As Kris Bryant fielded the final out of the World Series knowing what it meant, he couldn’t help but smile. Overcome with joy, Bryant was barely able to release the throw before euphorically crashing to the ground.
When Anthony Rizzo caught Bryant’s throw with his foot on the bag to retire Cleveland’s Michael Martinez to secure the Cubs’ 8-7 victory and first World Series title since 1908, the Cubs erupted in celebration.
“We’re world champions,” Rizzo said in a post game interview. “The Chicago Cubs are world champions. Let that sink in.”
But was there any other way to end a game that had lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes, seen an 8th inning game tying two run home run, been through a rain delay, and ended 108 years of suffering for the Chicago Cubs?
After Jake Arrieta’s five and two thirds innings of two hit baseball in game two evened the series at one, the Cubs looked primed to take control of the series as they returned home to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field where they had put together the best home record in baseball.
But in Game 3, Cleveland shutout the Cubs 1-0 after receiving a stellar start from Josh Tomlin. In game 4, pitching on three days rest, Corey Kluber gave Cleveland six strong innings before exiting with a 7-1 lead. The Indians held on to take a 3-1 series advantage, putting Chicago in a hole that only five previous teams climbed out of.
“They’re obviously doing something right, taking advantage of our mistakes and my mistakes,” Bryant said in a postgame interview following Game 4.
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Cubs turned to veteran lefty Jon Lester, who capped off an unbelievable second half by going 5-1 in September with 0.48 era. After allowing a second inning solo home run to Jose Ramirez, Lester settled in to allow just one run over his next 4 innings. This time, Bryant did no wrong, as his fourth inning home run sparked a 3 run inning that would prove to be the difference.
“We sent these fans off with a win. Now we have to go to Cleveland and win,” Rizzo said after the game.
Down 3-2 in the series with a trip back to Cleveland, it looked as if the longest championship drought in the history of major sports would continue. But in Game 6, the powerful Cubs offense finally awoke. A Kris Bryant homerun and a misplayed ball by the Cleveland outfield led to a Addison Russell double that gave the Cubs a 3-0 first inning cushion that they would not relinquish.
Chicago’s Game 6 victory set up what will go down as one of the best World Series games in history. In a matchup pitting Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks against Cleveland’s Kluber, who was seeking to become the first pitcher in 48 years to go 3-0 in a World Series, the Cubs jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a first inning home run by Dexter Fowler. After a Carlos Santana RBI single knotted the game at 1, the Cubs scored 4 unanswered runs to push the lead to 5-1.
A wild pitch in the fifth inning cut the Cubs lead to two, but Cubs catcher David Ross responded with a solo home run of his own in the sixth to make it 6-3. With flamethrower Aroldis Chapman warming up, the Cubs appeared as if they were going to cruise to their first title since 1908. But in the eighth inning with the score the same, Chapman allowed hits to the first three batters he faced, including a game tying two run home run to Rajai Davis.
But after blowing the lead and seemingly their title hopes, the Cubs caught a break.
With Progressive Field rocking, rain began to fall. Though the game was delayed just 17 minutes, Cleveland lost valuable momentum Davis’ home run created.
“Sometimes rain can be a bad thing,” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said. “But the way we ended that inning, I felt like we needed that rain.”
Heyward was right. A tenth inning Ben Zobrist RBI double gave Chicago the lead that propelled them to the title. Cleveland’s rally fell just short in the bottom of the inning, as they managed to scratch one run across to make it 8-7 before Martinez grounded out to Bryant to end the game.
“This is an epic game. It’s epic,” Zobrist, who was named series MVP, said. “I can’t believe we were able to do it-108 years in the making.”
After 108 years of heartbreak in Chicago, there is something poetic about the way the Cubs finally won. Maybe it is because of the meltdowns of ‘84 and ‘08 or the Bartman incident in ‘03.
Whatever it is, Kris Bryant’s smile tells it all.