Just a Bit Outside: Championship Moments

by Sam Stockton | 11/7/16 12:10am

On Nov. 2, the narrative dramatically changed from “It’s gonna happen” to “It happened” for Chicago Cubs fans. After 108 years of suffering, mediocrity and disappointment, the Cubs finally took home the World Series. And what a Series it was.

The matchup featured a showdown between the two teams with the longest postseason Championship droughts in baseball history. It also featured a Cubs comeback to force an epic Game 7, which had everything: a 17-minute rain delay, a Cleveland Indians comeback, an extra inning and finally, a celebration 108 years in the making.

When I think back on this World Series, there will always be three moments, all from Game 7, that stand out in my mind.

The first came from the performance by the Cubs’ very first batter of the game: Dexter Fowler. He drove a 2-1 fastball deep to centerfield for the first leadoff home run in World Series Game 7 history. All season long, the Cubs used the saying, “You go, we go” to describe Fowler. Then, in the biggest game of the season, against a pitcher who had dominated them twice already in the Fall Classic, Fowler rose to the occasion and got the Cubs going in the most dramatic way imaginable.

The second moment did not come until the 10th inning: free agent acquisition Ben Zobrist doubled down the left field line to drive in Albert Almora Jr. and put the Cubs up 8-7 in extras. Zobrist, normally restrained, leapt the final few feet to second base, overjoyed, while Anthony Rizzo stood on third base with his hands on his head. To put it simply, Zobrist was euphoric, and Rizzo could not believe what was happening; it seemed as though in that moment what was about to happen hit him. Rizzo, who endured a 100-loss season with the team, just saw his Cubs retake a commanding lead in Game 7 of the World Series.

The third moment is one that I would consider a perfect representation of the 2016 Cubs. It was the final out of the World Series. Left-hander Mike Montgomery, acquired from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline, delivered a 0-1 curveball to Indians outfielder Michael Martinez. Martinez got a piece of it but not much, dribbling a slow roller towards third baseman Kris Bryant. By no means was it an easy play, but the charging Bryant closed quickly, then fired a throw to first to retire Martinez. A 108-year-long drought was over.

What you couldn’t see live was Bryant’s face as he made the play. Bryant had an ear-to-ear smile on his face before he even picked up the ball, let alone made the throw. This is exactly what the 2016 Cubs were all about. Confidence, excellence and perhaps most importantly, enjoying the ride.

From the start of the season, manager Joe Maddon encouraged these Cubs to “embrace the target” and never to “permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.” More than anything else, that is what I will remember about these Cubs. They had fun, and they played as if they were about to lose, whether it was a regular season game or the winner-takes-all game of the World Series.

It’s fairly natural to break down a season of memories into a few moments. Beyond the three I mentioned, there are many others from the regular season and postseason I’ll remember. Jon Lester laying down a pinch-hit, a two-strike bunt to score Jason Heyward against the Mariners. David Ross being carried off the field after Game 7.

The problem with this tendency is that it inevitably leaves out certain moments that were just as crucial to the eventual championship. Nobody remembers Derek Lowe’s masterpiece in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS; they remember Ortiz’s heroics and an epic comeback. Already, it seems many people have forgotten the Miguel Montero base hit that scored Rizzo and gave the Cubs a 2-run lead heading into the bottom of the 10th, an inning in which they did surrender one run.

Obviously, it is unfair to say that without the run Montero drove in, the Cubs certainly would have allowed the Indians to tie the game. The inning would not have been approached the same way with only a one-run lead. That being said, Montero’s RBI gave the Cubs some much needed breathing room in a game and series in which no lead was ever safe.

In Game 7, there were two players with strong ties to Dartmouth. At this point everyone knows about the Cubs’ starter, Kyle Hendricks ’12, who went four and two-thirds, giving up one earned run, putting an exclamation point on a breakout season. The other, less well-known, tie to the College comes from Jason Heyward, whose parents met as undergraduates at Dartmouth. Heyward struggled all year to live up the expectations that came along with the mega contract he received this offseason. However, many Cubs have already pointed to a speech Heyward delivered during the rain delay that preceded the extra-innings in Game 7 for refocusing the Cubs before their eventual victory.

Heyward and Hendricks each represent one story on a team full of them. A team that turned “the lovable losers” from the north side of Chicago into world champions. What should make that story even scarier for the rest of the league is how young this Cubs team is. The Game 7 lineup featured five players, Kyle Schwarber, Bryant, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez, who are 24 years old or younger. This team will continue to get better. Frankly, there is no reason to suspect that they will not repeat. They will go into the 2017 season the same way they started and ended the 2016 season, as the league’s best team. The only question is how will they end 2017? Don’t look now but the last time the Cubs won a title prior to this season, it was the back half of back-to-back crowns. The precedent is there for the Cubs to fly the ultimate W again in 2017.