After waiting since 1908 for a World Series title, the potential for misery became even more acute for the Cubs when they failed to close out a victory after needing only four outs to fulfill their long-awaited quest.
From manager Joe Maddon’s use of the pitching staff to Javier Baez’s failed one-out bunt attempt with a 3-2 count and the go-ahead run at third base in the ninth inning, the Cubs absorbed enough pain to last another century.
But the wait was well worth the ultimate reward Wednesday night when the Cubs rallied for two runs in the 10th after a 17-minute rain delay to take an 8-7 victory over the Indians in Game 7 that accomplished their season-long mission.
“We never quit,” the Cubs collectively chanted before they sprayed champagne.
The Cubs became the first team since the 1979 Pirates to overcome a 3-1 Series deficit by winning their final two on the road.
They did so after blowing leads of 5-1 and 6-3, with the biggest punch occurring when fatigued closer Aroldis Chapman surrendered a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer to Rajai Davis in the eighth that caused Progressive Field to shake.
But the Cubs got off the deck with an array of contributors. Kyle Schwarber capped his amazing recovery from left knee surgery when he led off the 10th with a single off Bryan Shaw. Pinch-running rookie Albert Almora Jr. showed the smarts of a veteran when he tagged and advanced to second on Kris Bryant’s deep fly to right-center.
Indians manager Terry Francona chose to walk Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell intentionally and paid the price. Ben Zobrist, who was named Series MVP, poked a double down the left-field line to score Almora with the go-ahead run, and Miguel Montero followed Russell’s walk with an RBI single past a drawn-in infield.
“You shouldn’t load the bases to get to me,” Montero joked.
Carl Edwards Jr. came in for the bottom of the 10th. He gave up one run, but the victory was sealed when Mike Montgomery came in with Davis at first and induced Michael Martinez to ground out to Bryant at third base.
“This was a team effort,” Chairman Tom Ricketts said of the five-year climb to the top.
Before the playoffs started, Maddon reminded his players there would be some setbacks. That proved true, especially when Chapman, pitching for the third consecutive game despite throwing four innings and 62 pitches during that stretch, gave up a run-scoring double to Brandon Guyer and the game-tying homer to Davis.
The Cubs put the go-ahead run at third with one out in the ninth, but Baez fouled a bunt attempt on a 3-2 pitch for the second out. Shortstop Francisco Lindor then ranged far to his left to take a hit away from Dexter Fowler and leave Jason Heyward stranded at third.
It was an ominous sign when starting pitchers Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jon Lester walked from the dugout to the bullpen before the start of the third — before starter Kyle Hendricks settled down to retire seven consecutive batters.
Hendricks was pulled after walking Carlos Santana and falling one out short of qualifying for the victory with a 5-1 lead. Instead of summoning left-handed reliever Montgomery, Maddon called on fellow lefty Lester, who threw six innings and 90 pitches Sunday. A 25-foot single and throwing error by catcher David Ross, who entered the game at the same time as Lester, set the stage for a two-run wild pitch that raised eyebrows about why Hendricks was pulled after only 63 pitches and why Lester was used despite making only three previous relief appearances in his career.
Lester settled down and allowed only one hit until Jose Ramirez singled off Russell’s glove with two out in the eighth.
Before the game, Maddon said he believed Chapman was good for about 30 to 40 pitches despite his heavy workload.
But Chapman’s triple-digit fastball dipped some, and Guyer ripped a double to right-center to score Ramirez. Then Davis homered on a 97 mph fastball to tie the game at 6-6.
The Cubs held a 6-3 lead thanks to home runs from Fowler, Baez and Ross. In addition, rookie Willson Contreras snapped a 1-for-18 rut when he ripped a two-out RBI double to cap a two-run fourth.
Redemption was even greater for Baez, who hit a homer to knock out Corey Kluber and snap a 4-for-26 slump.