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

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

CLEVELAND – The End could have only happened like this, with a heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, head-spinning World Series Game 7 that left generations of Cubs fans rejoicing around the globe.

The waves of emotions rippled around Progressive Field after an 8-7 instant classic that began on Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 38,104 and ended here early Thursday morning, the drama building for a massive TV audience watching the last great quest left in professional sports. The heartbreak would be felt throughout Cleveland, which had waited 68 years for this title shot, its fans sitting through 10 innings of motion sickness, false hope and the game at its unpredictable best.

The joyous celebration continued 350 miles away in Wrigleyville and wherever Cubs fans grew up listening to Harry Caray and watching games on WGN and worshipping all the great players who never got to experience euphoria like this, everyone from Ernie Banks to Ron Santo to Billy Williams to Ryne Sandberg to Andre Dawson.

This has always been the intoxicating lure of the Cubs, selling losing to alpha males and convincing all these highly skilled independent contractors/individual corporations that together they could someday be part of the team that makes history and lives forever in all those hearts and minds.

“I know there are so many people that are thinking of their grandfathers and their fathers right now in Chicago, and that’s what it’s all about,” general manager Jed Hoyer said inside a raucous visiting clubhouse filled with the sounds of clanking bottles and the awful smell of beer mixed with champagne. “It’s bigger than these 25 guys. It’s bigger than the organization. It’s about the city that stuck with the team forever.”

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What else could draw rock stars (Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan) and movie stars (Bill Murray, John Cusack, Charlie Sheen) and LeBron James’ Cavaliers into the same spot off Lake Erie? It had been 39,466 days since the Cubs won the 1908 World Series, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and 24,859 days since the Indians won the 1948 World Series.

So what’s another 17-minute rain delay after waiting more than a century?

Hoyer actually described it as “divine intervention,” because the Cubs had been four outs away from their coronation when manager Joe Maddon walked out toward the mound and took the ball from Jon Lester, a $155 million middle reliever in this winner-take-all thriller. In came Aroldis Chapman, the high-speed, high-maintenance rental closer who began to change his reputation by getting 12 outs and throwing 62 pitches in Games 5 and 6 combined. 

But that effort appeared to sap Chapman, who threw 14 straight fastballs to Brandon Guyer and Rajai Davis, with only one above 100 mph. Guyer’s RBI double made it 6-4 before Davis smashed another fastball onto the left-field patio just inside the foul pole for a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning.

The Indians wouldn’t just roll over, not with a Cy Young Award winner pitching three times in nine days (Corey Kluber), a bullpen that blew up the idea of conventional usage and a future Hall of Fame manager in Terry Francona. The Indians notched 94 wins and then contained two explosive offenses to get here, sweeping the Boston Red Sox, eliminating the Toronto Blue Jays in five games and running out to a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

No team had come back from that deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals, but there was nothing fluky or random about this. Theo Epstein’s front office built the best team in baseball, an Ivy League graduate acing clubhouse chemistry with a mixture of bonus babies, big-money free agents and players overlooked or undervalued in other organizations.

Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” press conference on Oct. 25, 2011 – when the Cubs put his name up in lights on the Wrigley Field marquee – would essentially become the Before and After points in franchise history.

On his last night as a big-league player, David Ross brought out a Game 7 lineup card that featured seven players between the ages of 22 and 27, plus Kyle Hendricks (26), this year’s ERA leader, as the starting pitcher, a dazzling array of young talent.

“It felt like June, May, the way that guys conducted themselves before the game,” said Ben Zobrist, who would become the World Series MVP. “Very similar, very light-hearted, everybody just going about their business, talking the game with each other.

“That, to me, said, you know what, this team’s fine. We’re going to let the talent and the ability take over and stay focused, because no one in here is treating this situation any different than we have all year. And that’s how championships are won.”

Though it remained a pop-culture shorthand and the backdrop to all those TV postcards from Wrigleyville, the Cubs killed that “Lovable Loser” image years ago, with the 2003 team in particular raising the bar after finishing five agonizing outs away from the World Series.

The Cubs finally did it with a hipster manager who enjoys drinking red wine and eating dark chocolate after games, never losing his cool in front of reporters or getting defensive about the second-guessing over how he handled Chapman. Instead of panicking in the face of all this pressure or pretending those immense expectations didn’t exist, Maddon set the tone with “Embrace The Target” T-shirts that literally put bull’s-eyes on their chest.

That’s how Maddon rolls, turning spring training and road trips into made-for-social-media moments, welcoming zoo animals, mimes, magicians and pajama parties. No, the players didn’t universally love all these stunts, but Hollywood couldn’t have invented a better ringmaster for this circus.

For all of Maddon’s camera-friendly charm, the groovy manager still believes in old-school concepts, the hard-hat lessons he learned while growing up in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining region. Maddon just gives it a verbal flourish, from “Respect 90” to “the relentless execution of fundamentals and technique.”

Above all, the 2016 team created an environment where you could be yourself and make mistakes and move on from the wacky stuff that usually spelled Cubbie doom. Like Javier Baez committing two careless errors at second base and then leading off the fifth inning by driving a Kluber slider over the centerfield wall and knocking out Cleveland’s No. 1 starter.

Or Lester’s wild pitch bouncing into the dirt and ricocheting off Ross’ mask out toward the on-deck circle and allowing the Indians to score two runs in the fifth inning. “Grandpa Rossy” shook it off and drilled Andrew Miller’s 94-mph fastball out to center field in the sixth inning, touching home plate and bumping crotches with Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler on his way back into the dugout.

So by the time that storm rolled into Cleveland, the Cubs needed that break to regroup and reset a 6-6 game heading into the 10th inning. Kyle Schwarber walked to home plate less than seven months removed from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. The man-child they call “Schwarbs” singled off Bryan Shaw through the shift into right field and the Cubs were off once again.

With pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr. on second base, the Indians intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo to get to Zobrist, who knocked an RBI double down the left-field line for the go-ahead run. Third catcher Miguel Montero – who wondered if he would get released this summer – added the insurance run the Cubs needed with an RBI single to make it 8-6.

In the end, this team wore down the Indians and the rest of Major League Baseball, the fans singing “Go, Cubs, Go!” on a wacky, rainy, totally unforgettable night in Cleveland, where no one believes in curses anymore.

“We killed it,” Montero said. “It’s done. It’s over.”

More on the World Series victory

--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.”

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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.”


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