Magic in the night: Cubs fans keep the faith, banish curse
They'll relive the game for generations, these Cubs fans, talking about the magical night in Cleveland when the skies opened up and the curse of the Billy Goat was buried once and for all.
Somewhere along the way the stories will be embellished, as if that is even possible. Joe Maddon will be hailed as the greatest manager ever, and Aroldis Chapman will be remembered more for the W attached to his name in the box score than how he actually ended up being the winning pitcher of a Game 7 that was as thrilling as it was flawed.
They might even make a movie out of it, though they'll have to write a new script. The way it all went down was too corny, too implausible for even Hollywood to believe.
The manager who led the Cubs to the promised land seemed to be trying his best to extend the curse rather than finally putting it to rest. Not once, but twice, Maddon took his best pitchers out of the game just when they seemed to be cruising and almost paid for it dearly.
The closer he seemingly couldn't wait to put in every game of this World Series was ripe for the picking, and that was Maddon's fault, too. He didn't trust his bullpen and was determined to ride Chapman even when he was clearly a thoroughbred who had been ridden too hard.
That it all turned out fine will be all that will be remembered, not that a pitcher who had never saved a game in his career was on the mound with the weight of the city of Chicago on his shoulders as he tried to get the final out.
That the Cubs are the World Series champions for the first time in 108 years will be all anyone wants to talk about, not the fact the Cubs were up by three runs and needed only four more outs before Chapman imploded and they seemed cursed yet again.
''Another team might have folded,'' Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. ''And they didn't.''
Give some of the credit to an intervention from above, when the baseball gods finally decided the Cubs had suffered enough and interrupted the game just as it was going into the 10th inning. It wasn't a long rain delay, far from it, but just long enough for the players to gather in the strength room and listen to outfielder Jason Heyward tell them they had come too far to get too down at this point.
''The best rain delay of all time,'' Anthony Rizzo said.
Give some credit, too, to Kyle Schwarber capping the most improbable postseason ever by leading off the 10th with a base hit. Don't forget Ben Zobrist, either, and the double that would give the Cubs a lead and make him an equally improbable World Series MVP.
But it was the manager who encouraged them to dress up in Halloween costumes on the flight to Cleveland who brought them to that point. It was the manager who scoffed at the idea of a curse and got his players to be aggressive early in the deciding games because he didn't want to face the Cleveland bullpen from behind.
Yes, the same manager who pulled both Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester too early because, well, just because.
Had the Indians managed to scratch across the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, Maddon would have taken his place in the Cubs' Hall of Shame, probably alongside Steve Bartman, the unfortunate Cubs fan who until Thursday morning had been unable to shake the blame for the Cubs losing in the 2003 playoffs.
Instead, he's the first Cubs manager in more than a century to hoist the World Series trophy aloft. That's enough to secure his legacy alone, though he'd prefer not to go down in baseball lore as a curse buster.
Like superfan Bill Murray, he ain't afraid of no goat.
''It has nothing to do with curses, superstition,'' Maddon said. ''If you want to believe in that kind of stuff, it's going to hold you back for a long time. I love tradition. I think tradition is worth time mentally and tradition is worth being upheld. But curses and superstitions are not.''
Tell that to long-suffering Cubs fans, thousands of whom made their way to cheer loudly in Cleveland, and millions more who jumped on the bandwagon late. The Cubs were such a great story that baseball got television ratings not seen since before the steroid era for the World Series, and anyone who watched Game 7 in its entirety has to be a baseball fan for life.
It was 108 years in the making, and it was epic. The Cubs and Indians made a divided country feel better about itself, and the sight of thousands in the streets outside both ballparks made a lot of people feel better about the game of baseball.
The Cubs are no longer lovable losers, and that will take some getting used to. So will the expectations for future seasons with a team built for success and a manager comfortable with making whatever decisions he thinks are right to get them there.
''I'm really proud of the attitude, the culture that we've created,'' Maddon said. ''I think it's something that carries for many, many years to come. Just like in the past, not having won a World Series trophy in 108 years, this is a breakthrough year. So now that standard of excellence can be carried through for many years to come.''
The goat is gone and they're singing in the streets of Chicago.
As if that somehow isn't good enough, the ''W'' flags could be flying at Wrigley Field for quite some time.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg