There has never been a better Game 7.
Not in baseball, anyway.
Oh sure, there have been plenty of classics over the years. Sandy Koufax shutting down the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series comes to mind. The pitcher’s duel between Jack Morris and John Smoltz, too. Or the five-inning save – on two days’ rest, mind you – that established the legend of Madison Bumgarner.
But given the teams involved, the epic droughts each had gone without a championship, the wild swings of momentum, the extra innings and the rain that briefly brought the whole fun house ride to a halt, I defy you to find any Game 7 more compelling than the one that was played Wednesday night.
And that was before Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero made Cleveland pay for pitching around others to get to them by driving in the winning runs in the 8-7 victory.
“Yeah,” David Ross said when asked if this was the best Game 7 yet. “I’m not a history major, but that’s pretty dang good.”
This game would have made the list of all-time greats even without the drama worthy of a telenovela. The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series title since 1908, hadn’t even made it this far since 1945.
“For God’s sake, 107 years?” said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, who has been living and dying with his team since he was a college kid out in the bleachers. “This team wore the lovable loser tag for decades. That was like nails on a chalkboard for us and we wanted to make sure we could throw that out.”
But Cleveland and the Indians had their own tales of woe. The Indians’ last title came in 1948 and, until the Cavaliers won the NBA crown in June, all of Cleveland’s teams were on a 52-year oh-fer streak.
The Indians looked set to make Cleveland the new Title Town as they took a commanding 3-1 lead. No team had blown a lead like that since 1985, and no team had done it at home since Baltimore in 1979.
So of course the Cubs tied it up to force Game 7.
“One of the beauties of this series is I know the great vibe on our team and that we never stop fighting. But they don’t either,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I think that’s important. That’s why the series ended the way it did. You had two teams that really felt they were going to win a title.”
With thousands of Cubs fans flooding northeast Ohio, Progressive Field sounded more like Wrigley as Dexter Fowler led off the game with a solo homer, humbling the previously untouchable Corey Kluber. Only after the Indians worked their small ball magic to its finest in the third, tying the game on Carlos Santana’s single did it begin to feel like a Cleveland home game.
After scoring two runs each in the fourth and fifth innings, and with $155 million relief man Jon Lester on the mound, the Cubs seemed firmly in control. Fans began flooding the streets around Wrigley Field, ready to let loose in the party of the century.
But it wasn’t over. Not even close.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose moves in the last two games were often as head scratching as they were daring, brought Aroldis Chapman in after Lester gave up a two-out single in the bottom of the eighth.
Ten pitches later, the game was tied.
“The Cubs beat up on (Andrew) Miller tonight and got to their other guys because the Cubs are good. The Indians beat up on (Aroldis) Chapman tonight because the Indians are good,” Maddon said. “That’s part of this game.
“Listen, I love it. I think barroom conversations are great,” Maddon added. “But sometimes people forget that both sides are good. And we demonstrated that tonight versus them. And the demonstrated that versus us.”
The teams got through the ninth, only to have rains move in and send the teams back to their clubhouses.
As the Cubs walked through the tunnel, Jason Heyward called all of his teammates into a weight room. Heyward doesn’t often speak, but he wanted to remind the Cubs of all they had overcome to get here and how it wouldn’t have happened without contributions from every single one of them.
They had enough to win the game, Heyward said, they just needed to do it.
The Cubs responded with two runs in the top of the 10th. Not to be outdone, the Indians clawed one back before Michael Martinez was retired on a grounder to set off raucous celebrations from here to Chicago.
“Just a hard-fought game — they came back, we came back,” Kris Bryant said. “It was probably one of the best Game Sevens ever, and fortunately we were on the right side of it.
“This moment is unbelievable,” Bryant said a few moments later, sounding incredulous. “We just won the World Series. It’s pretty special.”
For them, and everyone who watched it.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.