CLEVELAND — In the first hours after Anthony Rizzo caught the final out of the Cubs' first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration and stuffed the ball into his back pocket, Cubs fan and actor Bill Murray drifted dreamily and perhaps a little drunkenly from place to place at Progressive Field here, including the set of SportsCenter.
Murray's incoherence was understandable, considering that in the time it took for his favorite ball team to win another championship, others in his species had ventured to the North and South Poles, mastered flight, climbed the earth's highest mountain and cured some of the worst diseases. But Murray made one very cogent point: This morning, everybody will go back and look at scorebooks or videotape to fully understand what happened in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, which will go down as arguably the most memorable contest of baseball ever played because of all that was at stake for the Cubs and Indians.
It was as if it was a game of switchbacks, sharp turns that led to other sharp turns. We remember Carlton Fisk's home run to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, but that wouldn't have been possible without Red Sox teammate Bernie Carbo's pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth inning, or right fielder Dwight Evans' spectacular catch to take what appeared to be a homer away from Joe Morgan. David Freese's game-tying triple and game-winning home run are the signature moments of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but there were so many plays that framed those highlights.
The joy of the Cubs and their fans and the wrenching heartbreak and fight of the earnest and worthy Indians will always serve as the headline of this incredible Game 7. But Murray is right: We should look back and rediscover everything that built to that crescendo.
Dexter Fowler kicks it off: Corey Kluber hadn't allowed a run in a home game the entire postseason — until his fourth pitch in Game 7, which Dexter clubbed over the center field wall. As Fowler rounded first base, he spun so his back was to second base and watched his teammates in the Cubs' dugout watch him. Seemingly before the echoes of the national anthem had bounced out of Progressive Field, the Cubs had a lead and would never trail in this game.
Carlos Santana ties the score: Of all of the Indians' hitters, Santana seemed to be the most locked in by the end of the World Series, and after mashing a line-drive out in his first plate appearance, he blistered a run-scoring single in the bottom of the third. Considering how the two teams were set up in this game, with the Indians' main bullpen pieces fully rested and ready to go, it seemed as if Cleveland would have an enormous advantage if it could get through the early innings tied or with the lead — and Santana's hit provided that.
Carlos Santana hit a combined .313 in Game 4 through 7. Charlie Riedel/AP Photo
Kluber just didn't have it: He had thrown 88 pitches in his Game 1 start, 80 pitches in Game 4, and in the first pass through the lineup of Game 7, his stuff looked much flatter than that vicious two-seamer he had buried against the Cubs' left-handed hitters at the outset of the series. Kris Bryant singled to lead off the fourth inning and Rizzo was hit by a pitch, and it was somewhat surprising that Andrew Miller wasn't already throwing in the bullpen at that point, given the urgency of the moment and given that he hadn't pitched in a game since last Saturday. The Cubs continued their rally against Kluber in the fourth and Javier Baez led off the fifth with a homer, and by the time Kluber trudged off the mound early in the fifth inning, the Cubs had done enormous damage on their second turn through the order against him: Five hits in seven at-bats, a hit by pitch, a sacrifice fly and just one — one — swing and miss. The Cubs' adjustments against Kluber and their growing familiarity with him had paid off.
Joe Maddon's next curious decision regarding Hendricks: Kyle Hendricks was throwing well against the Indians, his fastball darting, his changeups causing the Indians' hitters to flail. Going into this game, Maddon had planned to use Jon Lester, the Cubs' highest-paid pitcher, in a relief role, and through the third, fourth and fifth innings, Lester gradually warmed up, just in case.
With two outs in the fifth inning, Hendricks appeared to strike out Carlos Santana with a perfect pitch in the lower third of the zone — but the pitch was called a ball. Hendricks subsequently walked Santana, and with the left-handed-hitting Jason Kipnis due to bat and Lester waiting for the call, Maddon emerged from the dugout to take out Hendricks — who shouted angrily into his glove, perhaps about that strike call he didn't get, or perhaps because he wasn't wild about being removed. As John Smoltz said on the Fox broadcast: If the other team is happy with your decision, it's probably not a good one, and the Indians were probably happy to see Hendricks departing.
Kyle Hendricks was displeased — either at Joe Maddon or himself — when he was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning Wednesday. Andrew Hancock for ESPN
He was fully rested and his pitch count was only 63, and Lester was being summoned for his first relief appearance in nine years, on only two days of rest. Once Lester took over, it was if the baseball gods punished Maddon for the crime of overmanaging. Kipnis squibbed an infield roller that David Ross picked up and threw away, and both runners would score on a wild pitch that knocked Ross on his backside. The Indians had life as Hendricks watched from the Cubs' dugout, helpless.
One more big swing for David Ross: He has marveled at all the good things that have happened to him in this, the final year of his career, given the reality that he has been a backup catcher for most of his time in the big leagues. But destiny had one more parting gift for him: Batting against Andrew Miller in the top of the sixth inning, Ross took a big swing and blasted a home run — in Game 7 of the World Series, in his final game. The Cubs took a 6-3 lead with the blast.
Andrew Miller just didn't have it: The Cleveland left-hander was flawless in his first eight outings of the postseason, steering the Indians into the World Series with near-perfection for manager Terry Francona. But maybe Francona waited to call on Miller longer than anyone expected because he knew what was apparent once Miller took the mound: His stuff was compromised a little, and his invulnerability was gone.
