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Cubs 8, Indians 7: We Are The Champions

If you’re waking up this morning thinking you dreamed this, fear not. It really did happen, and all our dreams came true.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In all the years I’ve been writing recaps of Cubs games, this, I knew, would be the most important one of my life, win or lose.

I had long planned something special for a victory recap, something that I knew every single one of you would enjoy, and you are, in fact, going to read it. I had originally planned for it to be the lede of this article, but all of it has to take second place to one of the most incredible games in the long history of baseball -- and I do not think that’s hyperbole, not given the stakes at hand in this game, with a long World Series drought that was going to end no matter who won.

11:47 p.m. Central time, November 2, 2016 is a time and date that every Cubs fan will remember forever. That’s when Kris Bryant’s throw on a dribbler by Michael Martinez nestled snugly in Anthony Rizzo’s glove to complete the Cubs’ 8-7 win over the Indians in 10 innings, making them World Series champions and ending the longest drought in sports history, in so doing becoming the first team to come from a 3-1 deficit in 31 years, as if just breaking the drought wasn’t in and of itself enough.

I can’t think of anyone more appropriate than Rizzo to handle that last out (and he put it securely in his pocket after the play), Rizzo, the heart and soul and emotional leader of this team, a man who suffered (with many of the rest of us) a 101-loss season just four years ago. That turned into 103 regular-season wins and 11 more leading to ecstasy this autumn, and I do have something special to end this recap, but first I am going to tell you the story of this game for which you cannot have too many superlatives, before I wrap this wonderful gift in a neat little bow for you.

Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run. That’s the sort of thing I thought they needed to do early on in this game, take the lead off Corey Kluber, who’d been tough before but appeared, on this night, that throwing on short rest twice in eight days took its toll on him. It looked at first as if Rajai Davis had a chance to catch Fowler’s ball, but it actually landed well out of his reach:

Davis would come to play a more important role in this game later on.

Javier Baez made a throwing error in the bottom of the first. It didn’t result in a run, but an extra hitter came to the plate as a result, and that also might have been important later on.

In the third inning, a Cleveland double, sacrifice bunt and single tied the game off Kyle Hendricks. Then the Cubs hustled their way into a pair of runs in the bottom of the third. Bryant singled and Rizzo was hit by a pitch. A force play moved Bryant to third, and Addison Russell hit a fly ball to short center, caught by Davis. It seemed far too short for anyone to score, but Bryant took off right away. Davis isn’t known for having a good arm, and his throw came in high to Roberto Perez, and Bryant slid under it, safe. That’s not only good, solid baseball play, but good advance scouting. Willson Contreras followed with a double scoring Ben Zobrist and the Cubs had a 3-1 lead.

That became 4-1 thanks to Baez:

Two errors by Baez, one home run: I think that’s a fair trade, don’t you?

Bryant scored in the fifth inning on a smartly-executed hit-and-run; he took off and Rizzo smacked a ball into the right-field corner, and Kris never stopped running:

You felt pretty confident at that point, didn’t you?

In the bottom of the fifth, Hendricks walked Carlos Santana with two out. That brought Joe Maddon out, and this is where, I think, Joe started overmanaging. He’d said before the game that he didn’t want to use Jon Lester in relief except in a “clean” inning, but here came Jon with a runner on base. Hendricks was rolling pretty well and I thought he could have finished the inning, despite the walk. And Hendricks could have, and probably should have, been upset about that walk:

We all wished Joe had indeed left Kyle in the game, because Jason Kipnis hit a little roller that you just knew Lester wouldn’t touch. David Ross, who’d come into the game when Lester did, fielded it off-balance and his throw to first went awry. Runners wound up on second and third, but didn’t stay there long, because Lester wild-pitched them both home.

That’s pretty rare, especially in a World Series. How rare?

Like the length of the Cubs’ previous World Series title to now, over 100 years’ time rare:

Since this was a game for the ages, have a look at it, because it might be another century before you see it again:

So it’s 5-3. That didn’t last long, thanks to Grandpa Rossy:

That ball: Crushed!

Just how cool is all that? Here’s a guy you know is playing in his last major-league game, someone all his teammates look up to for leadership and, as Zobs said in postgame interviews, someone every single player on the team wanted to win it for so badly, and he hits a home run in that game, and not only that, but a long, long home run — and off the previously nearly-unhittable Andrew Miller? Awesome, totally awesome. I couldn’t be happier for Ross, who was a revelation in his two years in a Cubs uniform and who became a popular fan favorite. We will, and the players will, miss him next year. I hope he returns as a coach, soon.

It’s 6-3 Cubs and Lester, after that wild pitch, is dealing.

Then Joe decided to overmanage again in the eighth. With two out, Russell and Baez couldn’t handle a grounder that bounced off the lip of the infield grass. Lester could easily have faced Brandon Guyer, but Joe decided to call on Aroldis Chapman. Chapman appeared gassed not long after he entered the game, and, like Lester, he came in with a runner on base, a situation not always best for him. Of seven pitches Chapman threw to Guyer, only one touched triple digits. Guyer doubled, making it 6-4. Davis was next and Chapman never hit triple digits to him either. Davis homered, the ball smashing off a TV camera in the left-field seats, tying the game.

Are you kidding me? Four outs to go for a World Series championship, and the closer Theo & Co. spent a high cost in prospects to get blows the lead?

Ugh. This did not make me happy, nor any of you, I’m sure, nor any of the thousands of fans at bars in Wrigleyville or in the streets surrounding the ballpark. At one point so many people were in that area that the CTA announced that trains wouldn’t stop at the Addison station, and buses in the area were being re-routed.

Still, the Cubs had the top of the ninth to try to re-take the lead. Ross walked and was replaced by Chris Coghlan on base, ending his career with a fine performance. Cogs was forced at second by Jason Heyward, who stole second and took third on a throwing error. Now we’re talking! Baez, as the TV announcers noted, might be given the safety squeeze sign, and he did — but he promptly bounced it foul for strike three.

Miguel Montero entered the game at catcher, replacing Ross, and Chapman came out for the bottom of the ninth, still gassed, but with enough to retire the side 1-2-3.

Extra innings? In a game like this? Were the baseball gods just messing with us?

Before the game could go to the 10th inning, they messed with everyone in a non-baseball way: It started raining. It rained hard enough for the field to be covered and play delayed. This was actually good for the Cubs, I thought. They could slow the game down and reset things a bit. They hadn’t been able to do much with Bryan Shaw in the ninth, but Kyle Schwarber led off the 10th with a single. Albert Almora Jr. ran for Schwarber and alertly tagged up and took second on a long fly to center by Bryant. Rizzo was intentionally walked, bringing up Zobrist.

Zobrist, who had signed specifically with the Cubs because he knew Joe Maddon and Dave Martinez from their Tampa Bay days and, after winning the World Series last year with the Royals, wanted to be part of what was being built in Chicago.

Zobs doubled down the left-field line and the Cubs had a 7-6 lead. The look on his face was the same look he had when he doubled in the Cubs’ first run in the eventual game-winning rally in Game 4 of the division series in San Francisco. The look of winning — a look we have never really seen before this year on the North Side of Chicago. I think I could get used to it. Zobs’ key hit, and his .357 BA in the World Series, got him the Series MVP award.

Another intentional walk loaded the bases, and brought up Montero, who’d lost his starting job and had thought, during the summer, that he might be released.

Miggy singled in a run, which would turn out to be very, very, very important.

Carl Edwards Jr., who might be a closer someday, came in to close the most important game of his life. Two easy outs came and we were all one win away from joy.

Guyer, again, was next. Think about this for a moment: Guyer, once a Cubs farmhand, had been traded to the Rays by Jim Hendry as part of his deal to get Matt Garza. Edwards had been acquired from the Rangers when Theo shipped Garza there two years later. And there they were, facing each other for the possible last out of the World Series.

That would have been poetic. The baseball gods decided poetry was out, at least for this moment. The pesky Guyer walked and took second on defensive indifference.

Then, Davis again. He singled, scoring Guyer and it was 8-7 with the tying run on base.

Nothing like this is ever easy, and after 108 years, you didn’t think this would be, did you? It’s almost as if history itself was saying, “You can have this... but you are going to have to work very, very hard for it.”

