CLEVELAND — Two fan bases conditioned to expect the worst from their baseball teams over the last century were put through one emotional wringer after another Wednesday night in an epic Game 7 of the World Series.
In a deciding game that featured just about everything — appropriate for franchises that had not won a title in a combined 174 years — the Cubs finally prevailed, 8-7, in a 10-inning classic in front of 38,104 at Progressive Field, winning their first World Series since 1908.
“I’ve never, never, ever had a game with more ups and downs for me personally,” said Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. “It was crazy.”
Ricketts attended the University of Chicago and is a longtime Cubs fan.
“The Cubs aren’t just a team, they’re a member of your family,” Ricketts said. “And like all members of the family, you love them but sometimes they let you down. And maybe they’ll let you down for a 100 years in a row, and we did. Now I tell everyone [Cubs fans], thank you. This is for you . . . I just like the idea when a Cubs fan walks into the office tomorrow and someone asks when’s the last time the Cubs won the World Series, you can say, ‘yesterday.’’
In ending the longest title drought in professional sports, the Cubs, whose complete top-to-bottom roster helped them win an MLB-best 103 games in the regular season, finished off a rally from three-games-to-one down in the Series.
“Nothing’s been easy, nothing’s been given to us,” said Jon Lester, who allowed two runs (one earned) over three innings of relief. “You wouldn’t really expect it any other way.”
After the Cubs scored twice in the top of the 10th, the Indians scored once in the bottom half, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon bringing on lefty Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez, inserted for defense the previous inning.
Montgomery got Martinez to ground to third to finally, at long last, secure the title and set off a celebration on the field and a just-as-wild party in the stands as it seemed, and sounded, as if about half the crowd in attendance were Cubs fans.
“What a roller coaster,” Cubs GM said of the back-and-forth game, though he could easily have been talking about the series.
The Cubs became the first team to trail 3-1 in a Series and win since the 1985 Royals (over the Cardinals) and the first two do so having to win the last two games on the road since the Pirates in 1979 (over the Orioles).
The Cubs happily bequeathed the “longest-without-a-World-Series” crown to the Indians, who have not won since 1948.
Still, their sizable contingent of fans that filled up nearly half the stadium were forced to pay quite an emotional toll on their way to ecstasy.
The Cubs, playing in their first World Series since 1945, built a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning and held a 6-3 lead with four outs to go before all heck broke loose in the eighth.
There, Rajai Davis hit a two-run homer to cap a three-run inning against a gassed Aroldis Chapman, tying it at 6.
The game went into extra innings but not before a brief rainstorm caused a 17-minute delay.
“We kind of took a deep breath after that [the Davis homer] but we realized the game’s not over and we had some work to do,” said Dexter Fowler, who led off the first against Indians ace Corey Kluber with a homer to center. “Obviously the rain came, we took a step back and realized it’s a 0-0 game.”
After the tarp was removed, Kyle Schwarber started the 10th with a single against righty Bryan Shaw and was replaced by pinch runner Albert Almora, who went to second on Kris Bryant’s long flyout to center. Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked and Ben Zobrist, hot all series, came through by lasering a 1-and-2 pitch to left to bring in Almora to make it 7-6. Zobrist, 10-for-28 with two RBIs and five runs, was named Series MVP. Miguel Montero’s RBI single made it 8-6.
“When I say our confidence never dropped, it never dropped,” Almora said of the impact of Davis’ homer. “We knew that we were going to win that ballgame.”
Righthander Carl Edwards Jr. got the first two outs of the 10th before Brandon Guyer, who doubled in a run before Davis’ eighth-inning homer, walked with two outs, giving Davis one more crack. Davis singled to bring in Guyer to make it 8-7.
The Cubs and their fans had been all but counting down the outs since the middle innings as lefty Jon Lester, who started and won Game 5, picked up for Kyle Hendricks, the lefthander protecting what seemed a comfortable 6-3 lead in the eighth.
The improbable started to become possible for the Indians with two outs when Jose Ramirez reached on an infield single.
Maddon brought on Chapman, who threw a career-long 2 2⁄3 innings in Game 5 and, somewhat controversially, was brought on in the seventh inning of Game 6 with a five-run lead. Guyer greeted Chapman with a double, which brought in Ramirez.
Davis, who committed two mistakes in center earlier in the night that contributed to two Chicago runs, then lined a 2-and-2, 97-mph fastball just over the wall in left, the two-run homer shaking Progressive Field and tying it at 6.
“That was an incredible game, I mean, to be a part of,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I talked before the game about being an honor to be in a game like that, but to be associated with those players in that clubhouse, it is an honor. And I just told them that. It’s going to hurt. It hurts because we care, but they need to walk with their head held high because they left nothing on the field. And that’s all the things we ever ask them to do. They tried until there was nothing left.”