You’ve seen this play before. Your heart stopped for a moment.
It doesn’t appear in a boxscore because it was just a foul ball.
For just a second, the way the ball left the bat, it appeared that Jason Kipnis had hit that 1-1 pitch from Aroldis Chapman into the right-field seats at Progressive Field for a walkoff homer. Listen to Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton on the video clip — at first his excited tone leads you to believe that. And then you can hear Hamilton’s disappointment.
Kipnis eventually ran the count full, but Chapman struck him out. That ninth inning was one of the guttiest pitching performances I’ve ever seen. Chapman had nothing, everyone in the ballpark knew he had nothing left, and yet he got three outs when the Cubs needed them most.
But what if that ball hit by Kipnis does go as far as Tom Hamilton wanted it to and lands in the seats for a walkoff homer? That would have ended Cleveland’s 68-year World Series drought and the Cubs’ would have continued. It would have been a crushing defeat, without a doubt the worst in Cubs franchise history. So what would have the effects been on the Cubs going forward?
Here are a few things that I think would have changed if the Cubs had lost Game 7.
Joe Maddon would have gone from Cubs hero to Cubs goat in an instant
Maddon would have been mercilessly taken apart for his use of Chapman in Game 6 when he wasn’t needed. I know this because, four years later, people are still giving Maddon grief for that even though the Cubs eventually won Game 7 and the World Series.
A loss would have put Maddon in a category along with Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella — big-name managers who came to Chicago and failed. Oh, sure, the Cubs at least got to the World Series, but the blowing of two multiple-run leads in Game 7, one with just four outs to go, would have weighed heavily on Maddon’s legacy.
Maddon might have been given only one more year to try to win
Though he had three years left on his contract after 2016, if the Cubs don’t win Game 7 the pressure to win becomes even more intense on Maddon and the ballclub. Sure, Maddon’s “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure” mantra helped get Cubs players to relax and perform well, but after a loss like that, Theo Epstein might have become even more impatient with Maddon. You saw how Maddon was treated after the failures in 2018 and 2019. Losing Game 7 could have been an even bigger failure.
Maybe the Cubs keep Chapman around
The Yankees signed Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal after 2016. The Cubs treated Aroldis like they knew they wouldn’t be keeping him past that season.
But if they lose? Even on a walkoff homer off Chapman?
Management had lost faith in Hector Rondon as closer, which is why Chapman was acquired. Rondon didn’t get his closer job back in 2017. Instead, the Cubs traded for Wade Davis. Which leads me to the next point...
Jorge Soler is probably still traded, but for someone other than Davis
The Cubs had too many outfielders after 2016, and seemed as if they wanted to give Albert Almora Jr. a full shot at the center field job. Also, Kyle Schwarber was expected back from injury as a fulltime outfielder. It couldn’t have been known right after the 2016 World Series that Schwarber would be so bad early in 2017 that he’d have to be sent to Triple-A Iowa for a while.
The Cubs needed a starting pitcher in 2017, with the team’s choice to not re-sign Jason Hammel. Soler could probably have been traded for someone like that if the Cubs chose to keep Chapman. The trade for Davis, which was likely going to give the Cubs only one season’s worth of performance, turned out to be a bad one. Davis’ performance was fine, but he left as a free agent, leaving nothing in exchange for Soler.
If the Cubs do make a Soler-for-starting-pitching deal, they don’t have to acquire Jose Quintana
This might, in the end, have wound up benefiting the Cubs in the future, because if they don’t make the Quintana deal, they would still have Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez . Jimenez has turned out to be a pretty bad outfielder — but the DH might be made universal permanently. Cease has had his ups and downs, but even if he doesn’t make it as a starting pitcher, his velocity could make him a good closer.
The Cubs probably sell off at the 2017 All-Star break
Remember that the 2017 Cubs got off to a mediocre start and were 43-45 at the All-Star break. A 2017 Cubs team that didn’t win the 2016 World Series could have approached that trading deadline two ways: One, get more desperate and trade even more prospects for quick fixes than they did in the Quintana deal. Or, say “This isn’t working” and start trading big leaguers. There was talk even then in real life that had the Cubs not put together the second-half run that they did, that Jake Arrieta probably would have been traded. Remember, besides Davis the only real additions to the 2017 Cubs were Jon Jay (supposedly largely for his “good clubhouse guy” persona) and Ian Happ graduating from the farm system.
A 2016 failure and a 2017 bad start might have prompted a full reset.
The Cubs fanbase...
A loss like that would have been worse than 2003, 1984, 1969, just about any Cubs past failure you could mention. I don’t know whether the reaction would have been anger, or disappointment, or worse, a feeling of “It doesn’t matter what they do, they’ll never, ever win.” We don’t have to feel that now because none of this happened, the team actually did win the World Series. Two years ago I asked you whether one championship was enough for you; at the time. Only 28 percent said “Yes.” At this point I think I’m in that 28 percent. One might be all we get. The memories will last a lifetime. Just be happy Kipnis didn’t hit that home run and we have them, forever.
Those are some of the things I think might have happened if that ball hit by Kipnis reaches the seats for a walkoff homer for Cleveland. Perhaps you disagree; perhaps you have other thoughts about what Theo & Co. might have done. Let’s hear ‘em.