CHAMPION CUBS END 108-YEAR STREAK OF MISERY, SOUND AND FURY!

Cubs’ Ben Zobrist was Series most valuable player.

By Sam Bush

Just how poetic is it that the Chicago Cubs snapped their 108-year streak of misery—a seismic event that millions of fans spent their entire lifetimes waiting in vain to witness—by overcoming more adversity than even manager Joe Maddon predicted last spring?

In a thriller for the ages, the Cubs emerged as just the sixth team ever to survive a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven World Series. They outlasted the Cleveland Indians in last night’s Game 7 in a dramatic 8-7 victory—a roller coaster of emotion that will go directly into the history books.

“We’ll be talking about that game for decades,” said general manager Jed Hoyer, as the team sprayed champagne in the clubhouse around him. “Maybe after 108 years, you get some divine intervention.”

Leading by three with two outs in the eighth, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman let the tying runs score, with Indians center fielder Rajai Davis’s two-run home run shaking the stadium. The blast conjured all the images of so many Cubs meltdowns, as waves of painful memories through the decades rushed back.

At that moment, the Indians appeared in control. But then fate stepped in. Before the top of the 10th inning, the skies opened up, prompting a brief rain delay. As the Cubs headed inside, outfielder Jason Heyward summoned the entire team into the weight room adjacent to the dugout.

Not known as a vocal leader, Heyward thought that the Cubs “needed to be reminded of how good we are.” And he didn’t hold back.

“He said, ‘You know what, whatever’s happened up to this point in the game, we’ve got to forget about it,’” said outfielder Ben Zobrist,who earned World Series MVP honors by hitting .357. “‘It’s over. We’re still the best team. We’re going to pull this thing out.’”

Whether inspired by Heyward’s words, buoyed by the break the weather offered, or simply the beneficiaries of good fortune, the Cubs responded. Zobrist commenced to double in the go-ahead run off Indians reliever Bryan Shaw, shooting a ground ball down the third-base line as Albert Almora Jr. scampered home. Miguel Montero later singled in an insurance run.

When Mike Montgomery nailed down the last out—a groundout by Michael Martinez—it sparked a party filled with equal parts joy and relief. It carried all the way from Progressive Field, where a large contingent of Cubs fans cheered wildly, all the way back to Chicago, where the city erupted in celebration.

“All the debris and all of the years that we didn’t win, it’s like throwing out a bunch of old clothes and donating them.” said the comedian and actor Bill Murray, a lifelong Cubs fan, drenched with booze inside the Cubs’ locker room. “We’ll give this one to someone else now. It’s the Indians’ turn.”

Afterward, the Indians, a franchise with its own demons left to conquer, watched in stunned silence, unable to stomach the fact that they squandered such a golden opportunity.

Three times, the Indians took the field one win away from bringing a World Series title to Cleveland for the first time since 1948. All three times, they failed, a depressing mirror image of the NBA’s Cavaliers, who in June upset the Golden State Warriors after falling behind in the Finals, 3-1. The Indians now own the longest championship drought of any team in the majors, their furious comeback Wednesday going for naught.

“It’s going to hurt,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It hurts because we care, but they need to walk with their heads held high.”

Ultimately, nobody could argue that the Cubs don’t deserve this ascension to the top of the baseball universe.

This entire season felt like a coronation for the Cubs from the moment it began, and they steamrolled the competition in pursuit of their crown, lovable losers no more. They established themselves as the undisputed best team in the sport and left no doubt, finishing with a regular-season record of 103-58 and then storming through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

This championship marked the culmination of a slow rebuilding process, which started in earnest when the Cubs hired Theo Epsteinas president of baseball operations before the 2012 season.

Epstein, a proven exorcist who in 2004 constructed the Boston Red Sox roster that broke an 86-year stretch of futility, oversaw a restructuring of the Cubs organization from the ground up. His ingenuity, coupled with chairman Tom Ricketts’s deep pockets, helped transform the Cubs from a laughingstock into a juggernaut.

After the game, Epstein joked that he planned to relinquish his presidential duties to Hoyer for the next month—for a good reason.

“I’m going on a bender!” he said.

He earned that right.

Under Epstein’s stewardship, the Cubs drafted third baseman Kris Bryant, the primary MVP candidate in the National League. They traded for first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell, a pair of All-Stars, not to mention top pitchers Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, who started Game 7. Then they fully announced their intentions in December 2014, signing pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year free-agent contract worth $155 million.

By steering the Red Sox and now the Cubs to a championship, Epstein solidified his place among the greatest baseball executives of all time, almost certainly punching his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

“This is in the history books,” Russell said. “We made our mark. And what’s crazy is with such a young core, we’re just getting started.”

But the Cubs will worry about the future later. On this night, they basked in the glory of an accomplishment that so many previous Cubs teams attempted but couldn’t achieve.

 

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