Cubs Finally Beat the Curse in Classic Game 7
At last, My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song – Etta James
In 1975, when I was 15 years old, I remembered watching Game 6 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds (The Big Red Machine) as if it was yesterday. A see-saw game ended when Boston’s catcher Carlton Fisk hit a long fly ball to left field in the bottom of the twelfth inning. As he ran up the first base line, Fisk waved his arms to the right, as if imploring the ball to stay fair. The ball hit the left field foul pole high off of the Green Monster and Fisk’s waving has become on of the most enduring and iconic moments in baseball lore.
This game featured great drama: home runs by unlikely players (Bernie Carbo), great defense (Dwayne Evans catch of Joe Morgan’s blast and Greg Foster gunning down a Red Sox runner tagging from third on a fly ball in the bottom of the ninth), lead changes, and of course, Fisk’s home run. (Note: This game has been ranked as Number 1 in MLB’s Top 20 Game of all time.)
In 1991, I watched Game 7 of the Twins-Braves World Series from a bar only half a mile away from the Metrodome. I saw the Twins’ Jack Morris go 10 innings to outduel the Braves John Smolz in Game 7 of the World Series. Jack Morris would rebuff his manager Tom Kelly on numerous occasions to pull him out of the game, prompting Kelly to say “Oh hell, it’s only a game.” In the bottom of the tenth, the Twins scored the winning run to cap one of the more intense games in World Series history, only the second time since 1962 that a team had won a Game 7 by a 1-0 score. That ended one of the more exciting World Series in history. This game was different from the 1975 game alluded to earlier, not possessing the back and forth drama, but nevertheless featured great pitching and defense to keep the game scoreless.
These games have been superseded by the Cubs dramatic 8-7 win over Cleveland to win the 2016 World Series. This was not only an intensely dramatic game, but a game with huge stakes, a battle of two storied franchises that were both in pursuit of their first championship in decades (of course for the Cubs more than a century). The game was also a culmination of an amazing comeback, where the Cubs, once down 3-1 in this series, were not only forced to win three straight games, but the final two on the road, and the final game against Cleveland’s ace.
The story of this game is one of unbelievable resilience, of a take no quarter give no quarter attitude on the part of both teams. The Cubs, after an early lead, almost gave this game away with a series of mistakes (both player and managerial), but somehow held off the never say die a Cleveland team that simply refused to give in. In the end, a very young Cubs team simply refused to wilt to either Cleveland or to history.
The game began about as well as possible for the Cubs. They knew they had to get Cleveland’s ace early and not allow him to settle down. The Cubs got to Corey Kluber early as Dexter Fowler homered off the game’s fourth pitch. Cleveland would tie it in the 3rd when Coco Crisp doubled, was sacrificed to third, and scored on an RBI single from Carlos Santana. Thus started this game’s back and forth pendulum.
The Cubs got two more in the fourth off a sacrifice fly from Adisson Russell and Wilson Contreras double. Kluber was not the same dominant pitcher he had been in Games 1 and 4. It was apparent that Kluber would have a very difficult time repeating Mickey Lolich’s feat of winning 3 World Series games accomplished in 1968. He was being tagged early and often, and in the fifth inning was taken deep by Javier Baez. It was the only the first in 145 appearances that he had gone in without a strikeout. With Bryant on first, Rizzo doubled and Bryant’s rounded the 3 remaining bases in 9 seconds (a 20 mph clip). The Cubs now had a 5-1 lead. With how Kyle Hendrick’s was pitching, this appeared to be enough insurance for the Cubs to win it all.
But a funny thing happened in the bottom of the inning. Joe Maddon, the Cubs skipper, choked. He started to make a series of decisions that appeared would cost the Cubs this game. With two outs in the inning, Kyle Hendricks walked Carlos Santana when the at bat could have very easily ended in a strike out. Hendricks had been cruising and was the recipient of a very dubious 3rd ball call by umpire. But Maddon played it ultra safe and yanked Hendricks in favor of John Lester.
Maddon had promised not to bring in Lester into a “dirty inning” but that’s exactly what he did. Although a single runner on first with two outs would not usually be considered daunting, Lester’s inability to both throw to first or field off the mound would cost him dearly. With Santana almost halfway to second, Cleveland shortstop Jason Kipnis hit a harmless little dribbler that any pitcher should have easily handled for the third out. But since Lester doesn’t field or throw to bases well, this forced his designated catcher, David Ross to make a very difficult play. Kipnis reached base safely, and all of a sudden, the inning had become filthy dirty for the Cubs.
Lester then threw a wild pitch that bounced off the plate and knocked Ross down. Both Santana and Kipnis scored (This was only the second 2 run wild pitch since 1911, when a catcher named Chief Myers allowed the second run because he refused to chase the wild pitch.) The Cubs’ lead was suddenly down to only two runs. Progressive Field (an odd name for a team with a racist name) was rocking and the Cubs fans were thinking: “Oh no, not again.”
In the top of the sixth, with Cleveland’s extraordinary middle reliever Andrew Miller on the mound, the much maligned David Ross (none of the previous inning’s badness was really his fault but nevertheless he was still the face of its calamity) swung a little momentum back Chicago’s way with a 406’ blast into right field.
The dust settled for a couple of innings as both Lester and Miller and then closer Cody Allen shut down both offenses. In the bottom of the eighth, things got interesting again. Lester retired the first two batters before Jose Ramirez reached second on an infield hit and subsequent throwing error.
Again, Maddon pushed the panic button. Rather than bringing any one of his middle relievers (Montgomery, Rondon, Edwards) he brought in his overworked closer Aroldis Chapman, this time to record a four out save. Chapman didn’t have his usual stuff and Cleveland greeted him with a double by Guyer to the gap between center and right to score Ramirez. The next batter, the slumping Rajai Davis, worked an 6 pitch at bat, fouling off numerous pitches before stroking a low slider over the left field wall to tie the game.
The Cleveland fans went crazy, LeBron went berserk, and just like that this game was tied. Cleveland had all of the momentum, they had their closer, and the Cubs suddenly had no more reliable pitchers left to finish off the game. It was the second WTF decision by Joe Maddon that had caused this mess. For sure now the Cubs would wilt. How could they possibly recover from this ?
In the top of the ninth, the resilient Cubs continued to fight. Ross walked and his pinch runner Coughlan was forced out on a fielder’s choice. Heyward, now at first, stole second base and then made it to third on a throwing error by catcher Gomes. With only one out, Maddon made another indefensible decision by having Baez try to bunt on a 3-2 count. When Baez fouled out, the Cubs were down to their last out. When Fowler grounded right up the middle, it looked like a hit, but Lindor, in an exaggerated shift, fielded the ball behind the second base bag and threw Fowler out. The Cubs rally had been stymied.
Then in the bottom of the ninth, Chapman, remarkably, came out to pitch yet another inning. After crying in the locker-room, how was Maddon trusting his closer to come out again ? Unbelievably, Chapman retired the side in an easy inning.
With extra innings looming, the rains came down and temporarily suspended this enthralling game. Heyward called a players only meeting in the dressing room and told his teammates
“I just had to remind everybody who we are, what we’ve overcome to get here.“
The Cubs came out in the tenth roaring to go. Schwarber continued his excellent batting with a single. Alberto Al Mora came in to pinch run. Bryant then hit a ball deep into the right center field gap. AlMora’s running decision here was absolutely crucial to the Cubs winning this championship. Rather than going to second and waiting to see if the ball would be caught, he stayed between first and second, apparently having judged that the ball would be caught. He was thus able to tag and take second base instead of having to return to first. After Rizzo was intentionally walked, soon to be MVP Ben Zobrist slapped a single to left field to score AlMora. A single by Montero scored Rizzo for the invaluable insurance run.
The Cubs led 8-6 but now didn’t have their closer. Instead, the ball was given to Carl Edwards Jr. to bring home the bacon. Carl got two outs before walking Guyer. Guyer then took second on an infielder’s indifference. After 8th inning hero Rajai Davis came through again with a single to cut the lead to 8-7, Maddon finally got it right and relieved Edwards. Mike Montgomery came in to face Miguel Martinez, who had been put into left field as a designated thrower in the previous inning.
Martinez grounded softly to Bryant, who easily fielded the ball. You could see a big smile pop up in his face as he threw to first, the punctuation to the Cubs miracle season.