Michael Martinez, who’d been placed in the game by the Indians an inning earlier for defense, was the hitter. Mike Montgomery, who’d never saved a big-league game, was summoned.

I’ll let Pat Hughes tell the end of this story:

Congratulations to Pat, too — he’s the first man ever to say the words “The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series!” on radio.

The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. This is something we’ve all wished for, dreamed of, wanted so badly for so many years.

And now, it is reality.

How does this all feel? Surreal, a bit, and it surely will take a while to sink in and for us to really understand the meaning of what we’ve seen. I celebrated quietly at home, unable to make it to Cleveland, as a huge contingent of Cubs fans did — and clearly, everyone who went represented every single one of us. So did the thousands who crowded Wrigleyville. I live about 2½ miles from Wrigley Field, and not long after the game ended I went out on my deck and I could hear the cheering from there, as well as cars honking in celebration, a party literally more than a century in the making.

This title, this party, this amazing night and victory... this is for Ernie. Rest now, Mr. Cub. Rest. They won it for you. “The Cubs were the team in 2016.”

It’s for Ron, too. Oh, how he would have loved this team, this World Series, this night of glory. Can’t you just hear him yelling “Yes, yes, YES!” over and over and over, the happiest man on the planet?

It is almost ineffably sad that those two men are not here to share this with us. We celebrate in their stead. Do not fail to do that, know how much these men would have loved all we have just witnessed, keep them in your thoughts, not that I really even have to ask that.

It’s for Billy and Fergie, and how wonderful it is that those two Hall of Famers who dazzled us with their play but could never win it all, are here to celebrate with us.

It’s for Don and Glenn and Randy and Jim and Bill and Paul and Kenny and all those men who played so hard and thrilled me when I was young, never won anything, and they are like old friends, because I don’t even have to write anything more than their first names and all the memories of their play come flooding back.

It’s for Ryne and Leon and Ron and Keith and Steve and Lee and Rick and Jody and Bobby and Gary, the men who came achingly close to winning it all for themselves and us, only to fall short. I salute you, and am thrilled you can share this victory with us.

It’s for Greg and Mike and Shawon and Mark and Joe and Jerome and Dwight and Mitch and the rest of the “Boys of Zimmer,” whose charmed life ended once the calendar turned to October.

It’s for Sammy and Oh! Henry! and Mike and Mickey and Lance and Kerry and Rod and Terry and the team that left it all on the field in one incredible game against the Giants, thrilling us but getting dispatched in the first round.

It’s for Aramis and Eric and Damian and Alex and Mark and Moises and Carlos and Joe and Sammy, again... the pain’s gone, my friends, celebrate with us, you didn’t make it, but you’re all part of this family.

It’s for Derrek and Mark and Reed and Ryan and Jacque and Geo and Kosuke and Ryan and Ted... the men who we just knew would end this drought after exactly a century, only to see them, too, flop in the division series, not once but twice.

It’s for Lennie, God bless him and his wonderful family, who I am proud to call my friends. Rest now, too, Lennie. Until this past week you were the last living Cub to play in a World Series. Now there are 25 men who proudly hold that title, but I know they’ll never forget you. I know I won’t.

It’s for the Cubs of 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945, too many to mention here, who got to the World Series but couldn’t bring victory home to Chicago. I salute you, long-ago members of the Cubs family, not one of those men living today, but I know you’re all celebrating with us.

It’s for Harry and Jack and Steve and Vince and Lou and Jack Q. and Lloyd and all the men who broadcast games never seeing what we’ve seen. They brought such pleasure to us anyway, describing the spring and summer and fall days of baseball, and I salute them. Here’s Harry’s broadcast of the final game of 1991 and his prediction that the Cubs would someday get to exactly where they are on this day:

Most of all, this triumph is for you. And for me. And for every single person who’s ever cheered for the Chicago Cubs for the last 108 years, so many of whom aren’t with us anymore. No doubt, you know someone like this in your own life. Your parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents, generation after generation who went to Wrigley Field and hoped, year after year, that things would be better, that things would change, but they never did.

