Many, many stories have been written on this site and elsewhere about the Cubs breaking their 108-year drought and winning the World Series in 2016, including this article I wrote here on the third anniversary of Game 7 this past November.
So I wanted to do something a little bit different with this remembrance of the Cubs’ World Series title three years ago, and it’s related to the fact that it’s only “three years ago.”
Likely for your entire lifetime as a Cubs fan, the World Series drought was probably foremost in your mind. At times, it seemed as if the Cubs would never win a World Series again, especially after the collapses of various types in 1969, 1984 and 2003.
But beyond that, the Cubs franchise had been in the World Series seven times after they won it in 1908, between 1910 and 1945, and failed to win any of them. In four of those seven seasons (1910, 1918, 1935, 1945) the Cubs had a better regular-season record than their World Series opponent, yet failed to win the Fall Classic.
As we certainly know now, a better regular-season record guarantees you nothing in October, but of those seven World Series, they probably should have won in 1929 and 1935, at the very least. Those Cubs teams were superior to their opponents. The Cubs were three innings away from tying up the 1929 Series in Game 4 — ahead 8-0! — when the Athletics put together a 10-run inning (!) to take a three games to one lead. Even after that, the Cubs had a 2-0 lead with one out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 when the A’s put together a three-run walkoff rally.
In 1935, the Cubs had put together their famous 21-game winning streak in September that vaulted them from third place to the N.L. pennant. But after it ended, they lost six of their next eight (the final two regular-season games and the World Series, four games to two).
In 1945, the wartime Cubs and Tigers faced each other in the World Series and Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown, asked who would win, famously said: “I don’t think either team can win.” And manager Charlie Grimm started Hank Borowy on one day’s rest in Game 7, after he’d thrown four innings in Game 6, with predictable results. (Hank Wyse, who faced only six batters in Game 6, insisted to his dying day in 2004 that the Cubs would have won Game 7 if Grimm had started him.)
The point of all this is to tell you how random that sort of postseason success or failure was then, as it is now. If the Cubs win in 1929, or 1935, or 1945, the drought doesn’t take on the mythical proportions it did prior to 2016 and maybe the weight doesn’t press down in 1969 or 1984 or 2003 the way it did.
I had long thought that the Cubs team that finally did win the World Series, presuming they did eventually do so (and be honest, before 2016 there were times you thought it might never happen), would have to be a team full of players who simply didn’t care about the drought, led by a manager who could instill that message.
They got that in Joe Maddon and a very young team, too young to really understand they weren’t supposed to be that good, weren’t supposed to win 103 games (most by the franchise since 1910!), were supposed to be crushed under the pressure. Maddon helped put that behind the 2016 Cubs with his “Embrace The Target” and “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure” mantras.
It worked. But you know what, it almost didn’t.
My seat was directly in the line of that ball and when it left the bat I thought it was heading over my head, to land on Waveland Avenue. Instead, it barely made the basket in front of Giants left fielder Angel Pagan. The homer held up for a 1-0 win.
The Cubs won Game 4 of their division series (and thus, the series) on a miracle ninth-inning rally that accomplished things that had rarely been done by anyone in a postseason game, much less the Cubs:
In 1986 LCS: 3 games in which a team rallied from 3 down in 9th to win in a 5-day span— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2016
Didn't happen again until 2016! (via @eliassports)
Cubs: 5th team with game-tying RBI in 9th inning or later of back-to-back postseason games (last- 2001 Yankees) (via @eliassports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2016
If the Cubs lose that game, they have to go back to Chicago for Game 5 with Jon Lester facing Johnny Cueto. Both pitchers threw great in Game 1. I wouldn’t have wanted to see the Cubs have to face Cueto, who was a hot pitcher that year, twice in one postseason series.
In the NLCS, the Cubs entered Game 4 down two games to one and having been shut out in consecutive games by the Dodgers, and facing the prospect of having to win at least once in the two remaining games at Dodger Stadium just to send the series back to Wrigley for Game 6.
Ben Zobrist’s perfectly placed bunt on the first pitch by Julio Urias in the fourth inning sparked a four-run rally. The Cubs added one in the fifth and five more in the sixth for a 10-2 blowout, then won Game 5 8-4 and clinched the series on a Kyle Hendricks gem against Clayton Kershaw at Wrigley Field in Game 6.
That win was almost as important as the World Series win, the one that gave the Cubs their first N.L. pennant in 71 years. Men in their 80s who had attended the 1945 World Series wept at Wrigley Field, seeing something some felt they might never see again. (Younger folks shed tears, too.)
The World Series... well, you know the story. Cubs go down three games to one, another seemingly impossible hill to climb. They win Game 5 thanks in part to a Kris Bryant homer and in part for a gutty eight-out save by Aroldis Chapman. They win Game 6 in Cleveland, a game almost never in doubt after they took a 7-0 lead by the third inning, though a late Indians rally pushed Joe Maddon to use Chapman again, a move that would backfire in Game 7.
Game 7, you know all the details, if not, they’re all in this article (also linked above) that I posted here November 2 of this year.
It is, though, always, always good to watch the final out again:
And the point of all this is: Little things are magnified in any postseason series. The above things — if they go the other team’s way, maybe you’re not reading this article. So many things had to go right for the Cubs to be World Series champions in 2016, and they all did. The Washington Nationals found out the very same thing in winning this past fall; on several occasions they were an inning or two from being eliminated, yet they overcame all of those things to win.
It’s also important to never forget the failures of 108 years as we remember and celebrate the 2016 World Series champions. Just three years separate us from that, all but the very youngest Cubs fans have concrete memories of watching that victory in Cleveland.
While we will never again be able to shake off 108 years worth of drought and have the celebration of a lifetime, we all fervently hope there will be another World Series championship in the Cubs’ near future.
I’ve posted this photo before, but it’s worth showing it to you again. I think this one sums up the joy and elation every single one of us felt on November 2, 2016.