Leading up to game 1, this year’s World Series matchup had the potential to be great. Two long-suffering franchises with a combined 176 years without a championship vying for the trophy. The Cleveland Indians without a win since 1948 and the well documented 108-year heartbreak of the Chicago Cubs. Both teams loaded with young talent, balanced with veteran leadership, and led by top-tier managers in Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. Thankfully, for baseball fans everywhere (except maybe Cleveland), the series was even better great and both teams stretched it to the limit.
The Cubs were on the brink of heartbreak after 4 games, down 3-1, and it looked as though 109-years would be the new mantra. Terry Francona was pulling all the right strings and had his team poised to end their streak of mediocrity. Then, in impressive fashion, the Cubbies stormed back to force a game 7 in Cleveland for all the marbles. Ticket sales were through the roof insane, but if you were there to witness game 7 in person, it was the memory of a lifetime. The game had everything but great defense and proved to be the most watched baseball game since 1991 and according to Nate Silver at 538, had 49.9 million viewers at it’s peak going into the 9th inning.
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead and it looked as though Cleveland would wither away, but not this team. With 1 man on and 2 outs in the 5th inning, Joe Maddon inexplicably brought in Jon Lester. After a swinging bunt and throwing error by David Ross, the Cubs 5-1 lead was in jeopardy. With runners on 2nd and 3rd a bad wild pitch and a Ross stumble led to both runners scoring to shrink the Cubs lead to just 2 runs, 5-3. Ross redeemed himself in the top of the 6th with a HR to center field to extend the lead back to 3 runs, 6-3.
As most Cubs fans (and older Red Sox fans) would know, it felt like there was still too much time for the lead to evaporate and heartbreak to ensue. Sure enough, in the 8th inning, exhausted Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman stumbled in a big way. With 2 outs in the 8th, Lester allowed a single that deflected off of Cubs SS Addison Russell‘s glove and opened the door to bring in Chapman, who had already be heavily over-worked in the series. The first batter he faced, Brandon Guyer, ripped a line drive double into the outfield allowing Jose Ramirez to score. All of a sudden, it was a 2-run game with the tying run in the batter’s box.
With a 2-2 count on Rajai Davis, the UConn product*, Chapman tried to throw a 97 MPH fastball by him and failed. Davis crushed the pitch for a massive, game-tying 2-run HR. Even a 1,000 miles away in Boston you could feel the life being sucked out of Cubs fans and the phrase “not again” being muttered. The 9th was filled with some drama for the Cubs, including a challenge for slide interference and an inexplicable foul bunt K, but the game would move into extras. To add another layer of drama to the already crazy game, the tarp was unfolded after the 9th inning to prepare for an impending downpour that never really came. As it turns out, that 17 min rain delay was a blessing for the Cubs. They had a team meeting and regrouped, leading to 2 runs in the top of the 10th inning thanks to a Ben Zobrist double and a Miguel Montero single.
The bottom of the 10th began with a K to Napoli and a ground out for Jose Ramirez leaving the Cubs 1-out away…but Cubs fans gut-wrenching pain was not over yet. Brandon Guyer walked and Rajai Davis singled to drive him in, making it an 8-7 game with the winning run in the batter’s box and the tying run on base. Michael Martinez had the chance to destroy Cubs fans with an even more epic loss than anything previous, but a slow grounder to 3rd baseman Kris Bryant and an off-balance throw to 1st baseman Anthony Rizzo stranded the runner and gave the Cubbies the victory. One championship drought over, the other on-going.
This series, and in particular game 7, was incredible to watch for any fan of baseball. The big hits, dramatic catches, and unusual use of pitching staffs made for excellent entertainment. For those in Boston, there were countless storylines around former Red Sox managers, executives, and players. It was a battle of Cleveland manager Terry Francona against his former boss Theo Epstein for the Cubs. On the field there were 4 former Red Sox players or prospects on the Cubs roster (Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross, and Anthony Rizzo) and 4 on the Cleveland roster (Mike Napoli, Coco Crisp, Andrew Miller, and Michael Martinez), which only added to the interest from across New England.
Overall, this was the best world series of my lifetime outside of the Red Sox title runs. It’s the first world series, not involving the Red Sox, that brought me a similar level of rollercoaster emotions and an insane level of intensity. If baseball can figure out how to bring a similar level of intrigue on a more regular basis, then new fans would flock to the the sport and the MLB would grow to new heights. As is, more casual fans watched game 7 then practically ever before, so now is the time to grow the sport.
Finally, I just want to say thank you to the Indians and Cubs for putting on a show for the ages and delaying my offseason sadness. This is a series I will not soon forget.
*UConn Avery Point Campus