CLEVELAND — In between ducking random streams of champagne, general manager Jed Hoyer described Wednesday night’s rain delay as divine intervention.
The Cubs needed it in the worst way.
In the midst of a potentially epic collapse that would have exceeded their 2003 National League Championship Series meltdown, the Cubs took advantage of a 17-minute stoppage of play as rain began to fall upon an exasperated Progressive Field crowd.
Before they returned to action with the score tied at 6, right fielder Jason Heyward convened Cubs hitters for an emotional meeting to discuss how they wanted to proceed after blowing a four-run lead. Moments later, Kyle Schwarber singled to start a game-winning rally that would erase 108 years of torment. The Cubs scored twice in the top of the 10th inning and then held on to for an 8-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.
“I really feel like in some ways that rain delay was kind of divine intervention,” Hoyer said. “The game was going really fast for us at that point. Dexter (Fowler) had just missed winning the game for us (in the ninth) – (Francisco) Lindor made a heck of a play. And to get that little break right there, it helped us a lot.”
Make no doubt about it — the Cubs were reeling when the heavens opened up and rain began to fall. Shortstop Addison Russell said some players cried after the Cubs, on the verge of an epic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, watched as the Indians erased a three-run deficit in the eighth inning against closer Aroldis Chapman, including a game-tying two-run homer by Rajai Davis.
Thanks to Lindor’s outstanding range and a scoreless inning from Chapman, neither team scored in the ninth. But even a high-wire escape wasn’t enough and Heyward decided to call a meeting in the weight room, about 15 feet away from the steps up to the dugout.
“There was obviously frustration and Aroldis felt terrible,” Series MVP Ben Zobrist said. “But everybody’s like, ‘Hey, man, we got you. We’re going to pick you up.’ I think there was even some applause, some claps for him. ‘Don’t worry about this. We’re going to come back and win this game.’
“JHey called the meeting and said, ‘Let’s forget about everything that’s happened up to this point. Let’s believe that we’re going to do this.’ That’s all that needed to be said.”
Veteran catcher David Ross said Heyward spoke passionately for several minutes. And because Heyward has proven to be reserved in his first season with the club, players knew to pay attention.
“When a guy like Jason talks, you listen, because he doesn't do it that often,” Ross said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon loathes holding team meetings. He prefers for them to be organic and rarely makes the request. So when he noticed his players huddled, Maddon had a good feeling.
“It’s crazy how things happen for a reason,” Maddon said. “I don’t know. But I walk off and I see them all gathering in that little room down below there.
“I hate meetings. I’m not a meetings guy. I love when players have meetings.
“So they had their meeting and the big part of it was, ‘We don’t quit. We don’t quit.’
“It’s incredible how this all plays out sometimes.”
It didn’t hurt that the Cubs had the middle of the lineup due in the 10th inning against Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw. Hoyer recalled feeling the same way in the 2003 American League Championship Series moments before Aaron Boone’s walkoff homer — that if his Boston Red Sox could extend the game, they’d win because the heart of the order was due to bat.
The Cubs were quick to take advantage of an opportunity the Red Sox never had.
Schwarber — who hit .412 in the Series and had a .971 OPS — singled on the second pitch he saw from Shaw and pinch-runner Albert Almora tagged up on Kris Bryant’s deep fly out to center.
“Schwarber got the first hit and it just steamrolled,” Zobrist said.
Indians manager Terry Francona opted to have Anthony Rizzo intentionally walked to put two aboard. Zobrist then ripped a 1-2 cutter for an opposite-field RBI double past third base and the Cubs didn’t look back.
“It’s actually a really comforting feeling knowing how those guys are,” Hoyer said. “You could hear all the guys that were part of that inning talking — it allowed them to regroup.
“We had the best part of our lineup coming up and I do think that taking that break, kind of regrouping (helped). ‘Let’s win the inning. If we win one inning, we win the World Series.’
“We had the right guys up to do it.”
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