Cubs thinking bigger and better after raising World Series banner

Cubs thinking bigger and better after raising World Series banner

The Cubs walked across the grass on Monday night, like some sort of "Field of Dreams" update, and disappeared under the bleachers. Jake Arrieta rubbed his hands together as they approached Wrigley Field's iconic scoreboard. Three Hall of Famers – Ryne Sandberg (1907), Fergie Jenkins (1908) and Billy Williams (2016 National League pennant) raised the first three flags.

Surrounded by teammates, Anthony Rizzo then began pulling the cord that lifted the 2016 World Series banner, the ceremony running live on ESPN for a team that has crossed over into so many different parts of popular culture. A crowd of 41,166 that must have sat through parts of the 108-year drought waited out a rain delay that would last almost two hours before first pitch.

By 8:38 p.m., Rizzo emerged from the doors that break up the brick wall in right-center field, holding the World Series trophy above his head as AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll) blasted from the sound system.

"I wasn't expecting to get hit by that many emotions," Rizzo said, looking back after knocking a Kenley Jansen cutter into the left-field corner for a 3-2 walk-off win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I was fighting back tears."

To be honest, a franchise that doesn't really do subtle or understated created a championship banner that's kind of hard to see. But, whatever, there's room for more flagpoles at the beginning of this golden age of baseball on the North Side.

"The new generation of Cubs fans is spoiled," Jon Lester said. "Our guys are so young – as long as health stays on our side – I feel like we'll compete. Our goal every year is to win a World Series."

[RELATED: Cubs pull out walk-off win over Dodgers in festive night at Wrigley]

If the Dodgers didn't get enough flashbacks from the rain-delay theater on the giant video board – the Cubs showed highlights from last year's Game 6 of the NL Championship Series – Lester again looked like a co-MVP (one run allowed in six innings) against a lineup that has so many issues with lefties.

These two big-market teams appear to be on another collision course. The defending World Series champs started seven 27-and-under players, including an October legend (Kyle Schwarber), a reigning MVP (Kris Bryant), a Silver Slugger/Gold Glove first baseman (Rizzo), an All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell), a rocket-armed catcher (Willson Contreras) and two of the game's best defensive players (Jason Heyward and Javier Baez).

"We're all still hungry," Schwarber said. "We're not satisfied with what we did last year. Obviously, it was a great accomplishment. To bring it back to the city of Chicago was great. But now we got to do it again.

"We know the talent that we have. We know how good we could be for some years down the road. But no one can predict the future."

This night – which actually ended on Tuesday morning – would be bigger than the 25 guys in the underground clubhouse that opened last year with a hyperbaric chamber, an underwater treadmill, an infrared sauna and a party room for postgame celebrations.

One entrance to the clubhouse – around the corner from Joe Maddon's office and outside the press-conference room – now displays the image of the "WE DID NOT SUCK 2016" brick wall that filled up with spontaneous messages written in chalk after the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians last November.

Hanging out in the home dugout before the game, you saw a rock star (Eddie Vedder), a Hockey Hall of Famer (Chris Chelios) and Fortune magazine's "World's Greatest Leader" (Theo Epstein). Watching David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" became another rain-delay diversion on the video board.

"This is the lowest-maintenance group I've ever been around," Epstein said. "They handled the target on their back last year so well, and this year they're handling the fact that they won and avoiding that complacency better than I could've imagined.

"We don't have to do anything. They're just so focused and so hard-working. They understand that they need to approach this with all the intensity they did last year if they want to get back to a point where they can enjoy that special feeling late in the year again.

"It's been a total non-issue. When first pitch is thrown, they're locked in."

By the last pitch, there were rows and rows of empty green seats. The bleachers had cleared out to the point where you could see the garbage. Chairman Tom Ricketts stood in the first row off the on-deck circle as Rizzo beat an $80 million closer, pumped his fist, tossed aside his helmet and got mobbed by teammates between first and second base. After the biggest moment of their lives, the 2017 Cubs are just getting started.

"In a game like tonight versus a tough team, it builds confidence in our group this year that this is what we do," Rizzo said. "This is who we are."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: