It was never supposed to go to seven games.
I mean, that’s ridiculous. That the Chicago Cubs would, like some hackneyed, treacly, Hollywood-scripted team, drag out the drama of the World Series to seven freakin’ games? And then end it like that?
I’m sorry, but if you wrote it, no one would buy it. They would laugh you out of the room. Because the whole idea is ridiculous.
It simply was not supposed to happen. Not like that.
Bit of background:
I’ve already discussed how my love and affection for the Chicago Cubs stretches back many generations and how I have inadvertently passed this …(there’s no other word for it)…affliction on to my children. Handing down a love of the Cubs to your kids is a twisted legacy worth of Ibsen and if you want, you can read all about it right here.
But let’s stick with the present.
Back when the 2016 Cubs were still nothing more than the most winning team in baseball and were heading into the Division Series against the formidable San Francisco Giants…Milo and I had a chat.
See, his favorite holiday is Halloween. And it was killing him to spend the entire Fall season, but Halloween in particular, out here in the sunny climes of California.
Like so many people who have left the North behind to come to the Land of the Never Changing Weather, he missed the chill, the turning leaves, the early bite of winter.
You just don’t get that here in LA. You get…slightly less lovely weather. For a day or two, maybe. Which is nice in it’s own way but…it isn’t Autumn, you know?
So back then, we looked at the calendar to see if we could make it back to Chicago for a visit at the end of the month and noticed…well, well, well: the World Series is scheduled to be played over the Halloween weekend.
In the back of our minds…deep in the recesses of our consciousness, we were thinking the most forbidden of forbidden thoughts: If the Cubs went to the World Series…we would really like to be in Chicago.
So under the ruse of getting Milo back to Chicago for his favorite holiday, Milo and I secretly bought tickets home for this past weekend. We didn’t even tell my wife and daughter. We wanted it to be a surprise.
Besides, if we dared mention the real reason for our trip well…that would be it. It would be black cats and goats and locusts and typhoons and the baseball season would (purely because of our, personal tempting of the baseball fates) be all over.
But it wasn’t over. The Cubs went on that week to beat the Giants.
And then the next week (right before our disbelieving eyes) they beat the Dodgers, too.
Suddenly, the Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a National League pennant since 1945…won the National League pennant. They were going to the World Series.
And what do you know? We were going to be in Chicago for games 4, 5 and 6. Which was perfect.
Because there was no way it was going to seven games.
By the way, the reason we were planning to fly back to L.A. from Chicago on Wednesday was practical. I felt okay about pulling Milo out of school for three days. But four? Seemed a bit excessive.
And in all honestly, I didn’t even bother to check to see when the last game of the Series was being played.
Do you know why?
Because there was no way it was going to seven games.
So we watched that first, awful game here in Los Angeles and were schooled in taking the Cleveland Indians for granted. This was a team who came to play and they did so magnificently, beating up Jon Lester and dropping us 6-0.
Not that the Cubs weren’t used to getting shut out in the playoffs but…woof. That was no way to start the Series. We looked outgunned and outclassed.
The next night, Game Two. Everything was reversed. The Cubbie bats came alive, Arrieta was practically unhittable (seriously, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning) and just like that, the Series was tied.
The bad news for Cleveland was: the next three games were at Wrigley Field. Home field advantage for three solid days. The Cubs had taken one from the Indians at home. We weren’t about to let them return the favor.
But they did. They marched into Wrigley Field for Game 3 and shut us down completely. It didn’t matter that Kyle Hendricks threw four solid innings of shut-out baseball. Josh Tomlin was just as solid, as was Andrew Miller in relief.
And the hero of the game for Cleveland was the ridiculously named Coco Crisp who is, apparently, and important part of a nutritious breakfast and a great way to start the day.
By the end of the game, Cleveland was up again, two games to one.
The next morning, bright and early, Milo and I packed up our stuff and headed out to LAX. By now, my nefarious plans had been discovered by my wife but…my daughter Gwen was still in the dark about our stealth visit.
We arrived at the airport in Los Angeles to find ourselves in a sea of Cub hats. No kidding: Everywhere you looked, you saw the blue cap and the red “C.” Everywhere. It was magical.
Know what wasn’t magical? The four hour flight delay. We were supposed to arrive at 2:50 in the afternoon (Chicago time) and we didn’t take off until after 12:30 here in L.A.
Folks on our flight with tickets to the game on Saturday? They were pissed. And that’s the nice way of describing it. By the time we all finally arrived in Chicago, we burst out of that plane like candy from a piñata.
