Ben Zobrist delivers exactly what the Cubs expected with massive World Series

Ben Zobrist delivers exactly what the Cubs expected with massive World Series

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

--Joy to the World: Cubs finally end 108-year Series drought

--Finally: The Cubs are World Series champs

--The wait –and the weight- is over: Cubs fans celebrate World Series title

--Barack Obama congratulates Cubs World Series championship

--Famous Cubs fans celebrate World Series title on Twitter

--Ben Zobrist becomes first Cub ever to win World Series MVP

--Numbers game: statistical oddities of the Cubs World Series title

--Jed Hoyer: Rain delay was ‘divine intervention’ for Cubs

​--Fans give Cubs a taste of home in Cleveland

--Ben Zobrist delivers exactly what the Cubs expected with massive World Series

--‘Dreams come true’: Bill Murray reacts to Cubs winning the World Series

--Big surprise: Kyle Schwarber plays hero again for Cubs in World Series Game 7

- Ryne Sandberg: World Series ‘made it able for me to live in the present’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream