Of course it wasn’t going to be easy or conventional.
The Chicago Cubs had waited 39,465 days to win a championship — and on Wednesday night, nine innings wasn’t enough.
A series that swung decidedly from a Cleveland Indians lock to the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years pivoted ferociously in the final innings of what will go down as one of the best-remembered Fall Classics of all time.
Six times between the start of the eighth inning of Game 7 and its ultimate 10th-inning conclusion the win probability odds swung from the favor of the Cubs to the Indians and then back again.
“They never quit, either,” Ben Zobrist said of Chicago’s opponent. “They kept coming at us.”
It was a frantic final few frames, chock full of pivotal moments. Here’s a look at the biggest in terms of win probability in Game 7.
Joe Maddon’s club didn’t wait long to get on the scoreboard. Dexter Fowler, the team’s leadoff hitter, smoked a home run to center field to start the game. Chicago’s win expectancy, as defined by Fangraphs, rose to 60.2 percent. When Carlos Santana evened the game on a single in the bottom of the third inning, Cleveland took back the leverage, accounting for a 55.7 percent win expectancy in the Indians’ favor.
After the Cubs took a 5-1 lead, they entered the bottom of the fifth inning with an 89 percent likelihood of victory. Even after the Indians plated two runs in the frame, Chicago’s odds stood at a tick under 80 percent. David Ross’s home run pushed the odds back to 86.3 percent in favor of a Cubs win.
That’s when it appeared the curse would snatch victory from the Cubs’ grasp.
Joe Maddon’s move to Aroldis Chapman was an intuitive decision, to some extent: Chapman, the only player to clock 105 miles per hour on a radar gun this season, is one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. He ranked seventh this season in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (13.97).
The Cubs had a 95.6 percent likelihood of victory when he relieved Jon Lester following a Cleveland single. Brandon Guyer then smoked a double into the right-center gap, plating a run. With a 6-4 lead, Chicago’s win expectancy dipped to 88.5 percent. Then the bottom nearly fell out.
When Rajai Davis slapped a screamer of a home run just over the left-field fence to tie the score Chicago’s win expectancy plunged to 46.6 percent. Cleveland, the odds said, would deny the Cubs their seemingly imminent victory. That was the first of the late-inning odds changes.
The odds snapped back to favor the Cubs after David Ross’s walk. And when Jason Heyward snagged second and third base the following inning, Chicago’s win expectancy rose to 64.45 percent given a runner on third and one out; a high-leverage situation for the Cleveland bullpen. But Bryan Shaw roared back and struck out Javier Baez and got Dexter Fowler to ground out, dropping the Cubbies’ win odds to 36.8 percent entering the bottom of the ninth.
Cleveland failed to produce a threat in the bottom of the ninth inning, reseting the odds to 50 percent before Kyle Schwarber’s 10th-inning single pushed the Cubs’ odds of victory back to 58.2 percent. It was the last time the odds would swing between the two teams.
With men on first and second base, Zobrist doubled off the wall to score Rizzo, giving Chicago a 7-6 lead and a 90.4 percent win expectancy. When Miguel Montero singled to plate another run, the figure rose to 95.8 percent. But the thrill ride wasn’t over yet.
Carl Edwards Jr. entered the game in the bottom of the 10th inning. After walking Guyer and allowing him to advance to second base, Davis plated him with a single to cut the deficit to one with two outs. Chicago’s win expectancy sagged slightly, but remained, a robust 90.56 percent. Mike Montgomery left the bullpen, trotted out to the mound and forced the game-ending out.
Here’s how both Fangraphs and Seamheads saw the dramatic seventh game; a peak-and-valley-filled odyssey.
“It happened. It happened. Chicago, it happened,” Rizzo said. “We did it. We’re world champions. I tell ya, we’re world champions. I can’t believe it.”
The feat is incredible not just because of the 107-year drought, but because the odds favored an Indians title for nearly the entire World Series. With the exception of a teeter-totter stretch that saw the series odds bounce back and forth from the top of the seventh inning in Game 2 to the top of the seventh in Game 3, the odds were completely against the Cubs — reaching a low point of 7.5 percent in the bottom of the third inning of Game 5 after Trevor Bauer got Dexter Fowler to line out to right — until Fowler’s home run to start Game 7.
Drink it in, Cubs fans. Here’s what it looks like to defy the World Series odds and take home a title.