CLEVELAND -- After a 108-year wait for a World Series championship, the Cubs had to wait just a little longer and the brief rain delay came at exactly the right time for Jason Heyward to give the players a pep talk.
A 17-minute delay followed the ninth inning, then Ben Zobrist smacked a tiebreaking RBI double in a two-run 10th that lifted the Cubs to an 8-7 victory over the Indians on Wednesday night in Game 7.
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"It was like a heavyweight fight, man," said Zobrist, who was named World Series MVP. "Just blow for blow, everybody playing their heart out. The Indians never gave up either, and I can't believe we're finally standing, after 108 years, finally able to hoist the trophy."
Game 7 of a series in any sport is significant, but this was more than a baseball game to Cubs fans. This win ended more than a century of frustration as the Cubs won their first championship since 1908, ending the longest drought in professional sports. This was for Ernie and Ronnie and Billy and many more.
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"It's really great for our entire Cub-dom to get beyond that moment and continue to move forward," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "because now, based on the young players we have in this organization, we have an opportunity to be good for a long time, and without any constraints, without any of the negative dialogue."
Dexter Fowler, Javier Báez and David Ross each homered, and the Cubs had leads of 5-1 and 6-3, but the Indians rallied against Aroldis Chapman in the eighth, tying the game at 6 on Rajai Davis' two-run homer.
The Cubs are the first team to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit and win Games 6 and 7 on the road since the 1979 Pirates.
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The rain delay gave both teams and the sellout crowd a chance to regroup -- and breathe. It also prompted Heyward to gather the players in the weight room.
"That moment, I felt like I had to vent a little bit and we had a big chance to win the game or take the lead in the game and we got thrown a curveball," Heyward said. "It's about the whole team, and I just had to let them know I loved them, and I had to let them know we won 103 games because we overcame every bit of adversity that we had thrown at us to this point. We needed 114 wins and I told them everybody in this room could go out and get that 114th win."
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Said Addison Russell: "We came out with that win, and whether it was the speech that did it or our athletic ability, I honestly think it's our camaraderie. It's been there since Day 1. There are no strangers on this team."
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Kyle Schwarber singled to open the 10th against Bryan Shaw, and was lifted for pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr., who advanced on Kris Bryant's flyout to the wall in right-center. Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked to set up Zobrist, who lined a double down the left-field line past a diving Jose Ramirez.
"It's unbelievable," Zobrist said. "I can't even put it into words. What this team has battled through all year long, believing we're the best team, but the ups and the downs and having to fight through things. ... It's an unbelievable team to be a part of."
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Miguel Montero added an RBI single and rookie Carl Edwards Jr. got the first two outs of the 10th before walking Brandon Guyer and giving up an RBI single to Davis. Mike Montgomery took over for Edwards and got Michael Martinez to ground to Bryant at third for the most important 5-3 in Cubs history.
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Back at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans flocked to the corner of Clark and Addison and were anticipating their own celebration, considering the commanding lead Chicago had until the eighth. They also were well-represented in the stands in the Tribe's home, making it sound like a neutral site at times.
The Cubs, who won 103 games, are the third team in Wild Card era (since 1995) to have baseball's best outright regular-season record and win the World Series. They join the 1998 and 2009 Yankees.
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"I want to congratulate Cleveland Indians and [manager Terry Francona]," Maddon said. "It's a difficult moment for them, but they are outstanding. I think on the surface looking at it from my perspective, really evenly matched teams that play the game the same way -- a lot of passion about it, a lot of respect for the game itself."
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This was the third time the Cubs faced Indians ace Corey Kluber in the Series, and the first time in his career that the right-hander did not strike out a batter. Kluber was charged with four runs over four-plus innings, including two home runs, which bookended his outing. Fowler led off the game with home run to straightaway center, and Baez closed Kluber's outing with a leadoff blast in the fifth.
The Indians tied the game in the third on Carlos Santana's RBI single, but the Cubs tacked on runs in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Game 6 hero Russell and an RBI double by rookie Willson Contreras.
Baez's homer not only made up for two errors he made early in the game but chased Kluber, and Andrew Miller took over. Bryant and Rizzo combined for another run as Bryant walked and then scored on Rizzo's hit-and-run single to right that made it 5-1. Since Sunday's Game 5 win, Rizzo has been playing the music from the movie "Rocky." As he stood on second base following his hit, he raised his arms in the air, just like Rocky Balboa, and did a little shadow boxing.
