This wasn’t supposed to happen. Down three games to one in a best-of-seven series with the if-necessary games both back in Cleveland, the Cubs should have lost the World Series. Previous iterations of this team that have fueled the franchise and fanbase defining “lovable loser” concept would surely have packed up their tents and gone home. I don’t want to say they were all quitters, but it felt as though the Fates were always snipping the various cords and guide wires that moored and supported them.
Those shears of destiny were poised to make yet another cruel cut Tuesday night, slicing like the abbreviated arc of Rajai Davis’s bat as he deposited a 2-2 Aroldis Chapman fastball onto the home run porch in left. It felt as though a giant bell jar had been placed over all of Cubdom and the vacuum pump turned on. Where once there had been anxiety and elation and myriad other feelings, now there was just…nothing.
After an uneventful bottom of the 9th, the rain picked up and a large storm cell flashed across the television screen. Because of course. Whatever cosmic forces were controlling the outcome of the game weren’t happy with simply orchestrating a Cubs loss, they wanted to make it sting. Time and the tarp were stretched and I left the bar I’d been in since about 6pm ET because my ride was leaving.
As I searched for the owner, who I now consider a friend, his wife told me I wasn’t allowed to leave. “It’s cool,” I told her. “They’ll win after I leave. I’m leaving so they can win.” I’m not sure whether I really believed it or was just convincing myself, though I did like the idea of watching the game with my kids. I had been watching with my brother in the hopes that we’d be able to share in the culmination of a journey that began on our Grandpap’s living room floor 30-some years earlier.
But we drove off our separate ways and I had the audio going, hearing reports that the tarp was coming off.
And then things happened. Wonderful things. Things that aren’t supposed to happen after you’ve blown a 6-3 lead. A man who hadn’t played in six months prior to the World Series collected his seventh hit in 17 at-bats. He was lifted for a pinch runner, who moved to second on a fly out and then stayed put as the next man was intentionally walked. The next batter, a player who had hoisted a trophy in Kansas City last season and was brought to Chicago to do the same, punched a double to left to score the pinch runner.
Another intentional walk and another single added another score and oh my God, the Cubs are up. The Cubs are leading in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series and I was unable to process it. And, yes, I changed tense in the middle of a sentence. Whatever.
I can’t control myself right now. I’m emotional. I’m an emotional wreck. I’m in a glass case of emotion right now. Those were Anthony Rizzo’s words from earlier in the game when the Cubs had had a three-run advantage, but they were also mine there at the end. They were probably yours, too. Leave it to Grandpa Rossy to put things in perspective.
It’s only gonna get worse.
Wait, isn’t he supposed to dispense a pearl of wisdom and a pat on the back and make everyone feel better? Nah, I guess not. In the end, Ross’s words were more on point than perhaps even he could have imagined. As the game went to commercial mid-10th, I tried in vain to rouse my wife and daughter. Then I went to get my son in the hopes that someone, anyone, would want to experience this with me.
So Ryne came down and sat with me and I had my brother on speakerphone and then there were outs and Michael Martinez dribbled one to Kris Bryant and…
And that’s when I made like that would be Indians hero and choked up, opening and closing my mouth to form words that neither my brain nor my lips were capable of creating. I wept openly, out of joy and relief and not a small amount of sadness that the man who probably did more than anyone else to foster this love wasn’t there to share in it. Then I poured my emotional freshet into an impulse purchase of World Series gear for the family. Not before I blew my nose a few times, though.
I can say without a trace of hyperbole or melodrama that the Cubs have always been more than just a baseball team to me. They’re like an heirloom of sorts, something passed down from one generation to the next to be shared like Sunday brunch or Thanksgiving dinner. I think that’s why, regardless of age, we felt as one the unburdening of all those decades of loss and frustration as the 27th out settled in Anthony Rizzo’s glove.
Each of us has his or her own experiences, but we’re hard-wired into the collective memory bank of those who’ve come and gone before us as well. It’s not just a you thing or a me thing, it’s an us thing. Always has been. And I think the players get that, I really do.
Even with a fair allotment of delta for recency bias, I’m pretty sure that was the greatest baseball game ever played. Or at least the greatest I’ve ever watched. People who cared nothing for the Cubs, nothing for baseball, and hadn’t watch a game in years were hanging on every pitch. The sheer magnitude of it was one thing, but the way the Cubs did it added so much depth and significance to the win.
A young man who made two early errors homered to pad the Cubs’ lead in the 5th. An old man who had made a throwing error and then looked every bit of his 39 years when he stumbled while trying to retrieve a wild pitch launched a home run of his own the very next inning in what will go down as the final at-bat of his career (he walked in the 9th). A man whose hitting was maligned all season and who authored what was perhaps the worst AB I’ve ever seen was behind the team meeting during the rain delay that may have been responsible for the W.
This Cubs team didn’t quit, a fact they celebrated with a raucous post-game chant. They knew they were going to win and they sure as hell weren’t going to allow something as petty as fate or history stop them from doing what many had deemed impossible.
You can’t see it in the full-speed video above, but just look at Kris Bryant’s smile as he moves to field the final out. That’s not the expression of a man burdened by the past, it’s the recognition that he is a part of creating a brand new future.
— Andy (@Behind_The_Ivy) November 3, 2016
I had joked during the latter stages of Game 6 that perhaps Joe Maddon was using Chapman in order to keep him from being on the mound at the conclusion of the deciding game. I knew that wasn’t the case, but events conspired to make it true in a roundabout way just the same. While he ended up getting credit for the win, his contribution is but a footnote. Sometimes things work out like that. Chapman was a big part of the Cubs’ success, though his presence on the roster was cause for much hand-wringing and outright anger.
It felt, at least from my perspective, that the events of Game 7 allowed for a bit of catharsis and maybe helped some of those who were most at odds with bringing Chapman to Chicago to really be able to embrace the team without as much compartmentalization. The front office did what they felt they needed to do to win, and win they did.
The Cubs are World Series champions. It’s still sinking in, so I’ll say it again just to be sure: The Cubs are World Series champions. Yep, still true. This has been a wild ride and I’m so thankful to those who’ve shared in in various capacities. From being branded a jock-sniffing Theophile to explaining ad nauseam that the Ricketts family really did want to build a winner to watching everything finally, gloriously coalesce, I’m not sure I ever really understood just what we were in for.
I’m sure I’ll write about the whole thing more as distance gives me further perspective, but I’ll leave you now with an ad that ran in the wake of the win. That it’s for Nike isn’t nearly as important as the content, seeing the little boy dreaming of bigger things that might take place someday. Oh man, did that resonate with me.