CLEVELAND – You didn’t have to be a Cubs fan or baseball fan or a follower of any kind to appreciate this Rembrandt of a World Series and the profound effect it had on baseball. All you needed was a heart, and you were hooked – although strong blood pressure medication wouldn’t have hurt, either.
Was Game 7 the greatest moment in Fall Classic history, as Theo Epstein woozily suggested in the clubhouse? Granted, he’d had a few cold ones, but the GM wasn’t really wrong.
This was more than a great finish; it was one for the ages. If you stayed up, consider yourself lucky. If you didn’t, find it on someone’s DVR. You won’t regret it.
It’ll be years before the memories of the Cubs’ victory fade. Maybe decades. Maybe never. Here’s a look back on this incredible run: who came up big and who fell short.
Theo Epstein: The man is unquestionably a baseball genius, and even though he isn’t averse to reminding us mortals of that giant IQ, let’s give credit where it’s due.
Epstein has now broken the curse in two different markets, Chicago and Boston. He took the Red Sox job as a 28-year-old in 2002 and won a World Series in just two seasons, ending an 85-year drought. Epstein left in 2013 for Wrigleyville and pulled off an even bigger miracle, rescuing the Cubs from a 108-year dark age.
You can’t blame him for the post-game celebrating; everyone in the Cubs family – executives, players, wives – were in full-berserk mode after that 10-inning 8-7 win over the Indians. The beauty of Epstein’s work is that he did it the old-fashioned way, by grooming home-grown prospects. Of the 18 players who participated in Game 7, 17 were developed internally on Epstein’s watch.
Anthony Rizzo: His face-to-face with actor Bill Murray late Wednesday – time was either marked by the clock (1 a.m.) or by the drink (too many to count) – was priceless. Rizzo told a sloshed Murray, “You’re the inspiration. I want to be like you when I grow up.” The slugger isn’t doing so badly in the present, either.
Rizzo hit a ton against the Indians — .360 with a home run, four walks and 1.084 OPS — but his best move might’ve come in the moments following the last out. Immediately after taking Kris Bryant’s throw across the infield retiring Michael Martinez, Rizzo put the historic ball in his back pocket. Our guess is that he’s keeping it. Smart man.
Corey Kluber: Say what you want about his unsuccessful start in Game 7 — and there’s no question it was a letdown. The Indians believed Kluber would have his best stuff; turns out he wasn’t even close.
But Kluber’s can-do attitude and willingness to pitch three times in this Series deserves to be recognized. Pitchers are notorious creatures of habit. Take them out of their routine, ask them to start on three days’ rest instead of four, and most will squawk. But not Kluber. He took on a huge responsibility going on short rest yet again, even though he was aware of the possible outcome.
It was obvious from the outset the Cubs had adjusted to Kluber’s two-seamer, which was missing the bite it’d displayed in Games 1 and 4. Dexter Fowler took him deep him on just the fourth pitch of the game, and the Indians were down 4-1 before Kluber was finally removed in the fifth inning.
That was Francona’s fault more than his ace’s. Ultimately, Francona was right: The Indians wouldn’t have made it to Game 7 without Kluber.
Joe Maddon: Let’s get this out of the way first: Game 7 will not be enshrined in Cooperstown as one of Maddon’s finest moments. He got away with numerous mistakes, including removing starter Kyle Hendricks with a 5-1 lead with two outs in the fifth after issuing his first and only walk.
Why? It’s still a mystery as to how Maddon decided Jon Lester, working on two days’ rest and in a relief assignment, would be better suited to navigate through the Indians lineup. And two innings later, Maddon’s subsequent nod towards Aroldis Chapman, who’d thrown 62 pitches in the previous three days, also reeked of panic. It nearly cost the Cubs the Series.
But Ben Zobrist ultimately took Maddon off the hook with his game-winning double in the 10th inning, allowing the manager’s other fine work to return to the forefront. Maddon never panicked when the Cubs were down 3-1 and everyone was ready to flush the Cubs into the bowels in history.
Maddon is a master personality-wrangler. He motivates the Cubs in cerebral way, like Tony LaRussa minus the pomposity; Maddon has just the right touch. As a result the players never doubted themselves, even after blowing a three-run lead in the eighth inning on Rajai Davis’ near-historic home run off Chapman.
Ben Zobrist: Talk about a lucky charm. Zobrist has won back-to-back championships on two different teams and, with a .357 average, became the first Cub to be voted World Series MVP. He’s going to love that Camaro.
The weather forecasters: Ok, we get it, no one wanted the World Series to be decided by adverse conditions – a slip on wet grass, a muddy batter’s box, a pitching mound that’d become soft and unstable.
The decision to stop the game because of a light drizzle was borne out of caution. Reports indicated much heavier rain was on the way. But that was a false alarm.
Instead, the game was delayed by only 17 minutes by rain that didn’t get any worse, and was indeed playable. The result? The Cubs used the interruption to hold a team meeting in the weight room, and returned to the field as if they’d been counseled by Dr. Phil. Kyle Schwarber laced a leadoff single and the Indians were on their way to defeat.
Jason Heyward: We’ll be fair here. The team meeting was Heyward’s idea; he did the talking, he boosted the Cubs’ spirits. Without Heyward’s inspiration, who knows, maybe the Fall Classic would’ve ended differently.
But, goodness, was he awful throughout, That eight-year, $184 million contract stands as baseball’s worst investment, given that Heyward batted .150 with no extra base hits in the Series.
Baseball’s story lines: Sounds crazy to say this, considering the Cubs finally broke their 108-game curse. Who didn’t love it (besides Indians fans)? But the sad part is, we just ran the table on the last great narrative – not just in baseball, but in sports in general.
Now that the Red Sox and Cubs are official winners, are there any true underdogs left in the world? Wait: how about the Browns winning the Super Bowl? Yes, we’re going with that.
Klapisch writes for the Bergen County (N.J.) Record, part of the USA TODAY Network.