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Who could blame Rizzo, either? Cleveland looked to be on the verge of a knockout.
Kyle Hendricks started for the Cubs and held the Indians to two runs over 4 2/3 innings, but he was lifted with two outs in the fifth after walking Santana. Jon Lester, making his first relief appearance since the 2007 American League Championship Series, entered along with veteran catcher Ross. It was a little messy, as a Ross throwing error and a wild pitch by Lester allowed two runs to score. But Ross made up for that in the sixth when his solo shot gave the Cubs a 6-3 lead, a great way to cap this storybook season as he heads into retirement.
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The Indians were trying to write their own ending, though.
"We never feel like we're out of anything," said Trevor Bauer, who got two clutch outs in relief of Shaw in the 10th, "whether it be a Series, a game, an inning. I thought we did that same thing tonight."
With a runner on first and two out in the eighth, Maddon handed the ball to Chapman, who promptly allowed a run-scoring double to Guyer, trimming Chicago's lead to 6-4. That set the stage for Davis, who ripped a 98-mph fastball to left field, where it cleared the 19-foot wall, eliciting a riotous roar from the crowd.
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"I remember half the team out of the dugout, celebrating already before I got to home plate," Davis said. "They're out of the dugout, the fans are going crazy. You could just look at the Cubs and see their heads kind of drop a little bit. You think in that moment, it's like a momentum change.
"But they obviously were able to keep enough composure to score a couple of runs and go up."
Davis struck again in the 10th with a two-out RBI single that made it 8-7, but he was stranded when Martinez grounded out to end the game one batter later.
"I think it's appropriate to congratulate the Chicago Cubs," Francona said, naming Maddon, club president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and club chairman Tom Ricketts. "... That was quite a Series, and you knew somebody was going to go home happy, but they deserve a lot of congratulations."
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You go, we go: Fowler gave the Chicago contingent of fans something to cheer about when he hit the first homer in history to open a winner-take-all World Series game. Fowler, who had seven leadoff homers during the regular season, launched a 2-1 sinker from Kluber a Statcast™-projected 406 feet to straightaway center. What also was encouraging was Schwarber on the bases, as he followed Fowler with an infield single, then stole second. Schwarber, playing on a surgically repaired left knee, was limited to being the designated hitter during the Series.
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Davis' heroics: The stadium was shaking in the eighth inning, when Davis delivered his game-tying shot off Chapman. The veteran shot an arm high in the air as he rounded first and his teammates could not help but pour from the dugout in celebration. Up in a suite, NBA star LeBron James flexed and shouted with approval, while the crowd erupted in a riotous roar. Davis' blast pulled the game into a 6-6 deadlock, giving Cleveland a slice of hope before the Cubs' final push.
"I was just thinking, 'This is me against him. We're going to see who wins this battle,'" Davis said. "That's been our year. Just fighting back. I don't know how many come-from-behind wins we've had, how many walk-offs we've had, just to do that. We've got that kind of players here in this clubhouse to make it really fun."
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Breaking through: The Indians pulled the game into a 1-1 deadlock in the third inning, when veteran Coco Crisp led off by slicing a pitch from Hendricks down the left-field line. Crisp showed that there is still life in his legs by hustling around first and diving headfirst into second with a double. Crisp then moved up 90 feet on a sacrifice bunt by Roberto Pérez, and then jogged home when Santana sent a line drive over a leaping Rizzo and into right for an RBI single.
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No way, Jose: Ramirez opened the home half of the second with a chopper up the middle, where it ricocheted off Hendricks and rolled into no-man's land between short and third. After Ramirez reached with the infield single, the Progressive Field crowd roared and chanted his first name. A moment later, though, Hendricks caught Ramirez leaning at first and used a quick move to pick him off. Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a single but was erased by an inning-ending double play off the bat of Davis. So, the Indians had two hits, but Hendricks faced the minimum.
