On Wednesday night, November 2, the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year championship drought when they beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings to win Major League Baseball’s World Series. The Cubs had not been in a World Series since 1945 and not won one since 1908.
A curse was blamed by some for the Cubs not being in a World Series since 1945. That year, the owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern brought his goat to a World Series game between the Cubs and the American League champion Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field and the goat was denied entry. The owner put a curse on the Cubs, saying they would never again go to the World Series. The Billy Goat Tavern, by the way, was the inspiration for the classic “cheeseburger, cheeseburger” sketch on Saturday Night Live.
I thought the Cubs were going to the World Series in 1969. They had an eight-game lead in their division in mid-August but ended up in second place eight games behind New York’s “Miracle Mets,” who went on to win the Series.
The Cubs came even closer in 1984. They had a 2-0 lead in games in a best-of-five playoff series against the San Diego Padres but then lost three in a row.
They came close again in 2003. They had a 3-2 lead in games and a 3-0 lead with five outs to go in Game 6 against the Florida Marlins before giving up eight runs in the eighth inning and then losing Game 7 the next day.
The Cubs had become a national joke for ineptness. The phrase “when the Cubs win the World Series” was right up there with “when hell freezes over.”
The Cubs made the 2016 World Series by beating the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. They had to come from behind in both series. The same thing happened in the World Series. Cleveland won three of the first four games.
The Cubs now had to win three in a row. They won Game 5 by a 3-2 score to keep their season alive. Closer Aroldis Chapman threw 42 pitches for an eight-out save.
In Game 6, the Cubs led 7-2 in the seventh when Cubs manager Joe Maddon summoned Chapman again. Apparently he didn’t trust anyone else in his bullpen to protect a five-run lead. Chapman threw 20 more pitches. The Cubs won 9-3.
In Game 7, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who led the majors in earned run average during the season, was cruising with a 5-1 lead with two out in the bottom of the fifth when he walked a guy. Maddon pulled Hendricks and brought in Jon Lester, who had started Game 5. When the inning was over, the Cubs’ lead was down to 5-3.
Lester pitched well from there and the Cubs led 6-3 with two out in the eighth when Maddon brought in Chapman. Chapman regularly threw more than 100 mph but was tired from overuse. This time he failed to hit triple-digits even once on the radar gun.
Chapman allowed the runner to score and then gave up a game-tying two-run homer. It was now 6-6. Chapman pitched a valiant ninth to keep the score tied and send the game into extra innings but he was spent and all the momentum was now on Cleveland’s side.
Then the rains came. The sky opened up and the tears of several generations of Cub fans began pouring down. There were tears in the Cubs’ clubhouse too. Chapman was reportedly distraught over letting his teammates down.
During the rain delay, outfielder Jason Hayward called the team together. Hayward had been a free-agent bust, signing a $184 million contract and then batting .230 with seven home runs. But he was a Gold Glover, a veteran and respected in the clubhouse.
Hayward reminded the Cubs’ young players how good they were, how they were the best team in baseball, how they won 103 games during the season, more than any other team. He told them how much he loved them. More tears started pouring down. Hollywood could not have scripted this better.
Suddenly, the skies cleared. It took just 17 minutes. Who ever heard of a 17-minute rain delay? But that’s all it took for the clouds to go away and the Cubs to regroup. They came out and scored two runs in the top of the 10th and held on to win 8-7.
Do you believe in miracles? I don’t either. But for this one night, for just a brief moment, with rain and thunder one minute and the Cubs celebrating a World Series victory the next, how could you not? Cleveland never had a chance.