Gwen was suitably thrilled to see Milo and I arrive in town, but she had a bat mitzvah party to attend so we dropped her off and sped over to my father’s house to watch the game, catching the first few innings on the radio.
The Cubs started off with an early lead but…things soon fell apart after that. Corey Kluber, the Cleveland ace, settled down and didn’t allow the Cubs to score another run while he was on the mound, striking out six and coasting to victory after the Indians ran the score up to seven runs. By the time Dexter Fowler homered in the eighth, it was all over. Cubs lose, 7-2.
It was a nightmare. The unthinkable had happened. The Cubs had dropped two in a row at home, one against the unflappable Professor, Kyle Hendricks. We were now down 3-1 and we knew that the odds of winning three in a row (with two in Cleveland’s home stadium) were astronomical.
It was going to take a miracle.
The next night, we all got suited up in our Cubs gear, picked up my Dad and headed over to Cubs Central, the living room of my Uncle John and Aunt Mary Jane. The entire Chicago Theis clan gathered together to see if our collective hopes and dreams would be enough to eke out at least one more victory before the inevitable and traditional collapse.
Because there was no doubt of that happening. Was there?
Well, not this night. On this night, Jon Lester would show the world exactly why he should receive the Cy Young Award this year, throwing six blood-curdling innings of two-run baseball. And Kris Bryant came alive with a homer that sparked a three-run inning in the fourth, posting the only runs the Cubs would need that night.
Not that it was an easy win. It was a nail-biter right through the end as Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, handed the ball to Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning to not only take us through the ninth (his longest outing of the post-season), but even take a swing at the plate. It was a looney-tunes game, but we won it.
Now the trick was: Could we win two more? Against Cleveland’s two best pitchers? In Cleveland?
And if we won the game on Tuesday, where would I watch the game on Wednesd—
A quick review of my travel plans revealed the horrible truth. If the Series went to Game Seven…Milo and I would be on a freaking airplane during the first six or so innings. And if the flight was delayed (again)? We might miss the game entirely.
Sure, there might be WiFi on the plane. And we might be able to get live updates. And we might even be able to watch a stream on some live broadcast website, sure.
But then again…we might not.
Besides, what was the one thing I knew without a doubt from the beginning of this entire baseball adventure?
It was not. Going. To seven. Games.
Until it did.
Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland was absolutely nuts.
Players who had seemingly gone to sleep through most of the playoffs suddenly came alive, specifically shortstop Addison Russell, who drove in six runs all by himself and rocked the baseball world with an eye-popping grand slam in the third inning.
How extraordinary was that feat? Well, with six RBI’s, Russell tied the all-time Series record for runs batted in, became only the 19th hitter to hit a grand slam in the history of the Series and was the 2nd youngest player ever (behind Mickey Mantle) to wallop a four-bagger.
So yeah, it was pretty epic.
Besides which, Arrieta was on fire. After the Cubs staked him to a three run lead in the first (again, off a Bryant home run and a completely goofy outfield flare that should have been caught but, instead, turned into a two-RBI bloop triple for Russell), Arrieta fanned nine Indians and held them to two runs over five-plus innings.
Then, Joe Maddon made the decision that caused all of Cub-ville to go “Huh?” He put Chapman in. Again. With a five-run lead. With eight other perfectly fine relievers sitting around doing nothing.
And everybody said, “Hey, Joe? You know we have a game tomorrow, right? Don’t you want to save your fireball-throwing closer for Game Seven? And not tire him out when you’re up by five?”
But…Joe’s the boss. And when you’ve brought your pennant-winning team from a 3-1 deficit to a 3-3 Series tie, forcing the final and seventh game of the Championship series well…you’re entitled to make your own (semi-questionable) decisions.
So Game Seven- impossible, improbable and mythical Game Seven- was on.
And I was going to be on a f&%$*ng plane.
Things were dramatic on the last day at home (busted sewer pipe- hooray!) but the real drama was yet to come. Sara drove Milo and I to the airport, bid us a tearful farewell and with a “Go, Cubs, go!” she was gone.
In an interesting turn, it turned out that my father’s brother, my Uncle Mike, was also landing at LAX about ten minutes before we were and we made arrangements for the three of us to meet up at an airport bar in Los Angeles and catch the end of the game, presuming it was still being played.
Little did we know.
Milo and I went to the gate, anxious to get on the plan so we could work out our on-flight Internet connection issues and figure out how we were going to watch the game in the air. Our departure time was 5:00 and the game was at 7:08, so we’d land about four or five innings into the game, we figured.
