On Nov. 3 at Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians utility player Michael Martinez was all that stood between the Chicago Cubs and history. The Cubs, up eight to seven in extra innings of what was the most insane World Series game ever played, just needed the out. Martinez hit a grounder to the left of the mound and third baseman Kris Bryant came charging in to throw him out at first. As he made the play, Bryant couldn’t stop grinning. First baseman Anthony Rizzo’s hands were already in the air as he made the catch.
After 108 years of torment, curses and missed chances, it was New Year’s Day for a club known as the “Loveable Losers” for as long as anyone could remember. “Next year” had finally arrived. The Chicago Cubs had won the World Series.
Never before in the history of professional American sports had a championship drought been so prolific. No team, regardless of sport, had gone that long without winning it all. Despite the pressure of over a century of pain hanging over their heads, a team mostly comprised of young, scrappy players had fought to victory.
At first, it seemed the Cubs would run away with it. Dexter Fowler, slumping through the series, hit a no-doubt home run out of the park on the fourth pitch of the game. In a glorious top of the fourth performance, the Cubs notched hit after hit, driving in another two. Javier Baez, who before the game was swinging at anything offered to him, went yard with a furious home run in the fifth. Rizzo followed him up by driving in Bryant. The Cubs had solved the mystery of Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, and by the time the top of the fifth was over, the Cubs were up five to one. Fate seemed to be in their hands.
Fitting for a ball game with stakes perhaps never before seen in the history of the sport, however, it wouldn’t be that easy. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, a genius and a madman, was worried Cleveland could come roaring back. While Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks had locked in, Maddon didn’t buy it. He had his own plans for the rest of the game. He pulled Hendricks after a questionable walk and handed the ball to his ace Jon Lester, partnered with his go to catcher David Ross.
Lester allowed a hit that in turn made Ross make a throwing error. He followed it up with a wild pitch directly to Ross’s mask, a mistake that would allow two Indians to cross the plate. Ross made up for it with a home run off the normally unflappable Andrew Miller, becoming the oldest player in World Series history to do so, but more terror was coming for the Cubs.
After getting two outs in the eighth, it was time for Maddon’s favorite weapon: Aroldis Chapman. Chapman, a legend of a pitcher, haunts the dreams of most hitters. He has the fastest recorded fastball in history and a filthy slider to back it up. But even legends get worn out, and Maddon had questionably used Chapman several games in a row.
The beast would be bested. Off of a visibly tired Chapman, the Indians would notch an RBI double and a two run home-run to tie the game. When the inning was finally over, Chapman walked back to the dugout with tears welling in his eyes.
Things had gone south. But the Cubs had fire left in their souls. Chapman came back to finish the ninth and send it into extra innings, where the Cubs would follow up a short rain delay with two runs on clutch hits from Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero. The Indians gave it their all against the Cubs relievers, driving in one more run, but Martinez was up to bat, backed by less than promising stats. Bryant’s smiling play followed, and history was made. Not only for the Chicago Cubs and baseball, but for sports as a whole.
What had transpired on that cool evening in Cleveland will likely never be topped. It’s difficult to imagine any game having the drama and history behind it, the pure adrenaline associated with overcoming all odds to end the drought that defined a team.
Cubs fans around the world wept with pure joy, a feeling that many could only describe as a feeling that anything was possible. The world wept with them, despite a time where divides have defined us. How can a feeling like that ever come again? How can anything in sports ever come close to being that important?
The simple answer is that nothing will probably ever be as good as Game Seven of the 2016 World Series. Nothing will ever unite people the way the ultimate underdog in sports did when they leapt into each other’s arms on Progressive Field. Nothing will even come close.
Someday, no more. The Cubs went all the way. And the world is all the better for it.