Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Chicago Cubs: 2016 World Series Champions



CLEVELAND -- After a 108-year wait for a World Series championship, the Cubs had to wait just a little longer.

Ben Zobrist smacked a one-out tiebreaking RBI double in a two-run 10th inning that lifted the Cubs to an 8-7 rain-delayed victory over the Indians Wednesday night in Game 7. Zobrist was named World Series MVP.

Game 7 of a series in any sport is significant, but this was more than a baseball game to Cubs fans. This win ended more than a century of frustration as the Cubs won their first championship since 1908, ending the longest drought in professional sports. This was for Ernie and Ronnie and Billy and many more.

Dexter Fowler, Javier Baez and David Ross each homered, and the Cubs had leads of 5-1 and 6-3, but the Indians rallied against Aroldis Chapman in the eighth, tying the game at 6 on Rajai Davis' two-run homer.

The Cubs are the first team to come back from a three games to one deficit and win Games 6 and 7 on the road since the 1979 Pirates.

Rain halted play for 17 minutes prior to the 10th inning, and gave both teams and the sellout crowd a chance to regroup -- and breathe. Kyle Schwarber singled to open the 10th against Bryan Shaw, and was lifted for pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr., who advanced on Kris Bryant's flyout to the wall in right-center. Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked to set up Zobrist, who lined a double down the left-field line past a diving Jose Ramirez.

Miguel Montero added an RBI single and rookie Carl Edwards Jr. got the first two outs of the 10th before walking Brandon Guyer and giving up an RBI single to Davis. Mike Montgomery took over for Edwards and got Michael Martinez to ground to Bryant at third for the most important 6-3 in Cubs history.

Back at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans flocked to the corner of Clark and Addison and were anticipating their own celebration, considering the commanding lead Chicago had until the eighth. They also were well-represented in the stands in the Tribe's home, making it sound like a neutral site at times.

The Cubs, who won 103 games, are the third team in Wild Card era (since 1995) to have baseball's best outright regular-season record and win the World Series. They join the 1998 and 2009 Yankees.

It wasn't easy. This was the third time the Cubs faced Indians ace Corey Kluber in the Series, and the first time in his career that the right-hander did not strike out a batter. Kluber was charged with four runs over four-plus innings, including two home runs, which bookended his outing. Fowler led off the game with home run to straightaway center, and Baez closed Kluber's outing with a leadoff blast in the fifth.

The Indians tied the game in the third on Carlos Santana's RBI single, but the Cubs tacked on runs in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Game 6 hero Addison Russell and an RBI double by rookie Willson Contreras.

Baez's homer not only made up for two errors he made early in the game but chased Kluber, and Andrew Miller took over. Bryant and Rizzo combined for another run as Bryant walked and then scored on Rizzo's single to right. Since Sunday's Game 5 win, Rizzo has been playing the music from the movie "Rocky." As he stood on second base following his hit, he raised his arms in the air, just like Rocky Balboa, and did a little shadow boxing.

Who could blame Rizzo, either? Cleveland looked to be on the verge of a knockout.

Kyle Hendricks started for the Cubs and held the Indians to two runs over 4 2/3 innings, but he was lifted with two outs in the fifth after walking Santana. Jon Lester, making his first relief appearance since the 2007 American League Championship Series, entered along with veteran catcher Ross. It was a little messy, as a Ross throwing error and a wild pitch by Lester allowed two runs to score. But Ross made up for that in the sixth when his solo shot gave the Cubs a 6-3 lead, a great way to cap this storybook season as he heads into retirement.

The Indians were not done writing their own ending, though.

With a runner on first and two out in the eighth, Cubs manager Joe Maddon handed the ball to Chapman, who promptly allowed a run-scoring double to Guyer, trimming Chicago's lead to 6-4. That set the stage for Davis, who ripped a 97-mph fastball to left field, where it cleared the 19-foot wall, eliciting a riotous roar from the crowd.



MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

You go, we go: Fowler gave the Chicago contingent of fans something to cheer about when he opened the game with a home run, the first homer in history to open a winner-take-all World Series game. Fowler, who had seven leadoff homers during the regular season, launched a 2-1 sinker from Kluber a Statcast™ -projected 406 feet to straightaway center. What also was encouraging was Schwarber on the bases, as he followed Fowler with an infield single, then stole second. Schwarber, playing on a surgically repaired left knee, was limited to being the designated hitter during the Series.

