Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 3, 2016

A Series For The Ages Ends A Drought Almost As Long

In the end, in the 37th Game 7 in World Series history, the more complete team emerged triumphant. Ending a century and change of heartbreak and horror for their fans, the Chicago Cubs completed their comeback from a three games to one deficit to defeat the Cleveland nine 8-7 in 10 innings and claim the title. Yet even as the Chicago players joined in the traditional celebration near the pitcher’s mound, one couldn’t help but admire both clubs who gave their all in the most-watched Series in many years.

The joy in Wrigleyville is unbridled, as it should be. But for understandable reasons, on the Northside of Chicago, it was never a sure thing until the final out was recorded. There was the gnawing fact that only four previous times in the two decades of the Wild Card era had the team that dominated the standings throughout the regular season parlayed that excellence into a championship. Then there was all of Chicago’s sad history, the legacy of late season and playoff collapses that added to the long toll of seasons without even a chance to play for a title.

If not on the minds of players, surely that legacy was uppermost in the thoughts of fans as Game 7 progressed. The decisive contest could not have started any better for the Cubs’ faithful. Leadoff batter Dexter Fowler sent Corey Kluber’s fourth pitch, a 92 mile per hour sinker that didn’t sink, over the center field fence for a home run. Over the next four hours Chicago held leads of 1-0, 5-1 and 6-3; but every time Cleveland rallied.

The home squad had managed to plate four or more runs just three times in eleven ALCS and World Series games. Yet there was Cleveland capitalizing on a Jon Lester wild pitch that bounced off the mask of catcher David Ross in the bottom of the 5th. As the stunned Ross scrambled for the ball, two Cleveland base runners raced home to narrow Chicago’s advantage. Then in the 8th the often unhittable Aroldis Chapman was greeted by an RBI double off the bat of Brandon Guyer, followed by Rajai Davis’s screaming line drive to left that exited the playing field in a hurry and tied the game at 6-all.

Fans of both teams, with their combined 176 years of championship frustration were forced to wait out a brief rain delay before the game headed to overtime, the fifth Game Seven in Series history to feature extra innings. But then what’s an additional seventeen minutes of uncertainty for loyal supporters who have waited that long?

The denouement finally came in the 10th, but not without more tension. Kyle Schwarber, who by rights should have still been rehabbing the injuries that cut short his season in its nascent days last April, led off with a single. A pinch runner moved to second on a fly out, and scored one batter later when Series MVP Ben Zobrist doubled down the left field line. The Cubs added an insurance run, one they needed when Cleveland mounted yet one more rally, this as the American League representative was down to its final out. Davis, Cleveland’s 8th inning hero, singled home Guyer to make it 8-7. But when Michael Martinez rolled a soft ground ball to third baseman Kris Bryant, Cubs fans everywhere could finally exhale. Bryant was grinning from ear to ear as he scooped up the ball from the infield grass at Progressive Field and fired a strike to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to bring the World Series to a close.

The Cubs had the luxury of a healthy starting rotation that allowed manager Joe Maddon to go with a four-man rotation. Cleveland’s starting pitching had been decimated by late season injuries, forcing Terry Francona to ask just three starters to go on short rest, with ace Jake Arrieta taking the mound three times in eight days. The Cleveland field boss tried to offset those demands on his starters by going early and often to his bullpen. But as the innings thrown by his core relievers mounted, they too felt the strain. The usually resolute Andrew Miller yielded four hits and a pair of runs in two and one-third innings of Game 7. And by having to go to Miller and closer Cody Allen in the middle innings, Francona was left with only lesser choices at the witching hour as Wednesday night became Thursday morning.

Chicago was also the stronger team offensively. While the two squads matched total runs in the Series with 27 each, the Cubs batted twelve points higher than Cleveland, with more total hits and more for extra bases than their opponent. Chicago runners also stole twice as many bases. On defense, despite a couple of sloppy games, the Cubs finished with better fielding numbers than Cleveland as well.

So it is fair to say that the better team won, which does not always happen in a short series. Even as they revel in a championship so very long in the making, Cubs fans can look forward to a future filled with potential. While Chicago has signed expensive free agents like Lester and traded for late season rentals like Chapman, the core of the team is home-grown and young. Of the four starting infielders Rizzo is the oldest at 27, and all four are under team control through 2021. After decades of backing the Great Game’s lovable losers, Cubs fans are already thinking about a dynasty.

Yet it’s not impossible that to establish themselves as such the Cubs will have to go through Cleveland again. Yes the losers of this Series will be remembered for giving up a three games to one lead. But this was a team with a modest payroll that was besieged by injuries. Cleveland was the underdog against Boston in the ALDS, and again against Toronto in the ALCS. Few observers not living near the Cuyahoga River gave the team much of a chance in the Fall Classic. But there were Francona’s charges, refusing to go away, taking the heavily favored Cubs to seven games and the seventh game to ten innings.

Now it is Cleveland with the longest championship drought in the Great Game. Surely that will give this year’s runner-up something to think about over the winter, and added motivation come the start of Spring Training. The longest season has ended with a dramatic and exciting World Series. But for Cleveland and every other team that didn’t win this year that just means that in little more than three months, pitchers and catchers report.

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Responses

  1. Made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

    Don

  2. The final game had a little something for everyone, Mike, and I was happy to be on the West Coast when the rain delay hit and the extra inning came up. We had an entertaining night and a decent bedtime, to boot.
    Ω


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