CLEVELAND — The Cubs signed Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal last December for exactly what he delivered on baseball’s biggest stage: A go-ahead RBI double in the 10th inning that helped push this franchise to an 8-7 Game 7 win over the Cleveland Indians and its first World Series title since 1908.
It was a moment that’ll go down as one of the biggest hits in Cubs history, but it’s one that was predicted by at least two players in the visitor’s dugout at Progressive Field.
“I was sitting next to (catching coach) Mike Borzello, I said, He’s going to hit one down the left-field line right here,” designated hitter Kyle Schwarber said. “I’m not kidding you. What’s he do, he hits it down the left-field line. I’m going crazy.”
“I told the boys, hey, I got this ball, he’s hitting it right down the line,” outfielder Dexter Fowler said. “I saw them playing him over and I told them he’s going to take a cutter down there.”
Zobrist’s smash down the left-field line came on a 96 mph 1-2 cutter on the outer third from Cleveland Indians reliever Bryan Shaw. That was the hardest pitch Zobrist saw in the five-pitch sequence, too. But Shaw had worked him on the outer third all at-bat, and finally threw one belt high that Zobrist didn’t miss.
While manager Joe Maddon didn’t predict Zobrist’s heroics before the game, a comment he made turned out to be prescient after the Indians intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo with first base open to get to the 35-year-old left fielder.
“You don't want to just give up on Rizzo to get to Zobrist in a pertinent moment,” Maddon said. “Doubles are nice. Doubles are nice, too. It doesn't have to go over the wall. We dig on doubles.”
Zobrist was named World Series MVP after collecting 10 hits and three walks in 31 plate appearances with a .919 OPS over seven games, with his presence in the middle of the Cubs’ order — he hit fourth or fifth all series — a critical one.
“There’s so many guys on this team that could’ve been MVP, and I think they probably just gave it to me because I got that hit, the go-ahead hit,” Zobrist said.
While Fowler was the Cubs’ “you go, we go” guy in 2016, the consistently competitive at-bats Zobrist had set an example for the horde of inexperienced players peppering Maddon’s lineup. After the New York Mets fireballed their way to a National League Championship Series sweep of the Cubs last year, Theo Epstein & Co. jettisoned Starlin Castro and brought in Zobrist to bring a veteran presence to a lineup that was lacking one.
That Zobrist was coming off winning the 2015 World Series with the Kansas City Royals only sweetened the deal for a team trying to end a 108-year title drought.
“Being a veteran and bringing his experience into this lineup, we didn’t have anything like that,” Fowler said. “He won a championship last year, and coming in and doing it again was really special.”
"I'm very, very lucky to be on a team with Ben Zobrist and have played with him,” catcher David Ross said. “That guy is a winner. He's a champion. He's a two-time champion, back-to-back years. What a special individual he is and a leader and one of the guys that continues to spark our team.”
Consider the circumstances facing the Cubs when Zobrist stepped into the batter’s box in the 10th inning: They had just blown a three-run lead with four outs left, they would’ve took the lead in the top of the ninth if not for Francisco Lindor’s spectacular play, they sat through a rain delay and were trying to muster the will to re-take the lead. Zobrist fell behind in the count 1-2 and ripped Shaw’s best pitch down the line for a go-ahead double.
But again, that’s why the Cubs signed Zobrist — to deliver in a pressure-packed moment like he faced in the 10th inning. Things don’t always work out that way, but on Wednesday night, the Cubs’ vision for how Zobrist would impact the 2016 season played out to perfection.
“I feel like I’m in a dream right now,” Zobrist said. “This organization, 108 years in the making, being able to be here my first year I’m really spoiled, obviously. To be here at the right time to be here with all these great young players, to join in the mix here, that’s — this was the dream, coming here. We were able to do it the first year. I got no words for it right now.”
More on the World Series victory