Davis' heroics: The stadium was shaking in the eighth inning, when Davis delivered his game-tying shot off Chapman. The veteran shot an arm high in the air as he rounded first and his teammates could not help but pour from the dugout in celebration. Up in a suite, NBA star LeBron James flexed and shouted with approval, while the crowd erupted in a riotous roar. Davis' blast pulled the game into a 6-6 deadlock, giving Cleveland a slice of hope before the Cubs' final push.

Breaking through: The Indians pulled the game into a 1-1 deadlock in the third inning, when veteran Coco Crisp led off by slicing a pitch from Hendricks down the left-field line. Crisp showed that there is still life in his legs by hustling around first and diving headfirst into second with a double. Crisp then moved up 90 feet on a sacrifice bunt by Roberto Perez, and then jogged home when Santana sent a line drive over a leaping Rizzo and into right for an RBI single.

No way, Jose: Jose Ramirez opened the home half of the second with a chopper up the middle, where it ricocheted off Hendricks and rolled into no-man's land between short and third. After Ramirez reached with the infield single, the Progressive Field crowd roared and chanted his first name. A moment later, though, Hendricks caught Ramirez leaning at first and used a quick move to pick him off. Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a single but was erased by an inning-ending double play off the bat of Davis. So, the Indians had two hits, but Hendricks faced the minimum.

Add-on runs: With the game tied at 1 in the fourth, Bryant singled to left, threading the ball between two defenders, and moved up when Rizzo was hit by a pitch. Rizzo was forced at second on Zobrist's fielder's choice, but Bryant advanced to third and scored on Addison Russell's sacrifice fly to center. Davis threw home, but Bryant safely slid in under Perez's tag. Contreras followed with an RBI double off the center-field wall that Davis misjudged and had to chase. Zobrist scored on the hit to open a 3-1 lead.

Wild turn of events: Ross took over behind the plate when Lester entered in relief with one on and two out in the fifth. After Ross made a throwing error on Jason Kipnis' swinging bunt, the Indians had runners on second and third. Then a wild pitch by Lester caromed off Ross' face mask to the backstop. He stumbled initially when he went to to give chase, allowing both runners to score. Ross then redeemed himself in the Chicago sixth, hitting a solo home run off Miller to open a 6-3 lead. It's a nice way to head off into retirement. At 39 years 228 days, Ross is the oldest player to homer in Game 7 of a World Series.

AFTER FURTHER REVIEW

The Indians caught a break in the third inning, when Kipnis sent a grounder to shortstop Russell, who gloved the ball after it hit the lip of the grass and took an odd last bounce. Russell quickly flipped the ball to Baez, but the second baseman botched a barehanded grab. Santana was ruled out at second, but Cleveland challenged. After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that Baez did not demonstrate complete control and firm and secure possession of the ball. The call was overturned and what looked like a possible double play instead turned into the Tribe having two runners on with one out. Chicago escaped when Francisco Lindor flied out to left and Mike Napoli sent a 103-mph liner into the glove of Bryant at third base.

After Baez's homer chased Kluber, Fowler greeted Miller with a single and the Cubs had one on and nobody out in the fifth, but Schwarber grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The Cubs challenged the out call at first, saying Schwarber beat the throw from second baseman Kipnis, but the replay official definitively determined that the ball contacted the interior of Napoli's glove prior to Schwarber's foot touching first base and the call was confirmed. The Cubs still mounted a two-out rally, with Bryant walking and scoring on Rizzo's single to make it 5-1.

With the game caught in a 6-6 tie in the ninth, Jason Heyward hit a grounder to Kipnis, who fired it to Lindor at short to retire pinch-runner Chris Coghlan. The Indians challenged that Coghlan's slide interfered with Cleveland's shot at a double play, but the replay official definitively determined that Coghlan engaged in a bona-fide slide and Heyward remained at first base. Heyward ended up on third with one out after a stolen base and an error on the throw from Perez, but the game remained tied after a Baez strikeout on an attempted two-strike bunt attempt and a Heyward groundout that took an impressive play by Lindor.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

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