Fantasy mixing with reality. Bill Murray and baseball architect Theo Epstein, soaked in Champagne, arm-in-arm, celebrating in the middle of a raucous, giddy clubhouse.
Surrounded by the 2016 World Champions: The Chicago Cubs.
Long past midnight, it was fitting that Murray, the Hollywood funnyman who can appreciate a good cosmic joke, was there to pop a few bottles on the most incredulous night in baseball history. Because Wednesday’s Game 7 was one of the best ever played in a World Series, a drama-filled spectacle that had it all: numerous lead changes, a rain delay, and even a 10th inning.
That’s what it took for the Cubs to finally claim their first World Series since 1908, a number that now becomes a harmless part of this franchise’s folklore. Thanks to the Cubs’ 8-7 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field — known Wednesday night as Wrigley East — the year to remember now is 2016.
“It was just an epic battle,” said Ben Zobrist, named the series MVP after his 10th-inning double drove in the go-ahead run. “We’ve been listening to Rocky’s soundtrack the last three games. It was like a heavyweight fight, man. Just blow for blow. Everybody playing their heart out. The Indians never gave up either, and I can’t believe we’re standing, after 108 years, finally able to hoist the trophy.”
The Cubs were four outs away when Joe Maddon called on Chapman to protect a 6-3 lead. But the Indians, referred to outside of Cleveland as the “other team” in this World Series, felt like they still had history of their own to make. By adding another sad chapter to the Cubs’ century of despair.
Much of the conversation in the 24-hour gap between Games 6 and 7 centered around Chapman’s usage in the 9-3 win, a 20-pitch exercise made necessary because Maddon evidently didn’t trust any of his lesser relievers. And it was just one more game, right?
“Whatever he asks me to do,” Chapman said. “I’m going to keep going until I can’t.”
Or until the Indians stopped him. Lonnie Chisenhall ripped a 3-2 fastball, clocked at 98, for an RBI-double and Rajai Davis, whose sketchy outfield play led to two earlier runs for the Cubs, reached down to hook a 97-mph fastball off the railing above the leftfield wall for a tying two-run homer.
Maybe Chapman’s workload, compounded by his 42-pitch effort in Sunday’s Game 5 win, finally caught up with him. Or the Indians simply refused to roll over. It’s what they did the entire game in going through Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Chapman, before Davis’ shocking home run.
That stunned the thousands of Cubs’ fans who flocked to Progressive Field to bear witness to history. And after such a long, excruciating wait, the Cubs acted quickly Wednesday night to reward that patience, starting with Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run, a feat never seen before in a World Series Game 7. The roar inside Progressive Field was shocking at first, a stunning takeover by the Chicago invaders, but just another indication of the larger forces at work, a dream whose time had come.
The decibel-level produced by the visiting Cubs’ faction was unlike anything we’ve heard from a traveling crowd at a playoff game, but that didn’t derail the Indians’ pursuit of their first title since 1948. The Cubs were just a slightly better team in the end. The mojo valued so much by their bespectacled hipster manager eventually took hold.
“The burden has been lifted,” Maddon said. “It should never have been there in the first place, I don’t think. But now we can move forward.”
Yes, it did happen. When Kris Bryant threw to first for the final out, the Cubs piled up on the pitchers’ mound. The W flags unfurled from the top decks. The stands erupted in the team’s postgame fight song, “Go Cubs Go!” This may take a while for this all to sink in.
“It feels real,” Addison Russell said. “It started feeling real when the Champagne started hitting my eyes.”
It’s a new day in Wrigleyville. The Cubs are world champions.