And now they have. I pause here to remember and pay my respects to all those who wanted to see this as much as we, the living, did. They deserve to be a part of this celebration, and are, in our hearts and minds. If you feel the presence of someone important to you who loved the Cubs smiling on you this morning, savor that feeling for the rest of your life. Those who have lived and died without ever seeing what we witnessed Wednesday night, but who loved this team as much as any of us, are forever part of this, too.

The late New York Times sports columnist Red Smith once paid tribute “to absent friends,” and I want to do the same here, for absent bleacher friends, men and women I knew well over the nearly four decades I’ve spent out there who are no longer living, and they deserve to be part of this, too. Stephanie, Fred, Elsie, Al B., Connie, Mark, Maureen, Chet, Irving, Paul, Marv, Les, Carmella and Papa Carl (and others I might have forgotten): you’re in my thoughts this celebratory morning, and you’re as much a part of this as those of us who saw and experienced it for ourselves. You’ll always be remembered by me and by other longtime bleacherites.

To the Cleveland Indians and their fans: Thank you. You are passionate, dedicated fans, and the team was a tough and worthy adversary in one of the most memorable World Series of all time, and perhaps the best Game 7 ever. Our drought is over. Yours continues. Trust me, we know how this feels. But you know what? Persevere, stick with your team, don’t ever give up. We didn’t, and now we are at the top of the baseball world. You’ll get there, someday. I know this because for years, decades, a century, it felt hopeless to us -- and now we’re at the top of the baseball world. Next time the Indians are in the World Series, I’ll be your biggest fan — unless you’re playing the Cubs again, of course.

And now, thanks are in order for the people who brought this championship that many of us never thought we’d see on the North Side of Chicago.

Thank you, Willson, Miguel, David, Anthony, Kris, Addison, Javier, Ben, Dexter, Albert, Jason, Chris, Kyle S., Jorge, Jake, Jon, Kyle H., Carl, Aroldis, Justin, John, Mike, Hector, Travis and Pedro, the 25 men who brought the ultimate elation to us, as well as the 20 other men who played for the Cubs this year. You’ve made all our dreams come true.

Thank you to all the Cubs personnel I’ve had the pleasure to have contact with in whatever form for all your kindnesses, as well as the countless gameday employees who worked hard to make sure everyone had fun at the ballpark: You’re all part of this celebration, too. We’re all one family, now and forevermore.

Thank you, Tom Ricketts, for never wavering from your stated goal seven years ago of winning the World Series. Thank you for investing in the team and in our beautiful ballpark, made much better by the ongoing renovations; when they are done Wrigley Field will be the best ballpark in baseball — not that it isn’t already, but with new and modern amenities for fans and players, it will be second to none.

Thank you, Crane Kenney, for your leadership of a business operations department that often had to navigate a city of Chicago minefield to accomplish things with the ballpark and team, but also is now second to none.

Thank you, Joe Maddon, for bringing your unique perspective on baseball and life to Chicago. When you were hired you paid tribute to Wrigley Field and the Cubs fanbase and, though you never played or coached in Chicago before you came here, you “got it” better than any manager I’ve seen in Chicago in my lifetime. Your in-game management and lineups and bullpen use were unorthodox at times, but I surely can’t complain -- it worked!

And thank you, Theo Epstein. Yes, there were times when I doubted your plan. I’ve said here before that I was wrong, totally wrong about that, and today I’ll say it again, gladly: I was wrong, Theo was right all along. His plan was put in place beginning five years ago and it worked perfectly, exactly as it should have. Three years of bad major-league seasons? Worth it, totally, to enjoy the fruits of the championship just won. I have never been so happy to have been wrong. Thank you to Jed and Jason and every single member of the baseball operations staff, all of whom contributed to this ultimate victory.

Here are two more words for the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations: Praise Theo.

And at last, all the talk surrounding this franchise of curses and jinxes and goats and black cats and all that other nonsense can be laid to rest forever, never to be spoken of again. The simple truth is that for 108 years, the Cubs didn’t win because they weren’t good enough. In 2016, at last, they were.

A parade and celebration in Chicago are still to come, but here’s my final thought to wrap this all up this morning: Let’s do it again next year!