November 3, 2016 [LINK / comment]
I'm still in a state of euphoric disbelief over what I saw happen on TV last night. Just to make sure that the Chicago Cubs really did win the World Series for the first time since 1908 (!!??), I watched the postgame show after the game ended, and then the reruns of it again in the morning, and then watched most of the (condensed) rebroadcast game on MLB TV this afternoon.
I had just finished playing my three-song set (beginning with "Go Cubs, Go"!) at Queen City Brewing here in Staunton when the first inning of Game 7 got underway. I saw the first pitch on the TV set behind the bar, but while I wasn't looking, Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff home run that just cleared the center field fence at Cleveland's Progressive Field. That blast quickly helped the Cubs get over the psychological hurdle represented by the daunting Indians pitcher, Corey Kluber. When Kyle Schwarber singled and Kris Bryant hit a fly ball to the warning track in center field, there was a momentary possibility of a three-run first inning, just like in Game 6. But the ball was caught, and the next two batters also flew out to end the inning. Corey Kluber settled down after that, and pitched two scoreless innings. I got home during the top of the third inning.
In the bottom of the third, Coco Crisp once again provided decisive offensive punch, with a leadoff double that resulted in a run two batters later. But the Indians bounced right back in the fourth inning, as Kris Bryant hit a leadoff single and later scored from third base on a sacrifice fly to short left field. The next batter Willson Contreras hit an RBI double, confirming that the momentum had shifted by in Chicago's favor. In the top of the fifth, Javier Baez hit a leadoff homer that forced Kluber out of the game, replaced by Andrew Miller, the usual closing pitcher. Later in the inning, Kris Bryant walked and made it home on a single by Anthoy Rizzo. He got a perfect jump, and just beat the throw to home. That gave the Cubs a 5-1 lead, but almost immediately the Indians started chipping away at it. Kyle Hendricks walked a batter, and Joe Maddon immediately replaced him with Jon Lester, a move which I thought was premature. Indeed, Lester gave up a single to the first batter he faced, and then threw a wild pitch to the next batter, allowing both base-runners to score, making it a 5-3 game. That was just horrendous. In the top of the sixth, David Ross hit a solo homer, making up for the throwing error that was partly responsible for the two runs being scored. In the bottom of the sixth, Brandon Guyer got a pinch-hit single for Lonnie Chisenhall, the first of two hits he had. (I found out on a local TV station that he is a former Virginia Cavalier; until this year he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.)
Then followed an interlude of relative calm, until the bottom of the eighth inning. That's when Jon Lester gave up a two-out single and was replaced by Aroldis Chapman. Under normal circumstances that would have been a good move, but as almost everyone knew, Chapman had been severely depleted by multi-inning appearances in both Game 5 and Game 6. His exhaustion became obvious when he gave up an RBI double to Brandon Guyer (his second hit), and then a home run to Rajai Davis. His line drive just barely cleared the big wall in left field, and almost hit the TV camerman posted there. No-o-o-o-o!!! All of a sudden the score was tied 6-6, and fans in Cleveland roared their approval. After giving up another single, Chapman struck out Yan Gomes to end the inning. Whew! In the top of the ninth inning, Jayson Heyward reached third base with only one out, and Cubs' fans hopes started to rise again. But for some reason, Javier Baez attempted a bunt with two strikes, and thus struck out. Some of the Fox commentators (including Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose) later said they thought that it must have been Joe Maddon who made that decision, and I agree. In any case, the next batter grounded out, wasting the run-scoring opportunity. To the surprise of many, Aroldis Chapman came back to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, and this time he did fine, getting three straight outs. Extra innings!
But first there was a rain delay, which had some of us worrying about playing after midnight or even being postponed a day or two, like what happened in the 2008 World Series. Fortunately, the delay turned out to be fairly brief. In the top of the tenth, Kyle Schwarber hit a leadoff single to right field, in spite of Cleveland's defensive shift in that direction. Since his legs are still fragile, he was replaced by pinch runner Albert Almora, who made it to second base on a long fly ball to center field -- what could have been yet another home run by Kris Bryant. Then Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked, aiming to set up a double play, but it backfired when Ben Zobrist doubled down the left field line, scoring Almora. The Cubs were back ahead, and the thousands of Chicago fans in Progressive Field made their noisy presence felt! After another intentional walk, Miguel Montero, the third-string catcher, came up to bat with the bases loaded, and hit an RBI single to give the Cubs an 8-6 lead. The Indians got the next two outs, but their prospects were bleak.
In the bottom of the tenth, Carl Edwards took the mound for the Cubs, and he got the first two batters out. But then he walked Brandon Guyer, and none other than Rajai Davis came up to bat. Cleveland fans were giddy with anticipation that he might pull off another game-tying homer, and he almost came through, hitting a line-drive RBI single to center field. Oh, no! Joe Maddon yanked Edwards and put Mike Montgomery on the mound. Michael Martinez then hit a slow ground ball which Kris Bryant managed to grab, and threw it to first base for the final out. Game over!!! Cubs 8, Indians 7.
With all those plot twists, that had to be one of the most riveting and exciting final World Series games ever. It was far from perfect, as there were a few lapses by players and by managers -- especially Joe Maddon, whose trust in his pitchers seemed very low. Ben Zobrist, who hit the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the tenth inning, was named World Series Most Valuable Player. He did fine, but I really think Kris Bryant is more deserving of the award. He was the decisive factor in both Games 5 and 6, and played a major role in the Game 7 victory. Perhaps the two errors he committed in Game 4 explains why he wasn't the MVP.
As fate would have it, Cleveland fans suffered the agonizing heartache of losing after having come so close to winning -- both in this game, and in the World Series as a whole. They have much to be proud of, nonetheless, and much to be hopeful for in the future, with a strong roster full of young stars. World Series 2016 was very evenly matched, with both teams scoring exactly 27 runs over the seven games.
Notwithstanding the whole point of getting "home field advantage," the home team only won in two of the seven World Series games: Game 1 in Cleveland, and Game 5 in Chicago. It was the worst World Series for home teams since 1996, when the Braves won the first two games in New York, after which the Yankees won the next three games in Atlanta and then won Game 6 in New York.
And as many people observed, the whole concept of "home field advantage" seemed in doubt as Chicago fans seemed almost as numerous as Cleveland fans at Progressive Field last night. Tickets were going for several thousand dollars on the resale market, and apparently a lot of upscale Chicagoans outbid fans in Cleveland.
On a personal note, this World Series was emotionally draining for me as I unabashedly rooted for my late father's favorite team. Everybody was joking about fans on both sides having heart attacks after the various twists and turns in last night's game. Then it occurred to me on a more serious note that had my father lived another seven months to see this World Series, he quite literally might not have survived watching the latter innings of Game 7. That's almost too much to contemplate. Perhaps this is an example of "things happen for a reason..."