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A good way to end a drought: Be the best team

Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, left, and

Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, left, and manager Joe Maddon celebrate after Game 7 of the World Series Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. Credit: AP / David J. Phillip

Though it made for an easy narrative as the Cubs stacked title-less season upon title-less season like cordwood, their hundred-plus-year drought never was about the supernatural.

Neither goats — real or the human kind — nor black cats nor Bartmans kept the Cubs from a World Series crown.

No, professional sports’ longest drought without a championship — which ended early Thursday morning when the Cubs beat the Indians, 8-7, in an all-time Game 7 — was the product of the simplest and least sexy of narratives: From the time the franchise won its last title, 1908, until this season, it wasn’t good enough.

“There’s no curses. There never was a curse,” champagne- and-beer-drenched Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said in his team’s clubhouse in the early-morning hours. “It’s about having the best team and playing well over seven games of a World Series. And we did that. The Cubs are no different than any other team. When we’re the best team, we can win, and this year we were the best team.”

They were tabbed as such from the time spring training began. Manager Joe Maddon immediately made it clear that the designation was one his club would attack head-on, with “embrace the target” quickly becoming the club slogan.

Far and away the most consistent team all year, the Cubs mostly coasted to an MLB-best 103 victories in winning the NL Central title by 17 ½ games over the Cardinals.

“We definitely embraced the target,” said Dexter Fowler, who put the Cubs on the board against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber with a leadoff homer in the first inning of Game 7. “Since spring training, we realized we were good, and it was a matter of going out and doing it.”

The postseason, however, was every bit the grind the regular season was not.

The Cubs had to rally in the ninth inning to beat the Giants in Game 4 of the best-of-five NLDS and avoid a Game 5 against San Francisco righthander Johnny Cueto, whom the Cubs struggled to hit. They fell behind the Dodgers 2-1 in the best-of-seven NLCS before defeating Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 to avoid a Game 7.

The World Series?

All the Cubs did there was fall behind the Indians three games to one before becoming the first team since the 1985 Royals to win a title after facing such a deficit. They were the first since the 1979 Pirates to overcome a 3-1 deficit by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road.

“Now that we’ve won, I think we’re going to have more opportunities,” Hoyer said, referencing a roster built primarily around young players. “But I think the playoffs are really humbling . . . To think simply being the most talented team with the best record [guarantees anything], it’s really hard to win. If any series or any playoff run shows that, it’s this one.”

On another side of the clubhouse, an equally soaked Tom Ricketts spoke. The owner, a Cubs fan who bought the team in 2009, hired Theo Epstein in October 2011 to overhaul the club’s baseball operations department. The Cubs lost 101 games in 2012, 96 in 2013 and 89 in 2014.

“Those lean years, 100-loss seasons, 90 losses, the fans were incredible,” Ricketts said. “Everybody said, ‘Hey, stick with the plan and do what you have to do, we‘ve got your back.’ I took a lot of strength from that because it was tough. When I think about what we did tonight, it’s 100 percent about everyone who followed this team for so many years, giving them something back.”

Which was, from the beginning of the season through the end, finally the best team.


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