The lovable losers. That was the first thing we were all so glad to see go. Sure, Cubs’ fans endured five years of hardcore losing – from 2010 thru 2014 they compiled a combined record of 346-464 – but we all knew when Theo Epstein took over in October 2011 he had a legacy to protect, to build on. That gave us hope.
Theo and team immediately got to work, and they had a lot of work to do after the Cubs had just lost 91 games in the previous season. When he was introduced by Tom Ricketts, Theo proclaimed,”I firmly believe that we can preserve the things that make the Cubs so special and over time build a consistent winner, a team that will be playing baseball in October consistently and a team that will ultimately win the World Series.”
Boy, was that music to our ears. As Cubs fans, we’ve dreamt our whole lives about winning a World Series. We’ve seen and experienced things that would make a regular man crumble to the ground in utter defeat. We’ve cried, not good tears but hard, cold, sad tears. We’ve held each other, comforted the person in the seat next to us, spoke those words that we said we’d never speak again, “Maybe next year,” followed by a shrug and a hint of a smile. And sure enough, we’d be right back at Wrigley Field next year, hoping for the same thing.
When Theo Epstein was hired we didn’t really know what to expect. We knew there’d be winning, because that’s what Theo does, he’d proved it as a 28 year-old general manager with the Boston Red Sox as he went on to help lead that team to two World Championships. As much as we all wanted, yearned for, winning we certainly weren’t quite sure what it would look and feel like.
The regular season
The entire Cubs roster in 2016 consisted of the final finished product from the Epstein hiring. Tom Ricketts had given him complete control of baseball operations and in turn Epstein built a team he felt was ready to push for the World Series title. On Opening Day of 2016 it was clear that everything had changed. This was a team that was favored to win the World Series, that you could see had all the talent, perhaps more than any prior Cubs team we’d seen in our lives, to win a whole bunch of games.
The Cubs went 53-35 (.602 winning percentage) in the first half of the season but they had lost 15 of 21 games heading into the All-Star break. Nearly half of their losses to that point came during that ugly streak. They’d post a 50-23 record over the second half of the season, an impressive .685 winning percentage. In the process, they captured the division title by a resounding 17 1/2 games over the second place St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs would end the year with 103 wins, the most wins by the Cubs since 1910 when they won 104 games, and they finished 2016 with best record in baseball.
In the playoffs the little things that so often worked against this team finally started to fall into place. Those things that would happen to the Cubs were now happening for them. The magic started with an unbelievable come-back win in game 4 of the NLDS in San Francisco, when the Cubs would score four runs in the top of the ninth inning to secure a 6-5 win over the Giants and advance to the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs were making back-to-back appearances in the NLCS for the first time in their history and there was a sense that this time would be different than the previous four. If you didn’t believe that, Miguel Montero’s grand slam, followed by Dexter Fowler’s home run in game one certainly changed everything. Wrigley rocked that night like I had never seen it before. It just felt right.
The Dodgers would make a series of it by winning the next two games and putting the pressure squarely back on the shoulders of the Cubs. In game 4 it was win or face three straight elimination games. The Cubs offense exploded in both game 4 and game 5, combining to outscore the Dodgers 18-6 in those games. In game 6 the Cubs left no doubt, winning easily by the score of 5-0 and, after facing a possible 3-1 series deficit, the Cubs were heading to the World Series. The dream was becoming a reality.
The World Series
I will never forget sitting in the stands at Progressive Field and watching that first pitch of game one in the 2016 World Series. It was just magical to see the Cubs in the World Series after all those years of suffering, but it was even more special being there in person. I kept thinking, ‘I’m watching the Cubs play in the World Series.’
If you’d have asked me in the 80’s and 90’s if seeing the Cubs in the World Series would have been enough, I may have said ‘yes.’ Of course, that’s before you’re actually seeing the Cubs in the World Series. Once the Cubs made it, it became clear that just getting there wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for the long-suffering fans, it wasn’t enough for the players, it wasn’t enough for the Cubs’ management team, it just wasn’t going to be enough. No, the Cubs needed to win.
In game one, the Cubs were up against what felt like an immovable force in Indians’ pitcher Corey Kluber. The Cubs were completely shut down that night on offense but there was a glimmer of hope from Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist. They were the only Cubs’ batters to have quality at-bats against Kluber, with Kyle hitting a deep double off the wall and drawing a walk, while Zobrist went 3-for-4 including a double. Little did we know at the time, but both players would be huge in game 7.
When the Cubs won game 2 of the World Series by the score of 5-1, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist once again made their presence felt, accounting for four of the Cubs nine hits including 2 runs and 3 RBI. The feeling that night from the Indians’ fans as they were shuffling out of the stadium was almost a sense of resignation. There was talk about that being the last game they’d see in Cleveland that year, that their run was done. To me, with the series heading back to Chicago tied 1-1, that seemed like it was far from the case.
As I pulled into Chicago in my rental car, and was finally within range of the local radio stations, I started to listen to all the banter about the World Series, from what this meant to Chicago, to how big last night’s win was, to speculation that the Series could end in Chicago with three straight Cubs’ wins. Honestly, I never heard much speculation about returning to Cleveland, it was mostly all confidence around a possible Cubs’ home field sweep.
I wanted to be confident, I wanted to believe the Cubs could win four straight and put Cleveland away, but I’m a Cubs fan, a long-time, hard-core Cubs fan. I knew that if the Cubs were going to win it all it wasn’t going to be that easy. You don’t go 108 years without a title – or for that matter, 68 years for the Indians – only to cruise to an easy World Championship. No way, no how.
Never, in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined what was about to occur.
The excitement around Wrigley Field was incredible. Every single restaurant and bar was packed, even the bars several blocks away from Wrigley that were never packed on game-days, bars in the Southport corridor and beyond, stretching down to Roscoe Village. All packed tight like sardines. Everyone wanted to be a part of history, everyone wanted to say ‘I was there when the Cubs won.’
Unfortunately, the Cubs would be shut out in game 3, unable to muster any sign of offense on a night where the wind was gusting out. They’d lose game 4 as well, this time due to bumbling defensive errors and another shut-down performance by the Indians’ ace, Corey Kluber. After a game like that, things felt hopeless. As a Cubs’ fan, it was way to easy to get discouraged, to lull yourself into believing the World Series Title you’ve waited so long for was now slipping away.
Looking deep within
After that game I looked deep inside of myself. I reflected on everything the Cubs had accomplished throughout the entire year. I felt like I had a solid perspective too. I’d started this website, Cubs Kingdom, on the first day of Spring Training as a casual fan, not a baseball expert and certainly not an experienced writer. However, I wrote and, like many of you, read about the Cubs every single day of the season. I convinced my wife that this website was going to work, that the Cubs were going to win it all and that was bourn out of true belief. I never wavered and I wasn’t going to start now.
I sent these tweets to show my thoughts on what I believed was going to be the Cubs’ true destiny.
If someone asked me, ever, if I’d take the Cubs being 3 wins from a World Championship with 3 games left, I’d take that every time. #Believe
— Cubs Kingdom (@CubsKingdom) October 30, 2016
For those of you counting the Cubs out, don’t. Glory beckons.
For those of you that believe, I’ll see you in Cleveland.
— Cubs Kingdom (@CubsKingdom) October 30, 2016
— Cubs Kingdom (@CubsKingdom) October 30, 2016
Sure, the tweets were a little cheesy, but it was an emotional time for me and I so strongly believed that this would not, could not, be the way the season would end that I had to express myself and put my passion out there into the world. So, that’s what I did.
Game 5 of the World Series had a much different feel than games 3 and 4. With the Cubs’ backs against the wall, ticket prices had plummeted throughout the day. What started as a hope that the Cubs would clinch the World Series title at Wrigley had turned into a fear that the Cubs would lose it right there before our eyes. You could sense the crowd was yearning to scream, to shout at the tops of their lungs for this team they loved so much.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, with the Cubs down 1-0 and things looking bleak, everything changed. A Kris Bryant home run, an Anthony Rizzo double, and one heck of a Javier Baez bunt later and the Cubs were in the lead 3-1. The crowd was going crazy as the Cubs would win that game 3-2 to force the World Series back to Cleveland and put the pressure squarely on the Indians and their fans. Surprise everyone, this isn’t even close to being done yet.
In game 6, the Cubs buried the Indians 9-3 on a warm November night in Cleveland, with Addison Russell driving in six runs on the back of his 3rd inning grand slam. And there we were, after all of that, down to one single game for everything. Everything we, as a collective Cubs family, had ever dreamt of was right in front of us, shining like never before. Win one game and win the World Series Championship. Wow. Words that, as a Cubs fan, I’d always dreamed about but never words I ever really knew if I’d be faced with.
The magic of the following night, that amazing game 7, has been described by me and many others and we’ll all try to stay close to those feelings it brought to us. The joy of that first inning home run by Dexter Fowler. The unexpected and unwelcome tying run by Cleveland in the bottom of the 3rd inning. The relief of the Cubs bouncing back to take a three-run lead deep into the game only to feel the anxiety of watching it slip away after a 3-run eighth inning by the Indians.
Then there was the rain delay, that crazy rain storm that we all knew was coming had hit. And then, as quickly as the rain began, the skies cleared. The way the Cubs came out in the top of the tenth inning was glorious. It was a flurry that no team could withstand, a gush of violent baseball meant only for a game like that. Ben Zobrist and, the unlikely, Miguel Montero would emerge as the heroes. The team would hoist David Ross on their shoulders as Ross softly wiped away a tear from his eye. A truly grand finale.
That’s the story. The Cubs are World Champions. Pop the bubbly. Que the parade. Light up the fireworks.
Everything has changed
And now, here we are. The hot stove season is upon us and we’re all wondering what changes will be made to the team that became The Team to win it all. We’ll bask in the glory, read and watch as much as we can about the 2016 Cubs, and then, we’ll go to Spring Training and start it all over again.
Teams will now be coming for the Cubs. Everyone wants that title. I cannot tell you what moves Theo will make in this offseason. I can tell you that the Chicago Cubs are the World Champions and, after the celebration has faded, this team will go about viciously defending what is their’s.
What we are seeing is the beginning of a dynasty. And who knows, it’s one that may very well re-shape baseball as we know it.
Hold on tight, it’s gonna be one hell of a ride.