The Chicago Cubs danced in their clubhouse Sunday, while the theme to “Rocky,’’ blared on the loudspeakers, and the movie playing on the flat-screen TVs.
“It was a party in here,’’ Cubs veteran catcher David Ross said. “A good time.’’
It just so happened to be before the fifth game of the World Series, when for the first time all season, the Cubs were playing for their lives.
And survived to live another day.
The Cubs, calling on closer Aroldis Chapman to preserve the longest save of his career, saved the Cubs’ season with a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field, sending the World Series back to Cleveland for Game 6, trailing 3 games to 2.
“Hello, Cleveland!’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein yelled, as he entered the Cubs’ raucous clubhouse.
The Cubs, who threw a quick impromptu celebration, ran back onto the field to show support to their crowd, reveling the first World Series victory at Wrigley since 1945, in their final home game of this season.
The huge celebration, the one where they plan to go bonkers in their new party room, will be on hold for a couple of more days, Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler says.
“We’ve still got some work to do,’’ Fowler says, “but I think the party room will be fully utilized when we win the World Series.’’
In the meantime, the Cubs were left trying to scramble to find a Halloween costume story before their 7 a.m. flight Sunday to Cleveland.
“Halloween Costumes are Encouraged,’’ the Cubs’ clubhouse video board read.
And, oh, yeah, they’ll be bringing along DH Kyle Schwarber, who was relegated to just one at-bat in the three games at Wrigley Field.
Yes, the Cubs have their swagger back, believing that if they can wait 108 years between World Series championships, why not win one in style, in a classic 7-Game series that will be forever remembered
“Why not us?’’ said Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who broke out of his World Series slump with a fourth-inning homer. “We’re all about writing our own history.’’
Says Ross, who played his final game at Wrigley, and broke down with emotions afterwards: “There’s no way any of us thought winning a World Series was going to be easy.’’
Yet, they didn’t envision it would be quite this nerve-racking, either with Ross and first baseman Anthony Rizzo passing one another in the dugout and in the clubhouse tunnel during the game, wondering if they needed to use a respirator.
“I kept telling the security guard,’’ Ross said, “’My heart can’t take much more of this.’ Rizzo said, “’I don’t know how you old … I can’t take this.’’’
Who possibly can, with two passionate fan bases, each hoping to finally end their historic droughts?
The Indians, of course, still are in fabulous shape. There hasn’t been a baseball team that has blown a 3-1 World Series lead with the final two games at home since the 1979 Baltimore Orioles.
Then again, the Indians, have been in this position before, only to endure their own heartache.
They were up 3 games to 1 in the 2007 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, only to be outscored, 30-5 in the next three games, and left watching the Red Sox sweep the World Series.
They were two outs away from winning the 1997 World Series, only to blow a ninth-inning lead, and lose in 11 innings.
Still, the Indians insist, there’s no reason to panic. They’ve got Game 6 at Progressive Field on Tuesday. And if needed, Game 7 in Cleveland.
“I feel like we play our best with our backs up against the wall,’’ Bryant says. “Hopefully, we can get out there and win Game 6, because you never know what can happen in a Game 7.’’
Even with ace Corey Kluber scheduled for Game 7, the Indians would prefer not to have that kind of pressure.
“You don’t want to give lineups like that, momentum,’’ Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis says, “or teams to start feeling good about themselves.
“So the best thing to do is kind of put them away before they can do that.’’
Well, after what the Cubs witnessed this night with Chapman, recording the first eight-out save of his career, and throwing 42 pitches, they’ve got enough momentum to ride on his golden arm all of the way to Cleveland.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon actually summoned Chapman before the game, and asked if he was going to be OK entering the game, if needed, as early as the seventh inning.
“I’m ready,’’ Chapman told him. “I’m ready to go.’’
Maddon pulled starter Jon Lester after six innings, and went to reliever Carl Edwards, and at the same time, Chapman was warming up.
“We saw him warming up,’’ Fowler said. “Any time you have a power arm like that warming up, you can hear him warming up.’’
The sellout crowd of 41,711 saw him too, and when Edwards gave up a leadoff single to Mike Napoli, and after a passed ball, retired Carlos Santana, Maddon went to the mound. He waved his left arm. Chapman, who had recorded only save longer than two innings in his life, strolled to the mound.
“That was our best opportunity,’’ Maddon said. “I thought right now, based on the bullpen usage recently, he’s actually kind of fresh. He hasn’t been overused in the last part of this season nor throughout the playoffs.
“He was definitely aware of what may happen tonight.’’
Chapman, acquired from the Yankees in July before the non-waiver deadline, squirmed out of trouble in the seventh inning when he induced a soft groundout from Roberto Perez.
It set up the critical eighth inning, where the game was going to be won or lost. Chapman opened the inning by striking out No. 9 hitter Yan Gomez, but leadoff hitter Rajai Davis dumped a single to right field. He then stole second base, setting up Kipnis to be the one ending his hometown team’s dreams. He fouled out to second baseman Ben Zobrist, bringing dangerous Francisco Lindor to the plate.
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio headed to the mound, and the infield gathered around. They needed to pitch Lindor, real, real carefully.
“I went to the mound three times,’’ Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said, “to make sure we were on the same page.
Lindor stood stunned, watching Chapman start him off with three consecutive sliders, after throwing only one slider in his last game. Chapman, behind 2-and-1 in the count, came back with a 101 mph four-seam fastball.
And then another 101 mph fastball.
Lindor could only watch.
The joint erupted.
“I was looking for a good pitch to hit,’’ Lindor said. “I didn’t think I was capable of hitting any of the pitches he threw me. He executed the pitches and beat me.’’
When Chapman breezed through the ninth, 1-2-3, the crowd broke into hysteria, celebrating the Cubs’ first World Series victory at Wrigley since 1945, singing their unofficial anthem, “Go, Cubs, Go.’’
“He did a really nice job throwing the slider, throwing the fastball on the corner,’’ Contreras said, “just being amazing tonight. When he got to 30 pitches, he was even better the last inning, painting the ball down in the zone.’’
And, if needed again in desperate times, Chapman says, pick the inning, and he’ll be three.
“Whatever he needs me to do,’’ Chapman said, “or how long he needs me to pitch for, I’m ready for it.’’
It was only the second time in World Series history, a pitcher went at least eight outs for a save with his team facing elimination, joining San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
“That was a big ask,’’ Indians manager Terry Francona said, “and he answered. That was impressive.’’
Now, it’s onto Cleveland, with a confident team, a DH in Schwarber, Chapman knowing he’s capable of going longer than two innings, and a “Rocky’’ tape stuffed in their equipment bag.
“The boys are feeling real good right now,’’ said Rizzo, who was impersonating Rocky Balboa with shadow-boxing before the game, even playing the “Rocky’’ theme as his walk-up music before his first at-bat. “We had a good time in here before the game. We’re going the bout. We’re going the distance.
“We’re bought in.
“And we believe in it.’’
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale