Chicago Cubs End Drought With Thrilling Win in World Series Game Seven

Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo celebrates after defeating the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo celebrates after defeating the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

With two long World Series droughts on the line, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians battled in an instant classic in game seven.

The Chicago Cubs seemed dead in the water just five days ago. The Cleveland Indians had just won game four in a commanding fashion, hitting a pair of home runs and riding ace Corey Kluber to a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

But, as we’ve all seen recently, a 3-1 lead in a championship series doesn’t guarantee victory. The Cubs hustled and muscled their way back into the series.

In game five, a three-run fourth inning was enough for the Cubs’ lineup to back another strong start from Jon Lester. They went back to Cleveland with a spark, and wasted no time against Indians’ starter Josh Tomlin. The Indians’ righty gave up six runs in just 2.1 innings, and the Cubs never looked back. Addison Russell drove in six runs, including a grand slam. Kris Bryant had four hits, one of which was a solo home run.

That spark turned into an ember, and eventually become a full, white-hot flame. There was a game seven to be played, and that 3-1 deficit the Cubs faced just two games earlier meant nothing.

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The Cubs turned to Kyle Hendricks, the man that began the year as their fifth starter, but went on to win the ERA title in 2016. They were countered with Kluber, making his third start of the series and starting on short rest for the second straight time.

It was evident from the very beginning that Kluber just didn’t have it. His command was off, his pitches were not sharp, and he looked gassed. The very first batter of the day, Dexter Fowler, took advantage of a missed spot. Kluber’s two-seam fastball ran back into the middle of the plate, and Fowler ripped it. It sailed through the night sky, and was out of the reach of a leaping Rajai Davis in center field. As it sailed over the fence, it became the first leadoff home run ever in a World Series game seven.

In the third, Cleveland tied it up on a Carlos Santana single and look poised to move ahead. But with runners on first and second and just one out, Hendricks worked through the jam to keep the game tied and let his lineup go back to work.

Chicago went back in front on a sacrifice fly to shallow center field, when an aggressive Bryant slid into home under a tag. Willson Contreras followed with a long double to center field to score another.

A leadoff home run by Javier Baez in the fifth chased Kluber and put the Cubs up 4-1. Against Andrew Miller, Bryant scored from first on Anthony Rizzo‘s single to make it 5-1.

Cleveland put a scare into the Cubs in the bottom of the fifth. After a two-out walk, Hendricks was pulled for Lester, and David Ross came in as his personal caddy. An infield single, throwing error on Ross, and wild pitch later, it was back to a two-run game.

Ross atoned for his mistake the next inning. Playing in the final game of a long career, the 39-year-old catcher connected on a Miller fastball over the middle of the plate. Davis went back to the wall again, but again fell just short on an attempt at a leaping catch.

From there, it was up to the Cubs’ pitching staff. Lester worked around a two-out single to get through the seventh. He got two outs in the eighth, but his night ended after a two-out infield single. Lester went three innings and struck out four in just his fourth career relief appearance.

Aroldis Chapman came in, and allowed a double to the first man he faced. Brandon Guyer‘s two-bagger scored a run and made it 6-4 in the Cubs’ favor. The next batter was Davis, who battled and battled hard before connecting on a low fastball. It soared over the left field wall, and the game was tied.

They moved into extra innings, where a short rainfall held up the start for 17 minutes. When the tarp came off the field and things got started, a Kyle Schwarber single opened the inning. Pinch-runner Albert Almora made a great heads up play, moving to second on Bryant’s flyout to the wall in center field. After a walk to Rizzo, Ben Zobrist came through with a double the other way, bringing home Almora and putting the Cubs ahead. It was a small thing, but Almora taking the extra base was the catalyst of the inning. Miguel Montero added another run with a pinch-hit single to put the Cubs up 8-6.

With Chapman’s work finished after a night of underwhelming (by his standards) fastballs and way too may sliders, it was on Carl Edwards, Jr. The 25-year-old rookie started the frame with a strikeout against Mike Napoli, blowing a 95-mile-per-hour fastball right by him. Jose Ramirez‘s groundball resulted in the second out. Guyer kept the game alive with a walk, bringing up the hero of the eighth inning, Davis.

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Davis came through for the Indians again, rifling a single up the middle to bring Guyer after he took second on defensive indifference. Edwards was out, and lefty Mike Montgomery was in.

Montgomery’s first pitch curveball stole a strike from Michael Martinez. The second pitch was beat into the ground, and Bryant picked it up and threw it over to first. Even as his foot began to slip out from under him, Bryant’s throw was on target to Rizzo. When the ball settled in his mitt, the Cubs were the last team standing. 108 years of inadequacy was washed away by the light rain that fell on the field less than an hour earlier.

The man who came through the go-ahead hit in the 10th inning was named World Series MVP. En route to earning a ring for the second straight year, Zobrist hit .357 (10-28) in the final series of the season with a double, triple, two RBI, and five runs scored.  He came to the Cubs in the offseason as a free agent after winning the World Series with the Kansas City Royals last year.

The Cubs were the 45th team in Major League history to fall behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven postseason series with the last two games happening on the road. They became just the seventh team to rally back and win the series. They are the fourth to make their comeback in the World Series, and first since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. The 1958 New York Yankees and 1968 St. Louis Cardinals also made that rally. The 1985 Kansas City Royals and 2004 Boston Red Sox did it the ALCS, and the 2003 Florida Marlins did it in the NLCS.

The curse, whichever curse you want to name, is no longer an excuse. The Cubs were the best team in the regular season with 103 wins, and they fought back from what seemed like an insurmountable deficit. 108 years of failure, unmatched in the four major American sports, is over. For the first time since 1908, the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions. Game seven lasted longer than they would have liked, but it turned into one of the most thrilling and enthralling games in baseball history. Seems like the perfect way for Chicago to end that drought.

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After the final out, players like Rizzo and Bryant and Russell and Lester did something that players like Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins and Ron Santo and Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg never did: they celebrated a Cubs’ World Series championship.

Go, Cubs, Go!