End of title drought might spark title flood for loaded Cubs

By Roger Rubin, The Sports Xchange  |  Updated Nov. 3, 2016 at 10:45 AM
share with facebook
share with twitter
1 of 3
| License Photo

The Chicago Cubs met their date with destiny Wednesday night.

The longest championship drought in a major sport ended after 108 years with the Cubs beating the Cleveland Indians in an epic, 10-inning, 8-7 win in Game 7 of the World Series at Progressive Field.

The Curse of the Billy Goat? The Black Cat? Steve Bartman? Remove them from the baseball lexicon. The Cubs are champions for the first time since 1908, the first team to rebound from a 3-1 deficit and capture the crown on the road since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Fueled by, of all things, a team meeting called by the disappointing big-money free agent signee Jason Heyward during a 17-minute rain delay before the final frame, Chicago scored twice in the 10th and survived a Cleveland rally in the bottom of the frame. Chicago's Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to ground out to third base with the tying run on second to end the game and the drought.

"It was the best rain delay ever," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

The contest rightfully will be remembered as one of the greatest World Series games ever. The Cubs blew a 5-1 lead, and with pitching options running out on both sides, found a way to win. For baseball, it was a showcase of how good the sport can be.

As Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of the Cubs, "They're a good team -- they keep coming at you. That was tough for them when we tied that. A lot of teams might fold after that, but they didn't. They didn't. And we didn't either. We just ran out of time."

The Cubs' offense, sparked to life after going down three games to one in the series, kept percolating. The weight-bearing pillars of the Cleveland postseason run -- the way ace Corey Kluber's pitching covered for the injury-depleted rotation, coupled with the spectacular work of the Indians' relievers -- finally gave way.

They will be back.

And no, we don't mean the Indians.

This is only the beginning for the Cubs.

"I'm really proud of the attitude, the culture we created," second-year Chicago manager Joe Maddon said in the celebratory clubhouse. "I think it's something that could carry us for many years to come. ... This is the breakthrough where a standard of excellence is set that can be carried through for more years to come."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein cemented himself as perhaps the greatest baseball executive ever by following up on his work as general manager of the Red Sox when they snapped an 86-year drought with the 2004 World Series title. And he has built something very sustainable on the North Side of Chicago.

Work your way around the infield -- 24-year-old Kris Bryant at third, 22-year-old Addison Russell at short, 23-year-old Javier Baez at second and 27-year-old Rizzo at first -- and it is the foundation of a dynasty. They will be Cubs for a good, long time.

Build on that with 23-year-old Kyle Schwarber, who came back from an April knee injury for the World Series and went 7-for-17 (.412). And World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (his RBI double snapped the extra-inning tie), who just finished the first year of a four-year deal. And Dexter Fowler, whose option for next season will be picked up. And Heyward, who is signed for seven more seasons.

We haven't even gotten to the pitching. Jon Lester, a 19-game winner this year who pitched in three World Series games, is signed through 2020. Game 6 starter Jake Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, isn't a free agent until 2018. Game 7 starter Kyle Hendricks, the major league ERA champ this year, isn't a free agent until 2021.

The Cubs might need more relief pitching in the coming offseason, but the nucleus of this title team is cemented in place, looking good and being shepherded by the do-no-wrong Epstein.

"It's fitting that this had to be done with one of the greatest games of all-time," Epstein said. "We gave up the lead, and during the rain delay, I walked by the strength and conditioning room, and they were all gathered around (Heyward) saying, 'This is only going to make it sweeter.' ... What a group."

The Cubs, despite their history, were installed as one of the favorites this season. They won a major-league-best 103 games in the regular season. They came back from a 2-1 deficit to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series and just erased an even bigger deficit to win the big prize.

When Cleveland's Brandon Guyer laced an RBI double and Rajai Davis hit the two-run homer to knot game 6-6 in the eighth, things looked desolate once again for the Cubs, who lost in their last World Series appearance 71 years ago. But then came the rain, Heyward's pep talk, Zobrist's run-scoring double down the left field line and Miguel Montero's RBI single to left.

In Wrigleyville, they waited a long time to celebrate, and now it is time for that. They will get used to this feeling. The Cubs are built to last. More celebrations lie ahead.

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories