Klapisch: Cubs date with destiny was not to be denied
CLEVELAND – They emerged from October’s deepest, darkest dungeon – a 3-1 World Series deficit that should’ve renewed the Curse’s lease for another 100 years. Everyone had written off the Cubs after four games. History predicted their doom. The Indians were supposed to be smarter, more disciplined. They had the home-field advantage. They had their Terminator, Corey Kluber, warming up his nuclear two-seam fastball. What could go wrong for the American League champs? Nothing except that great equalizer called Cubs’ destiny. Finally, after 108 years, the fates showed mercy on the Cubs, finally freed them from the championship drought that’d suffocated the North Side like some thick smog since 1908. The Cubs beat the Indians, 8-7 in Game 7, a 10-inning war that’ll be remembered not just for Ben Zobrist’s double off closer Bryan Shaw, but a million other reasons, too. Like the Indians’ miraculous comeback in the eighth inning, just four outs away from defeat, against Aroldis Chapman. The big left-hander, clearly worn out after his third multi-inning appearance in four days, surrendered Rajai Davis’ stunning two-run HR that tied the game at 6-6. Chapman was so distraught he wept in the dugout. Like the 17-minute rain delay in the 10th inning that gave the deflated Cubs a chance to hold an impromptu meeting in the weight room, where Jason Heyward reminded his teammates, “we came here to win. This [blown lead] is only going to make it sweeter.” Like Dexter Fowler’s hitting Kluber’s fourth pitch of the game over the center-field wall. It was an unmistakable omen for the Indians, who’d been counting on Kluber dominating the Cubs even on three days’ rest. He didn’t come close. Like Joe Maddon getting away with one bad gamble after another. First, by removing Kyle Hendricks, who’d pitched effectively, with one out in the fifth, then replacing him with Jon Lester, who also threw well. But Maddon kept re-arranging his chess pieces until he gave Chapman the ball – and it nearly cost the Cubs dearly. “It was just an epic battle,” said Zobrist, who was voted the Series MVP. “We’ve been listening to the ‘Rocky’ soundtrack the last three games. We’ve got our own Italian stallion, Anthony Rizzo, that’s been putting that on. “It was like a heavyweight battle, man. Just blow for blow, everybody playing their heart out.” GM Theo Epstein didn’t mean to exaggerate when he called Game 7, “the greatest World Series game ever played.” But he wasn’t far from the truth. The result was a celebration that stretched all the way to Waveland Avenue in Chicago. As early as the seventh inning, police had closed the streets around Wrigley Field. Trains were bypassing the Addison stop near the ballpark. Thousands gathered in the bars and on the sidewalks. The neighborhood was prepped for madness. Put it this way: since the last time the Cubs won a championship, both TV and radio had been invented, the Titanic had been built, set sail, sank and was re-discovered, Haley’s Comet had passed Earth – twice. The calendar re-sets now; it’s a new era for the Cubs, who, fittingly, prevailed in a World Series for the ages. Records were set (Kluber’s eight K’s in the first three innings of Game 1), odds were defied (no team since the ’79 Pirates had come back from a 3-1 Series deficit by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road) and TV ratings were sent through the roof. Game 5 at Wrigley was watched by more viewers than any World Series since 1997, and rated 25 percent higher than the Eagles and Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Maddon was right when he said, “this [Series] was great for the sport.” America was hooked, fascinated to see if the Cubs would finally come up big. They did, destroying Kluber in the process. After striking out 15 in Games 1 and 4, the right-hander failed to register a single K in Game 7, and got only three swings and misses in 57 pitches. Kluber was gone after allowing Javier Baez a lead-off HR in the fourth, putting the Indians in a 5-1 hole. It was a jarring setback for the Indians, who were leaning so heavily on their ace for the third time in a week. But Terry Francona later admitted he’d asked too much. “For our starters to have the guts to take the ball, like Corey Kluber, three times in a series…they proved they’re human,” the manager said. “But without them, they don’t get anywhere close to here.” The same was true of Andrew Miller, who gave up four hits, the most he’d allowed in a game since 2011, including a solo shot to David Ross. The season’s heavy workload appeared to catch up to the former Yankees. At 91 innings, Miller reached his career high as a reliever, and was vulnerable from the moment he stepped on the mound. Ross’ home run was especially traumatic. Miller slumped to his knees as Ross circled the bases. Yankees fans who were accustomed to seeing Miller vaporize hitters with that wide-sweeping slider might’ve been surprised at his failure. But Zobrist explained that the Cubs kept accumulating data on both Miller and Kluber throughout the Series. It finally paid off. “We’d seen them a lot,” Zobrist said. “And I think our team all year long has made adjustments.” Indeed, Chicago had every reason to believe they owned the world and maybe the universe, too, leading 6-3. But no one saw Chapman self-destructing like that. No one could believe Brandon Guyer would smoke an opposite-field double to narrow the Cubs’ lead to 6-4. Yet, the radar gun suggested trouble ahead for Chapman, who normally tops 100 mph. On Wednesday he’d lost a full 5 mph off his fastball, so when Davis dropped the barrel on a four-seamer, sending it screaming over the wall in left, it seemed like the impossible had just became a reality. Not only had the Cubs blown a lead, it was their strikeout machine, Chapman who’d engineered the collapse. The Cubs were on the doorstep of an historic choke job, which Zobrist admitted, “would have been tough. Most teams would have folded in that moment where we lost the lead.” But the team meeting changed everything. Heyward told his teammates, “We’re still the best team, we’re going to pull this thing out. We need to pull together and chip away. We’re going to win this thing.” That wasn’t just hype; the man was a prophet. After play resumed, Schwarber led off the 10th with a single, and as Zobrist said, once the rally began, “you feel like it’s on and we’re going to do this.” He meant not only score the go-ahead run, but win the game, take the Series, make sure the Curse was blown to smithereens and light the match on the biggest, baddest, most out of control party Wrigleyville has ever seen. Think they won’t be loving life on the North Side for the next few nights? Imagine Times Square on New Year’s Eve. There you go.