bryant flied out to right for the first out of the game, and Anthony Rizzo followed him by flying out to center. Schwarber, who has three career stolen bases, surprised the Indians (and just about anyone watching) by stealing second with Ben Zobrist at the plate, but Kluber was able to get Zobrist to pop out to end the inning.
Kluber escaped having allowed just one run and kept his pitch count to 19, but it was hardly the start he was looking for.
David Waldstein: When Fowler hit that home run, I almost thought for a moment that Rajai Davis caught the ball on his jump because it seemed like the entire stadium erupted. But it was Cubs fans celebrating the home run. I have never seen this many visiting fans invade a baseball stadium for such a big game. Yes, you will see a lot of Yankees fans in Tampa in May, but this is Game 7 of the World Series. If it is not 50-50 between Cubs and Indians fans, then it is 40-60. In the section of the bleachers closest to center field, it appeared to be 80 percent Cubs fans.
Here’s What to Expect in Game 7
■ The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks will face off against Indians ace Corey Kluber. While Hendricks, who led the majors in earned run average, is no pushover, Kluber won Games 1 and 4 and will be attempting to become just the 13th pitcher to earn three victories in a single World Series. The last to do it was Randy Johnson with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, but one of Johnson’s wins came as a reliever. The last player to win three World Series starts was Mickey Lolich, who did it for the 1968 Detroit Tigers.
■ The Cubs have struggled to hit through must of the series, but Kris Bryant, the team’s best hitter, has found a groove. He homered in Game 5 and then went 4 for 5 with another home run in Game 6. The surge has helped all the hitters around him, as Cleveland finally has someone to fear. Should the Cubs win Game 7, Bryant would be a potential M.V.P. candidate.
■ Outfield miscommunication was a huge issue for Cleveland in Game 6, with a brutal misplay costing the Indians two runs in the first inning. It continued after the game with center fielder Tyler Naquin claiming both players called for the ball and right-fielder Lonnie Chisenhall saying neither did. Tonight, the Indians will start the veteran Rajai Davis, bringing some much-needed experience to the outfield.
■ Both managers have extreme faith in their closers, but Francona appears to have a bullpen advantage in Game 7 as a result of not using Andrew Miller or Cody Allen in the Game 6 blowout. Desperate to stay alive at all costs in that game, Joe Maddon endured some criticism for letting closer Aroldis Chapman throw 20 pitches to get four outs in a game that was never close. He insisted after the game that it would not affect Chapman’s availability tonight.
■ Weather could be an issue. According to The Weather Channel, the chance of precipitation increases steadily throughout the game, going from 5 percent at 8 p.m. to 15 percent at 9 a.m., 25 percent at 10 p.m. and 55 percent at 11 p.m. As rain-shortened games are not permitted in the postseason, the game has to go all nine innings. Considering the slow the pace of play for much of the postseason, a rain delay is certainly possible.
■ This is the first Game 7 since 2014, when the Giants beat the Royals in a taut encounter that featured a rare five-inning save by Madison Bumgarner. In 2011, the Cardinals rallied from a 2-0 first inning deficit to beat the Rangers, 6-2. Before that, you have to go back to 2002, when the Angels won their only World Series with a 4-1 win over the Giants.
Cubs Fans Invade Cleveland
Once again, the weather in Cleveland is a summery 69 degrees and thousands of nervous baseball fans have been roaming the streets of downtown in anticipation of a historic Game 7.
Progressive Field is overrun with Cubs fans. I spoke to a few who drove in today from Chicago and said that I-90 was saturated with vehicles full of Cubs fans making the five-and-a-half hour drive across Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. They said the rest stops were swarming with Cubs fans high-fiving one another.
The scene is set, batting practice is over, and in only a few minutes the game of the century will begin. Someone’s long, agonizing history will change within the next three or four hours, and someone else’s will trudge on as it has for decades.