Cubs

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.”

[SHOP: Buy your Cubs World Series champions gear here]

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’

 

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.