CLEVELAND -- Ben Zobrist planted his right foot as he extended his bat to the outer edge of the strike zone, knifing the ball past Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez into left field. He punched the air with his right fist, then threw both arms in the air and screamed. Anthony Rizzo watched from third base, hands on his helmet in apparent disbelief. The Cubs were back on top in the 10th inning with the club's first World Series title in 108 years back within reach.
In the moments following the Cubs' 8-7, 10-inning World Series Game 7 win over the Tribe on Wednesday night, general manager Jed Hoyer noted how there was no outrageous individual achievement, no obvious MVP, no one player who carried Chicago to a title. But it was Zobrist whose consistency made everything easier, and so it was Zobrist who stood on a makeshift stage, lifting the World Series Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet.
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"Who sets a better example of how to work an at-bat?" Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "And who sets a better example of just being a professional than he does?"
To a man, members of Chicago's front office insisted after Game 7 that a significant reason why the team acquired Zobrist last offseason on a four-year, $56 million deal was because of his clubhouse professionalism. But that's hard to measure, particularly for those outside the clubhouse. Easier to quantify are Zobrist's contributions on the field, including his .357 average and .919 OPS in seven World Series games.
Even easier to measure is the impact of Zobrist's final hit, an opposite-field, RBI double on a 96-mph Bryan Shaw cutter on the outside corner. That plated Albert Almora Jr. with the go-ahead run, after Kyle Schwarber singled and Almora pinch-ran for him. And it moved Rizzo to third base, from where he would later score a critical insurance run on a Miguel Montero single.
"We did what we wanted," Shaw said of his pitch to Zobrist. "He's a professional hitter. He's going to take good at-bats."
If Zobrist's at-bat epitomized the Cubs' winning rally, then the rally epitomized what they've been about all year -- lengthy plate appearances, contact hitting, relying on more than home runs. When the Indians tied the game at 6 in the bottom of the eighth, the Cubs did not panic. They simply grinded.
"To be a championship team, you have to be able to come back from moments like we had in the bottom of the eighth," Zobrist said. "I don't know if there's any other team that I've ever been on that would have been able to come back from that.
"I couldn't imagine it. I feel like I'm in a dream right now."
Upon receiving a World Series MVP trophy that conceivably could have gone to Kris Bryant or Jake Arrieta or any number of deserving candidates, Zobrist made his way back to the field, where he and wife Julianna soaked in the adulation. Maddon, who has known Zobrist since 2006 with the Rays, called his work ethic "incredible to watch." Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts called Zobrist "invaluable" and "a very special dude."
Zobrist simply grinned, posed for pictures, admired the trophy, grinned some more.
"He's just a different cat," Maddon said. "Everybody would like to have one of those on their team. We're just very fortunate to have him. He probably exemplifies exactly how we want to play the game."