Add-on runs: With the game tied at 1 in the fourth, Bryant singled to left, threading the ball between two defenders, and moved up when Rizzo was hit by a pitch. Rizzo was forced at second on Zobrist's fielder's choice, but Bryant advanced to third and scored on Russell's sacrifice fly to center. Davis threw home, but Bryant safely slid in under Perez's tag. Contreras followed with an RBI double off the center-field wall that Davis misjudged and had to chase. Zobrist scored on the hit to open a 3-1 lead.
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Wild turn of events: Ross took over behind the plate when Lester entered in relief with one on and two out in the fifth. After Ross made a throwing error on Jason Kipnis' swinging bunt, the Indians had runners on second and third. Then a wild pitch by Lester caromed off Ross' face mask to the backstop. He stumbled initially when he went to to give chase, allowing both runners to score. Ross then redeemed himself in the Chicago sixth, hitting a solo home run off Miller to open a 6-3 lead. It's a nice way to head off into retirement. At 39 years 228 days, Ross is the oldest player to homer in Game 7 of a World Series.
"I'd just come into the game and gave up two runs, and I felt like I let the team down," Ross said. "I hit [the home run] pretty good."
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"I'm just so happy for Cubs fans over the last 108 years, generations, some still here, some not. They were all here tonight. Everybody who's ever put on a Cub uniform, this is for you. It took a group of unbelievable men, connected with each other, never quitting. Everyone's prone to hyperbole, but tonight, it was kind of epic, right? It was the way it had to happen." -- Epstein, looking up into the rain
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"We overcame every single thing they could throw at us. We had injuries. We had you name it, and not once did we use it as an excuse. All we did was put our noses to the ground and kept fighting. We took a very good ballclub to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series, so I don't think I'll be hanging my head for too long. I'm very proud of what we've done." -- Kipnis
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"I couldn't be more proud of every guy in this room. We were so close to winning that whole thing, but we just ran into a buzz saw. You look at the arms they were running out there, their lineup top to bottom, that is a really, really good team. That's probably going to go down as one of the better teams in baseball history. They won 103 games in a really tough division. We were on the losing end of it, but that's going to probably be looked at as one of the greatest World Series of all-time." -- Indians closer Cody Allen, who threw two scoreless innings in Game 7
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The Cubs are fitting champions, as they had eight more victories than any other club. They outscored their opponents by 252 runs, which was the best run differential since the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games and outscored foes by 300.
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In building the team that ended the Cubs' 108-year title drought, Epstein now occupies a special place in baseball lore, as he was the general manager of the Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2004, their first in 86 years.
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The Indians and Cubs ended with 27 runs apiece over their seven games. The last time both World Series teams scored the same number of runs was 1948, when Cleveland beat the Boston Braves in the city's last World Series triumph.
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AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
The Indians caught a break in the third inning, when Kipnis sent a grounder to shortstop Russell, who gloved the ball after it hit the lip of the grass and took an odd last bounce. Russell quickly flipped the ball to Baez, but the second baseman botched a barehanded grab. Santana was ruled out at second, but Cleveland challenged. After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that Baez did not demonstrate complete control and firm and secure possession of the ball. The call was overturned and what looked like a possible double play instead turned into the Tribe having two runners on with one out. Chicago escaped when Francisco Lindor flied out to left and Mike Napoli sent a 103-mph liner into the glove of Bryant at third base.
After Baez's homer chased Kluber, Fowler greeted Miller with a single and the Cubs had one on and nobody out in the fifth, but Schwarber grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The Cubs challenged the out call at first, saying Schwarber beat the throw from second baseman Kipnis, but the replay official definitively determined that the ball contacted the interior of Napoli's glove prior to Schwarber's foot touching first base and the call was confirmed. The Cubs still mounted a two-out rally, with Bryant walking and scoring on Rizzo's hit-and-run single to make it 5-1.
With the game caught in a 6-6 tie in the ninth, Heyward hit a grounder to Kipnis, who fired it to Lindor at short to retire pinch-runner Chris Coghlan. The Indians challenged that Coghlan's slide interfered with Cleveland's shot at a double play, but the replay official definitively determined that Coghlan engaged in a bona-fide slide and Heyward remained at first base. Heyward ended up on third with one out after a stolen base and an error on the throw from Perez, but the game remained tied after a Baez strikeout on an attempted two-strike bunt attempt and a Fowler groundout that took an impressive play by Lindor.