I have been to over 2,500 Cubs games at Wrigley Field, a few hundred elsewhere and watched many hundreds more on TV.
I haven’t — and neither have you — seen a better baseball game than Sunday’s Game 5 of the World Series, won by the Cubs 3-2 over the Indians in thrilling fashion. There might not have been a better, nor more important given the stakes, game ever played at the venerable, 102-year-old Wrigley Field, cathedral of baseball on the North Side of Chicago.
The focus of many in looking back at this game was the performance of Aroldis Chapman, who was asked to get eight outs to preserve the Cubs’ lead, and did so, exactly the reason he was brought to Chicago. In so doing he threw 42 pitches, just two short of his career high, and stepped to the plate as a hitter for just the third time in his big-league career. In completing the save he became just the second pitcher to record a save of eight outs or more in the World Series since 1997. The other? Some guy named Bumgarner, two years ago.
But that’s only the ending to a remarkable, loud (more on this later), joyful evening at the ol’ ballyard. Let’s rewind to the beginning.
Jon Lester started this game like he wanted to singlehandedly will the Cubs on to Game 6. He struck out the side in the first inning on 13 pitches. Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer nearly matched him, striking out the first two Cubs he faced before Anthony Rizzo actually put the ball in play, flying out to left field.
In the second inning, the first highlight-reel moment of the night occurred. Carlos Santana lifted a popup in foul territory near the Cleveland dugout. David Ross ran after it, got under it, and...
If you’ve watched World Series for a long time, that might have looked really, really familiar:
There was even more at stake on that play than there was Sunday night. That happened in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning.
We’ll certainly take Ross’ and Anthony Rizzo’s play, though. It jacked up the crowd, already in love with Grandpa Rossy, playing his final game at Wrigley Field.
Unfortunately, the next hitter, Jose Ramirez, silenced the throng with a fly ball that landed in the bleachers in left-center for a home run and a 1-0 Indians lead.
Defense helped the Cubs out again in the third inning. Bauer lofted a foul ball toward the right-field bullpen. Jason Heyward did what he does best:
In the next inning, Rizzo and Ross again played tag-team going after a foul popup. This time Grandpa hung on:
And then the Cubs’ bats got to work. Kris Bryant, who was having a terrible World Series at the plate (1-for-14 entering Game 5), connected (includes Pat Hughes’ radio call):
That tied the game and brought the noise level back up to “deafening,” and the Cubs weren’t done. Rizzo doubled off the right-field wall (and at first, he thought — not running out of the box — and I too thought he might have homered) and Ben Zobrist advanced him to third. Addison Russell hit a dribbler down the third-base line that scored Rizzo to make it 2-1. It was the Cubs’ fourth straight hit, and after a strikeout, Javier Baez decided to bunt. He did so perfectly and the bases were loaded, and Ross responded with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
The Cubs got a runner to third in the fifth inning after Bryant walked with one out and stole second. He went to third on a throwing error. Fun fact time!
Kris Bryant: first #Cubs player ever to hit Home Run & steal a base in a #WorldSeries game— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 31, 2016
That feat had been previously accomplished 34 times in World Series history, last by Chase Utley of the Phillies in Game 5 in 2009.
Then the Indians made things interesting. Rajai Davis singled with one out in the sixth and stole second. It was pretty clear Lester wasn’t going to even attempt to hold Davis, and when he took off, Ross fumbled and dropped the ball — not that he had any real chance to throw Davis out anyway, as he had a great jump. Lester recovered to strike out Jason Kipnis, but Francisco Lindor singled up the middle to make it 3-2.
That was it for Lester, whose six strong innings were (likely) his last of 2016. Carl Edwards Jr. began the seventh by allowing a single to Mike Napoli, which got Chapman warming up. Santana flied to left, and that brought Joe Maddon out to bring Chapman in.
This is the reason Aroldis Chapman is here — to win World Series games. It was reasonably clear that Chapman would be throwing the rest of the game, no matter how many pitches it would take. He struck out Jose Ramirez on a 100 mile-per-hour fastball, then hit Brandon Guyer. That’s Guyer’s game, apparently, try to get hit, and it worked here. But Chapman calmly got Roberto Perez to ground to Javier Baez, who took great care with his throw to first to end the inning.
I don’t normally talk a lot about seventh-inning stretch singers here; in general I think the line of B-list celebrities and people with tenuous connections to Chicago or the Cubs doesn’t really honor Harry Caray’s tradition the way it should be.
Sunday night, though... Eddie Vedder did:
That was just magnificent. Thanks, Eddie, for capturing the essence of everything this World Series means, for what being a Cubs fan is.