As with the plane we flew to Chicago, the return flight was delayed.
For an hour.
Meaning that the game would start when we were about sixty minutes into our four hour flight. Could Game Seven of the World Series really last over three hours? We could only hope.
On the mound: Hendricks vs. Kluber. The same Kluber who had beaten the stuffing out of us twice before. We hadn’t figured out how to get to him yet and the chances were not great that we would do so at this late date.
But the Indians hadn’t scored against Hendricks in his last outing either so…where there’s life, there’s hope.
And we are Cub fans. Hope is our middle name.
We dialed up the on-flight internet and tried to hook into some kind of streaming site, but everything we attempted to view was too glitchy. Finally, we just made our way over to the MLB site where they allow you to watch the game “virtually.”
An electronic batter on your screen shows who is up and you get a delayed pitch count and a virtual play-by-play, everything happening on the screen about a minute or so after it happens in real life.
It wasn’t ideal. But it was what we had.
By the time we worked it all out on the tech side, Dexter Fowler had already put us ahead 1-0 with a solo shot to straightaway center field. Cubs 1, Indians 0.
A girl sitting behind us in full Cub gear started peeking over the seat to get the updates once she got wind of what we were up to and that’s how we “watched” the game, getting periodic ball and strike counts as they occurred and then freezing with terror when it appeared someone or other had made contact.
The Indians tied it up in the third, but the Cubs roared ahead in the fourth and fifth innings, adding four more runs that included a long-overdue home run by struggling second baseman Javier Baez.
Cleveland answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth, but when retiring catcher David Ross launched a homer to center that put the Cubs ahead 6-3, the game looked about over. (Think of that: Ross’s last game as a Cub and he knocks the ball out of the park. See what I mean by lousy writing?)
With Lester in as a reliever by that time, it was just a matter of getting nine more outs. Then six. Then five. Then…
…the Captain came on the intercom and asked that we shut off all of our electrical devices.
In the eighth inning of the World Series.
And to make his point, the crew killed the Internet. Very suddenly, we were on a media blackout.
For ten, seemingly endless minutes, we had no idea what was going on. For all we knew, bolts of lightning could have careened down out of the sky and turned Lester into so much smoking dust.
Which was pretty close to the truth.
When we were on the ground, Cub Girl behind us was the first person to get an update on her phone. Her face ashen, she announced to us:
“The game is tied.”
Milo and I were incredulous. “What? Ten minutes ago, it was 6-3. You’re telling me the Indians scored three flippin’ runs while we were landing the goddamn plane?”
“That’s what I’m telling you.”
It was like a blow to the gut.
Of course this was how they were going to blow it. How stupid of me! I had fallen for them again and they were going to teach me a very valuable lesson.
This time, instead of falling to the Marlins in the playoffs just when they were on the brink of winning the pennant…they were going to make it worse. By spectacularly collapsing in Game Seven of the actual World Series and giving up a three run lead in the eighth inning.
How did I not know this was going to happen?
This time, they weren’t just going to break our hearts. They were going to rip them out, throw them- still beating – on the ground and jump up and down on them. They were going to destroy us.
It was so…Cubs of them. It absolutely had to end this way.
We tumbled off the plane and ran straight to the bar across from the gate. I texted Mike where we were and he made his way over to join us. My Uncle, a long-suffering Cub fan of many years, was as shocked as we were about what had happened and yet…there was a look in his eye that appeared very familiar. It said, “This is how they get you. This is how they always get you.”
Because it turned out that Joe Maddon had, indeed, made a mistake the previous night by sending Chapman into that five-run lead game and making him work too many innings. Chapman, working for the third day in a row, was the one who so improbably gave up those three, precious runs. (And I know it isn’t popular to criticize Maddon but…facts are facts.)
Back in the airport bar, we ordered up a couple of beers and sat back to watch the inevitable disaster that would be the ninth inning of this game.
Except…it didn’t happen. The Cubs got out of the ninth without allowing the Indians to score a run and suddenly…the game moved into extra innings.
Ugh. Extra innings. There was no telling when it would end. The pain was excruciating and it was about to get worse. Because then…
Out came the tarp. And we found ourselves staring at a 17 minute rain delay, wondering so many different things: if the game would be postponed until the next day, if the pitchers would get cold and blow this whole thing open and, more specifically, thinking “If they keep this going much longer, we are going to drink this airport dry.”
