Cleveland, OH…Maybe when Addison Russell is 24, or Anthony Rizzo‘s nephew is old enough to watch videos, or Kris Bryant gets a gray hair, the young Cubs players will understand what they did this year. What Russell, Rizzo, Bryant, pitcher Jon Lester and the rest of their teammates did was end a century-plus of heartbreak and give Cubs fans around the world a reason to celebrate. Ben Zobrist smacked a tiebreaking RBI double in the 10th inning and Dexter Fowler, Javier Baez and David Ross homered to power the Cubs to an 8-7 victory over the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
For the first time since 1908, the Cubs are World Series champions. Believe it.
“Nothing’s been easy, nothing’s been given to us,” Lester said. “Every series has been a battle and been a grind for us. We played three really good opponents to get here, and here we stand. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be a part of this. You wouldn’t expect it any other way.”
The Cubs were the preseason favorites to win it all, and they won 103 games to claim the National League Central. They then ousted the Giants in the NL Division Series and beat the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series to reach the World Series against the Indians, who opened a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. With their win, the Cubs are the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win Games 6 and 7 on the road since the 1979 Pirates.
The Indians made it tough, erasing a 5-1 lead in Game 7 and tying it on Rajai Davis‘ eighth-inning home run. A 17-minute rain delay before the 10th inning saved the day. Outfielder Jason Heyward called the Cubs hitters into the weight room, and general manager Jed Hoyer watched as the players regrouped.
“I think the rain delay was the best thing that ever happened to us, to be honest,” Hoyer said. “We went down to the rain room, talked a little bit. [Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] and I saw all the hitters were huddled in the weight room during the delay and kind of getting pumped up. I felt great and thought, ‘We were going to win this inning and we’re world champions.’ Maybe after 108 years, you get some divine intervention?”
Heyward tried to downplay what he did, saying he just needed to vent and remind his teammates that they needed one more win. The Cubs’ motto is “We never quit,” something they say after each win. They were chanting that after receiving the trophy as well.
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“Theo and I were laughing about that — it had to be super hard,” Hoyer said of winning the Series. “We’re down three games to one, we have a big lead in the game, 6-3. You don’t feel good, but things were lined up pretty well for us. … It was a roller coaster. We’ll be talking about that game for decades. It was incredible.”
And when Michael Martinez grounded out to Bryant, who threw the ball to Rizzo at first, the celebration began. Rizzo, by the way, was able to stash the ball from the final out away for safekeeping.
“It was a little surreal,” Hoyer said. “You’re biting your nails the entire time. It was a great release, a great feeling. I think it will all sink in when we get home.
“I know so many people who are thinking of their grandfathers and fathers now in Chicago and that’s what it’s all about. It’s bigger than these 25 guys, it’s bigger than this organization. It’s about this city and the fans who have stuck by this team forever.”
But Russell, Bryant and Rizzo weren’t thinking about that.
“I think that’s why they did it,” Ross said. “I don’t think they know [about the history] — they know to go out there and play baseball. They know they’re really, really good. You have a lot of successful young talented players who have been successful their whole careers, and they expect to succeed. There’s not a whole lot of guys talking about what’s happened in the past. They’re looking to the future, and the future is bright for that group.”
Ross is right. The young Cubs weren’t thinking about the 1945 team that lost the World Series to the Tigers, or the 1984 team that lost the NLCS to the Padres, or any other squad that didn’t win it all.
“There was no weight on our shoulders,” Russell said. “It’s either we do it or we don’t. We go out there and compete and try our best. If we don’t, we’ll feel really bad, but we gave it all we had.
“This is in the history books, we made our mark,” the 22-year-old shortstop said. “It’s such a young core — we’re just getting started.”
Hoyer understands what winning a championship means for the Cubs, and had a message for Chicagoans.
“Enjoy it — just enjoy it,” he said. “There’s no curses — there never was a curse. It’s about having the best team and playing well over seven games in a World Series, and we did that. Enjoy it. The Cubs are no different than any other team. When we’re the best team, we can win, and we were the best team.”
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.