“Greatest ever” is an often over-used label applied to today’s sports teams, athletes, games and individual plays. In the post-game chatter following Wednesday night’s World Series finale, that label was getting bandied about to describe the Chicago Cubs’ defeat of the Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic. In this case, there was good reason. Both franchises certainly had a lot at stake, trying to break long streaks of having not won a World Series. The historical background of the event and the drama that unfolded over the seven games were indeed worthy of putting this World Series among the best, if not the absolute best, ever played.
Prior to this year, one could argue the greatest World Series was the 1991 Minnesota Twins victory over the Atlanta Braves, when it came down to a similar Game 7 extra-inning game. The 1961 Pittsburgh Pirates’ improbable win over the New York Yankees, with Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning grand slam in Game 7, also certainly ranks at the top of many fans’ list of greatest World Series. And there are a few others.
What this Series had going for it was the matchup of two teams that had the longest stretches since their last World Series championships--the Cubs hadn’t won since 1908 and the Indians hadn’t prevailed since 1948. Long-suffering fans of both teams were desperate for wins. The legendary Cubs’ “curses” involving a billy goat, a black cat, and Cubs fan Steve Bartman were still on the minds of many of those fans.
The Cubs were favored to win the World Series, since they were in first place practically the entire season and wound up with the best record in all of baseball; plus they had defeated two formidable teams, the Giants and the Dodgers, to punch their World Series ticket. The Indians had surprised everyone by getting past the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays in relatively easy fashion in the preceding playoff series. It appeared as though a Hollywood script was being played out for the Cubs to finally break the supposed curses that had superficially plagued them since 1945.
When the Indians jumped to a 3-1 lead over the Cubs after four games, they appeared to be poised to finally get their championship and keep the Cubs’ curses Cubs alive for at least another year. But the Cubbies fought back to even the Series in Games 5 and 6.
Game 7 turned out to be a thriller late in the game, which was interrupted by a 17-minute rain delay after a 6-6 tie in the ninth inning but then ended in the tenth.
Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber started his third game in the Series as part of a plan outlined by Manager Terry Francona to compensate for his shortage of healthy starting pitchers. Kluber won his first two outings with masterful performances, but his fatigue and familiarity by Cubs hitters caused him to exit the game with no outs in the fifth inning after giving up four runs.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks was yanked by Manager Joe Maddon with two outs in the fifth inning, leading 5-2.
Throughout the Series, both managers had been quick to pull their starters (none of them had pitched beyond six innings), going to their bullpens earlier than normal in regular-season games. But in this game, that strategy didn’t work too well.
The Indians tied the game at 6-6 with three runs in the bottom of the 8th inning off of Cubs reliever Aroldis Chapman, who had been their shut-down reliever in Games 2, 5, and 6. Fans were beginning to wonder if Chapman would be the cause of the Cubs’ next disastrous curse.
After a scoreless 9th inning, the game was halted due to rain. Ironically, it was Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward who called his teammates together during the break in the game to get them re-focused, since Heyward had been benched by Maddon in earlier Series games because he was struggling at the plate.
The Cubs rebounded with two runs in the top of the 10th and the Indians were able to respond with only a single run in the bottom of the inning, thus ending the game, 8-7.
The Cubs had an improbable task to bounce back from a 3-1 deficit to capture the World Series. They were the first team since the Kansas City Royals in 1985 to do so. Perhaps it was destiny that the Cubs would win their first championship in 108 years, since there are (can you believe it?) 108 double-stitches on a major-league baseball.
What does the future hold for the Cubs? The core of young Cubs players will likely be intact for the next four to five years because they are early in their contract terms. In years past, the renowned infield of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was representative of the early Cubs teams that made four World Series appearances in early 1900s. Now, they’ve been supplanted by this year’s infield combo of Bryant and Russell-to-Baez-to-Rizzo. The Cubs don’t appear to be just a one-year wonder. In fact, they have already been predicted as the favorite to represent the National League in the 2017 World Series.
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, is the brilliant architect of this team. As a 27-year-old general manager of the Boston Red Sox, he built a club that broke the Red Sox’s “Curse of the Bambino” by winning the 2004 World Series. (Babe Ruth was unpopularly sold to the New York Yankees after helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 1918.) When Epstein left Boston for Chicago after the 2011 season, he went on a mission to repeat his success on the North Side of Chicago. He developed a blueprint for executing a complete make-over of the roster over the next few years that included signing his own bevy of draft picks and a few choice free agents. The rebuilt team came together in 2015, making the playoffs and positioning themselves for a run at the division title this year. Consequently, Epstein has now appropriately gained a reputation as the “curse breaker.”
The Cubs had become known as “lovable losers” over the years due to their inability to get back to a World Series. The Cubs’ long-awaited victory is a lifetime memorable event. Their fans are now able to cross off an item on their bucket list—to see the Cubs finally win a World Series. Now, there should be no more apprehension about billy goats and black cats. And even Steve Bartman, the object of the Cubs’ curse in 2003 when he interfered with a Cubs outfielder’s attempt to catch a flyball in the stands during the playoffs, should now be off the hook with the Cubs franchise.
The Indians should be celebrated for their season as well. They weren’t expected to win in the playoffs, much less make a World Series appearance. Terry Francona, who produced two World Series titles with Epstein in Boston, probably earned himself an eventual place in the Baseball Hall of Fame even though his team didn’t win this Series. However, the Indians’ World Series drought still remains. Let’s hope their 69 years doesn’t turn into 108.
Was this greatest ever World Series? Probably so, even if only because of its historical significance. But the games offered some interesting strategies and individual performances that kept fans tuned in throughout the Series. In any case, the Flying W flag can stay hoisted until the start of next season. For now, there’s joy in Wrigleyville.