Then it was back to work. Dexter Fowler got hit by a pitch and appeared to be hurt pretty badly. He got looked over by management and trainers, but stayed in the game. A couple of pitches later, he stole second base. Was his “injured” thing a ruse? It got Rizzo intentionally walked after Bryant struck out, but Zobrist hit a popup to end the inning.
Chapman gave up a single to Davis with one out in the eighth — his own fault, really, because he failed to get off the mound quickly enough after Rizzo made a nice stop on a ground ball seemingly headed to right field. Rizzo, for his part, looked deflated after that play. Davis stole second and went to third on a passed ball, but Chapman bore down and got out of the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Heyward singled — that’s three hits in his last two games, I still think he’s going to be a factor in this World Series -- and stole second. With two out Chapman came to bat.
Truth be told, he looked pretty good up there. The last time Chapman had more than one at-bat in a season was in 2010 at Triple-A Louisville, when he went 4-for-11 with a double. He ran the count to 2-2, and while this was going on, Heyward took off for third. At first you might think, “Why bother? He’s already in scoring position.” But at that point in the game, with one more run potentially looming very large, trying to draw a throw that might get away was a good idea, especially with the likelihood that Chapman was going to strike out, which he did. This might become conventional baseball wisdom someday soon, trying to steal a run with a pitcher at the plate and two out, in similar situations.
With everyone -- and I mean almost literally everyone -- on their feet at Wrigley Field, Chapman came back out for the ninth inning, and they played his entrance music for the second time, perhaps to jack him up as if he were entering as usual for the ninth. During that inning the MLB Network crew of Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds (wearing a World Series toque) and Al Leiter again came to hang out in our section. I’d highly recommend watching their postgame show (which I turned on as soon as I got home) instead of Fox’s. They had on-field interviews with Lester and Ross, and even demonstrated some defense. Nice work, guys, and nice to have met you.
Back to that ninth inning!
Napoli hit a routine ground ball to Addison Russell. One out!
Santana lofted a fly ball near the right-field line, an easy catch for Heyward. Two out!
During the game I downloaded a sound-meter app on my phone. During Ramirez’ at-bat it registered 92 decibels. This site says “regular sustained exposure may cause permanent damage” at that level of sound.
Well, it was sustained pretty loud, all right. I’ve never, ever heard Wrigley Field as loud as it was when Ramirez swung and missed strike three. Look at all the W flags!
I’ll just repeat here what I said in the lede to this recap. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better baseball game, given the stakes for the Cubs — win or go home. Now, they have a real chance to make the impossible comeback and win this World Series, as long as Jake Arrieta is the Jake Arrieta! we saw in the second half of 2015 and first half of 2016. And of course, the Cubs will have Kyle Schwarber back in the lineup at DH. Schwarber didn’t appear in Game 5, though he had been on deck to bat for Lester in the sixth inning, had pinch-hitter Miguel Montero reached base. This should give the Cubs a significant offensive boost, given Schwarber’s success in Games 1 and 2.
Before I close, a few thoughts on the World Series experience at Wrigley Field. Read the last six words of that sentence again: “the World Series at Wrigley Field.” Yes, it really happened, the dream we’ve all been waiting for all our lives. The Cubs were one hit away from winning Game 3 in the ninth inning; that’s how close we are from having the Cubs lead three games to two instead of trailing by that margin.
You, hopefully, heard how loud the crowds were on the TV or radio broadcast. Louder than you could have imagined. I hope you felt watching or listening what we all felt. The stands nearly shaking. The love for David Ross (granted, a bit over the top as he’s been here only two years), the joy felt as Chapman recorded the final out. Credit to everyone in the Cubs organization for putting on three World Series games in absolutely perfect fashion — the only thing missing was two more wins.
Credit also to the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department for putting together and executing a plan to help keep the neighborhood, ballpark and everyone in the area -- whether ticketed fans, bar patrons or folks just hanging around for the atmosphere — safe. There seemed fewer people just walking the streets before Sunday’s game, perhaps because of the two losses, perhaps because the weather was a bit cooler, although we really couldn’t have asked for three better baseball weather days at the end of October. CPD officers were smiling and high-fiving fans on Waveland (me included) as people departed after Game 5. I thanked CPD officers for their service, which was without fail friendly and helpful throughout the weekend. Everyone involved helped the city of Chicago put on one heck of a party. Broadcasters (among others) who came here noticed:
We're all saying it:— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) October 31, 2016
We couldn't have been treated better than we were in Chicago.
Thank you!#WorldSeries pic.twitter.com/NmeuejlEP2
I’ll give the last word here to Grandpa Rossy:
#Cubs Ross got choked up when asked what he said to Lester in dugout. David: "I told him I loved him"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 31, 2016
We all love this team. They’ve done things all year that have surprised and elated us. Why not win two more games in Cleveland? Why not?
The Cubs’ first-ever November game is just two days away. Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin. I believe. Don’t you? #LetsGo