CLEVELAND – We will remember Ben Zobrist, because he got the go-ahead hit. We will remember Rajai Davis, because his eighth-inning home run, when it was struck, jumped onto the list of the most significant in World Series history. And we will remember Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, the managers, because they talked us through October, pulling up the chair by the fire to chat baseball.
But while it’s still fresh – while we can still try to piece together the utter blur of the Chicago Cubs’ 8-7, 10-inning victory in the seventh game of the World Series, started Wednesday night and concluded Thursday morning – let’s jot down some things we shouldn’t forget.
1. The Cubs got to the pitchers no one could get to.
Cleveland’s path to a Game 7 victory was right-hander Corey Kluber to the left-handed Miller to closer Cody Allen. Combined in the postseason, they had a 0.61 ERA headed into Wednesday night over 59 innings, the equivalent of six-and-a-half games.
But when Kluber took the ball in Game 7, he was doing so on three days’ rest for the second straight time. Dexter Fowler hit his fourth pitch, a sinker, out to center field. And though Kluber settled in, Francona did something he hadn’t the entire postseason – stuck with a pitcher too long. Kluber gave up two runs in the fourth, then was allowed to start the fifth but was driven from the game when Javier Baez led off with a homer.
Francona then turned to Miller, who had done nothing short of make people wonder whether bullpen usage could be completely rethought. But the 17 innings Miller pitched over nine appearances before Wednesday may have taken its toll.
“At some point, the pitching staff war is sort of a war of attrition,” Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer said. “I think if we had to play a Game 8, it’d be hard to find pitchers that were available.”
Miller allowed three base runners in the fifth, including Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double. When Baez homered off him in the sixth to make it 5-1 Chicago, it didn’t seem that significant because the Cubs were comfortably ahead. But it’s worth remembering that, in a game in which every run ended up counting, the Indians’ best pitchers had pitched so much, they could no longer pitch to their capabilities. A measure of their fatigue: Kluber and Miller faced 27 Cubs, and struck out just one.
2. It was classic, but it wasn’t clean.
Fowler’s home run gave the Cubs the first-inning lead, but in the bottom of the inning, Francisco Lindor hit a hard grounder to second, where his good friend Baez fielded it. Baez may have slipped slightly, but he threw from his knee, and he threw wide – his first error.
In the third, with the scored tied at 1, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell fielded a skipping hop to try to turn a double play, but Baez tried to take Russell’s feed with his bare hand. He not only failed to get two outs, he got none – another error.
And then came an absolute fiasco in the fifth, when Maddon removed starter Kyle Hendricks and brought in veteran starter Jon Lester. We know two things about Lester: He is a postseason stud, and he can’t control the opponent’s running game because he simply cannot throw to a base, a mental block.
“I don’t want to put him into” an inning with runners on base, Maddon said before the game. “I don’t think it would be appropriate.”
Had the Cubs lost, this whole exchange would have fit in with the franchise’s lore. Maddon inserted Lester with a man on and two out, and brought in Lester’s personal catcher, David Ross, as well. Lester induced a little spinner in front of the plate from Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis. Ross’s throw to first wouldn’t have been in time to get Kipnis, but it also sailed wide. The Cubs made two errors in the first six games of this series. Wednesday night, they made three in five innings.
And that doesn’t even count the cherry on this mess – Lester’s bounced curveball to Lindor, a pitch so wild it hit Ross in the mask, scooted away, and two runs scored on the play.
This Game 7 might rank with the most compelling ever played. Throw in another error from the Indians, and it was far from flawless.
3. Aroldis Chapman was a big part of the victory.
After he allowed Davis’s two-out, two-strike, two-run homer to tie the game in the eighth inning, Chapman was positioned to take his place alongside the goats of past Cubs teams, Leon Durham and Alex Gonzalez and the rest. (Remember, too, that the discussion would have – and should have – raged about whether Maddon should have used him in the ninth inning of Game 6, when the Cubs led by seven runs.)
But after allowing three straight hits – Brandon Guyer’s RBI double, Davis’s homer and a single to Coco Crisp – Chapman came back to strike out Yan Gomes to end the eighth. More important: after the Cubs stranded the lead run at third in the top of the ninth, Chapman – on fumes at this point – retired the top of the Indians’ lineup in order in the bottom of the ninth.
“He didn’t have his big fastball – understandably,” Hoyer said. So in the ninth, he turned to the slider and got Carlos Santana to fly to left, struck out Kipnis and got Lindor on a fly to right. Those outs got the Cubs to the rain delay before the 10th inning, which allowed them to reset.
4. Kyle Schwarber is a beast.
It now seems as though the 23-year-old catcher-left fielder has been a part of this Cubs team all along, but it has to be noted that he played two regular season games and went 0-for-4. The Cubs didn’t know it was even possible that he might be able to try to play in the World Series until Oct. 17, right in the middle of the NLCS. And the state of his left knee, in which he tore ligaments in April, was such that doctors would not clear him to play the field.
And yet, he’s such a good hitter that Maddon stuck him in the lineup in Games 1 and 2 as the designated hitter hitting fifth, then moved him to second when the series returned to Cleveland for Games 6 and 7. The result: Schwarber went 7-for-17 with three walks – a cool .500 on-base percentage – in the series. Wednesday night, he went 3-for-5 (getting thrown out trying to stretch a single to a double in the third).
And when Chapman got through the ninth, Cubs officials knew they had the best part of their order coming up: Schwarber leading off, followed by NL MVP candidate Kris Bryant, then Rizzo, then Zobrist.
Schwarber started it all off with a hard, clean single to right. He won’t get credit for scoring the go-ahead run on Zobrist’s double because he was replaced by pinch runner Albert Almora Jr. But the Cubs might not have won the series if Schwarber hadn’t gotten healthy.
5. They could have lost anyway.
The Cubs’ path to victory was supposed to be Hendricks to Lester to Chapman, with perhaps lefty Mike Montgomery or right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. serving as a bridge to close out an inning earlier in the game. But after taking an 8-6 lead in the 10th, the three primary choices were spent, so Maddon turned to Edwards, who had been a little iffy in his two World Series appearances.
Here, though, he struck out Mike Napoli (who had an 0-for-5 night for Cleveland), then got Jose Ramirez to bounce out.
So here’s a heady thought: The Chicago Cubs were one out from winning the World Series.
“I kind of got away from what I was doing,” Edwards said. That led to a walk of Guyer, who advanced to second on defensive indifference. And that brought up, of all people, Davis, who turned around a 94-mph fastball for a run-scoring single to center, making it 8-7.
“We had a chance,” Davis said.
The hit got Edwards out of the game, and Maddon went, finally, with Montgomery. But a key fact: Francona had lifted Crisp, the 37-year-old veteran with an underrated postseason record, for pinch runner Michael Martinez back in the eighth. The switch-hitting Martinez, a career .197 hitter in the regular season, had just three postseason at-bats.
“That’s tough to come in like that,” Davis said. Montgomery fed him two curveballs, and he tapped the second toward third.
So there’s one more thing to remember: The Chicago Cubs’ first World Series title ended when lefty Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to bounce to third baseman Bryant, who threw over to Rizzo for the final out.
But no one will forget that. It should be on continuous loop in Chicago for the next 108 years.