We would later hear that, at the moment we were in that bar, contemplating the possible endings of this already-legend worthy game, the Cubs were having a meeting in the clubhouse.
Jason Heyward, the veteran Cubs right fielder, had gathered the team together for a talk. From those who were present to hear it, it was apparently a very emotional and very heartfelt plea for optimism in the face of adversity. Heyward assured them that, after everything they had been through that amazing year, the team could rise up and overcome anything.
And ten minutes later, they went out there and proved it.
It was a storybook inning: Kyle Schwarber, two weeks ago watching his teammates play the Giants and Dodgers on TV and now in the World Series as the Cubs’ Designated Hitter, led off the inning with a single.
After Schwarber was replaced by pinch-runner Almora at first, Kris Bryant launched a fly ball to deep right field that almost made it out of the park but, barring that, was enough to advance Almora to second. (As Harry Caray would have said “Another biscuit for breakfast and that ball is out of here.“)
That brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate with an open base at first and one out. And that’s when Indians Manager Terry Francona signaled to the Indians pitcher Bryan Shaw to walk Rizzo and take a chance pitching to Ben Zobrist.
Ben Zobrist, who while 0-4 that night, had proved himself to be the hottest hitter of the Series. That guy.
When I saw that they were walking Rizzo to get to Zobrist, I turned to my Uncle Mike and said, “Really? He thinks that’s going to end well for them?”
It surely did not. Zobrist, rather than live up to the legacy that his Cubs uniform conferred upon him, instead lashed an RBI double into the corner that scored Almora and sent Rizzo scampering to third. Cubs up 7 runs to the Indians 6.
And they weren’t done yet.
With first again open and only one out, Francona again decided to walk the batter, this time the suddenly hot Addison Russell. That brought up Miguel Montero who, the last time he had come to the plate with the bases loaded, had jacked a grand slam deep into the seats in Wrigley’s right field.
Again, Montero did not disappoint. He lashed a single to center that scored Rizzo, putting the Cubs two runs ahead moving into the bottom half of the 10th.
Maddon this time asked for Carl Edwards, Jr. to step in and mop things up from the mound. And Edwards did just fine, nailing down two outs before giving up a walk to Brandon Guyer, who promptly stole second.
That meant that the tying run was at the plate with two outs.
And we’re thinking “Here it is. Here’s the big finish, where the Indians roar ahead and beat us. This is what we’re used to.” The painful, horrible, all-too-familiar feeling that lurks in the gut of every Cub fan.
Sure enough, Edwards delivered to Rajai Davis who zapped an RBI single to bring in Guyer. Just like that, it was a one run game.
And Cub fans across America promptly lost three years off their life expectancy just from the pure, soul-shaking strain of it all.
Maddon had seen enough of Edwards and pulled him for the lefty Mike Montgomery.
Can we all just imagine what that was like for Montgomery to enter that game? “Hey, Mike. Get one out and you break a 108-year-long curse. Here’s the ball. Good luck.”
With all of Cubs nation on it’s feet, Montgomery stepped up and delivered to Michael Martinez…
…who hit a dribbler to a suddenly grinning, giggling Kris Bryant. Bryant scooped up the ball, tossed it to Rizzo at first and….
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
I really, really can’t say that enough:
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Tears. Joy. Disbelief. Jumping up and down. Screaming.
Strangers hugging other strangers. Repeated choruses of “Go, Cubs, Go.” General mayhem.
Even now, I can’t believe it really happened.
Those Indians fought us tooth and nail and very nearly beat us. Let’s be clear about that. They very nearly surged to a comeback victory that would have been written about for years. Instead, we emerged victorious but…barely. So a tip of the hat to Cleveland. The second greatest team in baseball.
Whenever we used to talk about the Cubs winning the Series, we would always say (half-seriously) that it would probably result in the entire town of Chicago burning to the ground. I’m happy to report that it didn’t happen.
They didn’t burn down Wrigleyville. They lit it up. All night long.
Because that’s it. That’s the end.
No more Lovable Losers. No more curse. No more goats or black cats. That sign outside the right field wall will now read: EAMUS CATULI AC000000. (Look it up.)
And Steve Bartman can finally sleep at night.
It is a joyous day in Chicago today, I am sure. It kills me to be so far from all the action (and Milo is furious to miss the parade). But we’ll be home soon and will no doubt celebrate all through the off season, wearing all the Cubs World Champion gear we both hope to get for Christmas.
Because the Cubs- my beloved Cubs – have finally won the World Series.
Because next year….
…was finally this year.