If Miller was the Superman reliever of this postseason, Dexter Fowler — who has known Miller since they were both teenagers — was his kryptonite. Fowler homered off him in Game 4, greeted him with a single in Game 7 and got another hit two innings later.
The "Ghost of Game 6" haunts Maddon in Game 7: Before the season's final game, Maddon chatted cheerily with a few reporters next to the batting cage before the game, musing about his decisions with Aroldis Chapman in Game 6. Maddon wasn't defensive at all, but mentioned that he was actually surprised World Series observers disagreed with his choice to call on Chapman in the seventh inning in Game 6; that was the easy call, he said, obvious to him.
But because Maddon had been caught off guard by late scoring in Game 6, Chapman had thrown 20 pitches, so when Maddon summoned him from the bullpen with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 7, the great question about him was whether the left-hander's stuff was compromised.
Aroldis Chapman labored mightily in his 1 1/3 innings of work Wednesday. Andrew Hancock for ESPN
The Indians answered that immediately. Brandon Guyer blistered a double to right-center field to score Jose Ramirez. Then Chapman could not finish off Rajai Davis, who, with his hands choked up on the bat, fouled off a couple of tough two-strike pitches. Chapman threw inside, to the tiny area where Davis had enough swing leverage to drive the ball out of the park — and Davis muscled a line drive that flew with the trajectory of a two-iron in golf, the ball barely clearing the railing in left field. The Indians' dugout spontaneously recessed into a kindergarten playground, as Davis — 36 years old — circled the bases in the biggest moment of his 11-year career, suddenly positioned as the heir to David Freese's World Series legacy.
Coco Crisp then singled and Chapman, he of the unhittable 105 mph fastballs, looked utterly crestfallen: His best stuff was gone, and the Cubs' lead was gone.
Maddon's bullpen options seemed bleak in that moment, but not nearly as bleak as the fate that awaited him if the Cubs surrendered the lead: He would be forever second-guessed through history for his handling of the staff if the Cubs were to lose Game 7.
Lindor's magic: With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Jason Heyward stole second and took third when Yan Gomes' throw skipped away. The speedy Fowler smashed a grounder past the pitcher's mound, a would-be hit. But this postseason has been the grand introduction of Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor on the national stage. Lindor, whose demeanor is much like that of Mike Trout, is fueled by an irrepressible joy. Lindor slid to his left, gliding as if he was on skates, and after intercepting Fowler's grounder, he angled his body to fire to first against his own momentum, a throw that beat Fowler by milliseconds. Heyward touched home plate, with a run that wouldn't count.
Both teams moved onward to the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied.
The rain: Before the game, groundskeepers at Progressive Field were well aware of the forecast for rain at about 11 p.m., and in the top of the ninth inning, there was a quick chat among the umpires about the forecast — and at the conclusion of the bottom of the ninth inning, the tarp was rolled out quickly.
At that moment, Major League Baseball teams had combined to play 2,462 complete games, plus nine more innings in Game 7 — yet more was needed, whenever play resumed, the marathon of an entire baseball season reduced to a one-lap NASCAR sprint.
Zobrist's big hit: When it was all over, the Cubs players would talk about how Heyward called a meeting and exhorted them to put everything that had happened behind them, and to focus on what was ahead. He was the perfect messenger, a teammate regarded for his high personal character, maintained through what has been a season of struggles while a lot of his teammates have thrived.
Schwarber singled, and Albert Almora Jr. ran for him — and immediately made an impact, tagging up and taking second base when Bryant launched a fly ball to the base of the center field wall. That forced a decision from Francona: Either pitch to Rizzo, with first base open, or work to Ben Zobrist, who had had the soundest approach at the plate of all the Cubs throughout the World Series. The Indians elected to walk Rizzo.
Ben Zobrist jumped for joy and looked to the sky after his clutch 10-inning double. David J. Phillip/AP Photo
For Zobrist, the emotion and anxiety of the World Series had not been a problem. He won a World Series with the Royals last year, and Zobrist reminded himself to not to try to do too much. When Bryan Shaw left a pitch over the outer half of the strike zone, Zobrist slapped at it, defending the strike zone, and the ball skipped down the third base line. When he got to second base, Zobrist jumped with such force that his helmet flew off. Rizzo screamed at Zobrist from third base. Almora, having just scored the go-ahead run in arguably the 10th inning of the most memorable game in baseball history, raced back to the dugout, where he stood at the railing, short of breath. The Cubs would add another run.
The finish: Before the game, Michael Martinez, a 34-year-old utility infielder, took his turn in batting practice, and between his rounds, he stopped to talk about the opportunity that might present itself. He has never been a star, but he agreed that in games like this, players emerge unexpectedly. Maybe in this game, he said, he would get a chance.
And with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Cubs leading 8-7 and the tying run at first base, Martinez, who had initially entered the game as a defensive replacement, walked to the plate to bat against Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery. Martinez had only one homer as a right-handed batter in his time in the big leagues, but in this at-bat, he would have the power to alter the course of history, for the baseball world.
Martinez swung and hit a chopper toward third base, and he never looked back to see where the ball went. He put his head down and ran toward first base, full effort, hitting the bag, going down the right field line.
When Martinez finally turned around and began his slow walk to the Indians' dugout, he was a witness to history. The Chicago Cubs, world champions of baseball, and they were celebrating, that last baseball bulging from Rizzo's back left pocket.
Bill Murray was right: We need to remember all of it, every bit.