Champions at last: Cubs top Indians in World Series Game 7 to end title drought

The wait is over! The Cubs have won their first World Series in 108 years with an 8-7 victory over the Indians in a wild and crazy Game 7 in Cleveland, the fourth such contest to be decided in extra innings. Ben Zobrist’s RBI single off Bryan Shaw brought home pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr. with the go-ahead run in the 10th, with the Cubs tacking on another run for good measure, and Chicago withstood a comeback by the Indians that fell just short in the bottom of the frame.

This one had everything but fans coming in from the stands to provide bullpen help. Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff home run. Six runs were scored off Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, who had combined to allow just four all postseason. Javier Baez committed two errors, fouled off a two-strike squeeze bunt and hit a solo homer. Joe Maddon made a pair of questionable bullpen decisions, and Terry Fracona ordered a pair of questionable intentional walks. Mayhem ensued when Jon Lester came on in relief with a man on base as two runners scored on a single wild pitch, something unseen in the World Series in more than a century. David Ross became the oldest player ever to homer in a Game 7, and three Cubs catchers drove in runs. A gassed Aroldis Chapman blew a save via a game-tying homer by a struggling Rajai Davis. There was a rain delay between the ninth and 10th innings.

Finally, after that 10th-inning rally, Chicago clinched a championship that was more than a century in the making—one that was finally sealed when Mike Montgomery induced Michael Martinez to ground out to Kris Bryant, who fired to Anthony Rizzo for the final out, stranding Davis at second with the game-tying run and no doubt setting off bedlam in Chicago.

In addition to winning the franchise’s first championship since 1908, the Cubs became the first team since the 1985 Royals to win a World Series after trailing three games to one and the first since the '79 Pirates to win the final two games on the road. Chicago also became just the third 100-win team of the wild-card era to win the World Series, after the 1998 and 2009 Yankees, and the fourth team to win Game 7 in extra innings after the 1924 Senators (over the Giants in 12), '91 Twins (over the Braves in 10, with Jack Morris pitching a shutout) and '97 Marlins (over the Indians in 11).

Pitching on three days of rest for the second time in the series, Kluber simply didn’t fool hitters as he had in Games 1 and 4, when he struck out 15 batters in 12 innings and allowed just one run. He recorded just three swinging strikes over the course of four-plus innings, didn’t strike out a hitter and got just one ground-ball out.

Kluber put the Indians in a hole almost immediately, serving up a leadoff homer to Fowler on a 92-mph sinker left in the middle of the strike zone. The Cubs’ centerfielder, who had connected for a leadoff double off Kluber and came around to score in Game 4, clubbed his shot 406 feet to straightaway centerfield—just out of the reach of Davis—for a 1–0 lead. It was the 11th leadoff homer in World Series history, the first since the Giants’ Gregor Blanco in Game 2 in 2014 and the first ever to lead off a Game 7.

Kluber needed 19 pitches to get out of the first, as he also allowed an infield single and a stolen base (!) to Kyle Schwarber. He got his pitch count back in line via a seven-pitch second inning and a six-pitch third, but nearly all of his outs came in the air, many via hard contact.

The Cubs broke the game open in the fourth, just after the Indians evened the score in the bottom of the third. Bryant led off with a single and then Rizzo was grazed by pitch. Zobrist’s potential double play grounder to Mike Napoli turned into a simple forceout when Napoli’s throw down to Francisco Lindor at second sailed high. Bryant, who took third on that play, scored the go-ahead run on Addison Russell’s sacrifice fly to Davis, whose throw home was high, and then Rizzo came home on Willson Contreras’s double off the centerfield wall, running the lead to 3–1.

The Cubs added two more in the fifth. With Miller warming up, Francona elected to let Kluber face the righty-swinging Baez, who punished a first-pitch slider, sending it 402 feet to right-centerfield for his first homer since the Division Series opener against the Giants. Kluber’s night was over after just 57 pitches.

Miller, who had allowed just one run in 17 innings in the postseason, didn’t have it on Wednesday night either. After allowing a Fowler single that was erased when Schwarber grounded into a double play, he issued a nine-pitch walk to Bryant, who got a great jump from first base on Rizzo’s long single to rightfield, coming around to score the Cubs’ fifth run. Though he would stick around to pitch 2 1/3 innings, he was dinged for another run via Ross’s solo homer—but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Hendricks, Lester and the Dirty Inning

Despite Kyle Hendricks’s National League-best 2.13 season ERA and his 1.31 postseason mark—which included an active 15-inning scoreless streak—the question before first pitch was not how deep the 26-year-old righty would go but who Maddon would call upon to bridge the gap between him and Chapman, with Game 4 starter John Lackey and Game 5 starter Lester as the most likely candidates besides Montgomery.

Hendricks was more efficient than Kluber from the outset, but the vaunted Cubs defense made him work harder due to a pair of Baez errors, though neither amounted to much directly. The first, a throwing error on a Lindor grounder in the first inning, was erased by a Napoli grounder two pitches later. The second almost broke the game open.

Coco Crisp led off the third with a double down the leftfield line, took third on a bunt and scored the tying run on a sharp single by Carlos Santana, ending Hendricks’s 17-inning scoreless streak. Then Jason Kipnis hit into what might have been an inning-ending double play, but Baez dropped the feed from Russell. Second base umpire John Hirschbeck, anticipating the easy forceout, initially called Santana out, but the call was overturned via replay. Hendricks then needed to bear down to win a six-pitch battle with Lindor, who flew out, and caught a break when a scorching 103-mph liner off the bat of Napoli went right to Bryant at third base.

Given Maddon’s skittishness about his true relievers, the focal point became his timing to get Lester, his preferred option, into the game for his first relief appearance since the 2007 ALCS, and on two days of rest to boot. In Maddon’s words, he didn’t want to bring Lester on in a “dirty inning”—one with runners on base—given the 32-year-old lefty’s issues with throwing to first base. He also wanted Lester’s entry to be accompanied by that of Ross, his personal catcher.

Lester began warming up in the third inning, but Hendricks escaped that jam, worked a clean 10-pitch fourth and needed just seven pitches to get the first two outs in the fifth before walking Santana. At that point, Maddon’s unwillingness to put his ace in an uncomfortable situation collided with his desire to counter the lefty-swinging Kipnis with a lefty arm. The platoon disadvantage won out; Hendricks was done after just 63 pitches.

Lester and Ross entered, and things got crazy. Kipnis hit a dribbler to the third base side that Ross fielded, but the catcher rushed his throw to first base, where Kipnis and Rizzo collided, with the ball bouncing into the seats and sending the runners to second and third. On his second pitch to Lindor, the next batter, Lester bounced a curveball in front of the plate that rebounded and hit Ross in the head, then bounced away; both runners scored to cut the lead to 5–3. It was the first time two runners scored on a wild pitch since Game 6 of the 1911 World Series between the Athletics and Giants.

Lindor finally struck out, Ross got one of the runs back with his solo homer off Miller—making the 39-year-old backstop, playing the final game of his career, the oldest player ever to homer in a Game 7—and Lester held the Indians without another run, working a total of three innings on 55 pitches with four strikeouts. He worked around a two-out Brandon Guyer single in the sixth and a one-out walk of Roberto Perez in the seventh, managed to counter his throwing yips by making an underhanded toss to first base on a hard comebacker by Santana and departed after Ramirez scratched out a two-out infield single to shortstop.

Lester’s outing wasn’t Madison Bumgarner-esque or even pretty, but it got the job done, adding to his lengthy postseason resumé as well as the colorful history of starting pitchers coming out of the bullpen in key World Series moments.

A Bridge Too Far

For the seventh time in the postseason, Maddon not only brought Chapman into a game before the ninth inning but also did so with at least one runner on base. Chapman's Game 7 outing came one night after he threw 20 pitches to got four outs in protecting a five-run lead and three nights after he threw 42 pitches to get the final eight outs of Game 5. Given all of that, nobody would have been surprised if the 28-year-old fireballer couldn’t dominate hitters—nobody except Maddon, who once again proved to be more reactive than proactive with his bullpen.

With Ramirez on first and two outs, Chapman battled Guyer for seven pitches before the reserve outfielder lashed a 98-mph fastball into the right-centerfield gap, bringing home Ramirez and cutting the lead to 6–4. Seven pitches later, Davis—just 3-for-32 to that point in the postseason—punched a 97-mph fastball over the leftfield wall, 369 feet away, for a game-tying homer. Chapman retired the next two batters, but the damage had been done; for the third time in this postseason, he had blown a save, this one the biggest of all.

On the other side of the ball, Cody Allen—who came in having pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings this postseason—got the Indians out of a jam in the seventh with a strikeout-caught-stealing double play, then pitched a scoreless eighth. But in the ninth, Allen issued a leadoff walk to Ross, who yielded to pinch-runner Chris Coghlan. Jason Heyward grounded into a force play; Allen exited, and in came Shaw. Heyward then stole second and took third when catcher Yan Gomes’s throw bounced away from Lindor, but Shaw got the second out when Baez bunted foul with two strikes, and just when it seemed Fowler’s ball up the middle would score Heyward—he had actually crossed the plate—Lindor ranged to the right of second base to field the ball and fired to first to complete an incredible, run-saving play.

Despite throwing 21 pitches to escape the eighth, Chapman came out for the ninth. Even while being unable to dial his fastball past 98 mph, he worked a 1-2-3 inning through the heart of the Indians’ order, sandwiching harmless fly balls by Santana and Lindor around a strikeout of Kipnis via a high 97-mph heater.

But before the game could go into extra innings, rain led the umpires to order the tarp on the field for a 17-minute rain delay. When play resumed, Schwarber singled off Shaw, then gave way to pinch-runner Almora, who tagged up and went to second on Bryant’s warning-track fly ball to center—an outstanding, heads-up decision by the rookie reserve. Francona elected to issue the first of two ill-advised intentional walks to Rizzo in order to face Zobrist, who followed with a single to the right of Ramirez at third base, bringing home Almora. After another intentional walk to Russell, light-hitting Miguel Montero followed with a single to leftfield to score Rizzo.

Francona called upon Trevor Bauer to stop the bleeding, which he did by getting the final two outs. For the bottom of the 10th, with the title three outs away, Maddon turned first to 25-year-old rookie Carl Edwards Jr., who struck out Napoli and retired Ramirez on a grounder. But after Edwards walked Guyer, Maddon called upon Montgomery, a 26-year-old lefty acquired from the Mariners on July 20. Montgomery gave up a single to Davis, trimming the lead to 8–7, but that brought up Martinez, a career .197/.241/.266 hitter in 578 regular-season plate appearances who had come into the game as a defensive replacement for Crisp in the ninth. With the Indians' bench emptied, Francona was forced to stick with the light-hitting Martinez, who was simply overmatched; he slapped Montgomery’s second pitch to Bryant, and seconds later, the Cubs’ epic wait was over.

Zobrist, who after going just 6-for-36 in the first two rounds collected a series-high 10 hits in this one, was named the World Series MVP. He hit .357/.419/.464 and drove in the go-ahead run in what will go down in history as one of the greatest Games 7 of all time, and one that Cubs fans will never forget.

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