CLEVELAND -- It had been 108 years since the Cubs won a World Series, but it was the past 14 that most interested Joe Maddon. The now-beloved Cubs manager lost his father in 2002, shortly before winning a World Series as bench coach of the Angels. Since that time, Maddon has carried his dad's Anaheim Angels cap around the country with him. He considers it a piece of him.
Maddon kept the cap -- navy blue base, brim slightly bent, white angel wings affixed to a red "A" logo -- near at hand throughout the Cubs' 8-7 Game 7 win over the Indians on Wednesday night. But it was not until a 17-minute rain delay between the ninth and 10th innings that he retrieved it, stuffing the memento into his back pants pocket and draping his hooded sweatshirt over it. Maddon kept it there as the Cubs rallied for the 10th-inning runs that transformed franchise history.
• Shop for Cubs World Series champs gear
"It's incredible how this all plays out sometimes," Maddon said. "You have to believe in order to see things, and I do believe."
:: Complete World Series coverage ::
For Maddon, there is no longer reason to doubt. For the Cubs, likewise. This franchise hired Maddon two years ago to complete the bedrock of its rebuild, gelling old players and philosophies with ones yet to arrive. He performed his role not flawlessly, because no one does, but near enough for wild success. Maddon was analytical and introspective, an extension of the front office yet an independent mind on the field.
"There's no way we're spraying champagne without Joe here," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "He brought a culture and a belief that I think would have been almost impossible to get from a different personality. He was the right guy at the right time, and I think we were really fortunate to be able to get him."
Maddon's final work in a 103-win season was imperfect. Removing starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth inning backfired when Jon Lester and his personal catcher, David Ross, allowed two runs to score on a wild pitch. Turning to Aroldis Chapman in the eighth went awry when the heavily used closer allowed the game-tying runs to score.
But those and other quibbles fell flat for a Cubs team uninterested in quibbling. It was Maddon, they knew, who'd guided them to baseball's best record during the regular season, Maddon who managed them to 11 more wins in the playoffs, Maddon who was there beside them for the World Series trophy presentation.
"Joe's one of the best managers in baseball," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said. "The fact that he became available was an incredible opportunity for us. I think it's fair to say it would be very difficult to imagine us here without Joe."
Exactly two years to the day before celebrating with his employees, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced that Maddon would be the team's next manager, calling him "as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us."
At his introductory news conference, Maddon vowed that the World Series "is in our future."
Maddon also knew that splashy celebrations would not come easily, considering how much goes into an offseason, a Spring Training, a six-month season and a postseason grind. But the Cubs believed in him, giving him a five-year deal.
In turn, Maddon delivered them a title, outlasting a counterpart whose two titles and three pennants could one day land him in Cooperstown.
"You're trying desperately to find a way to win a game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "The emotions come after, whether it's good or bad. You don't think about storybooks and stuff like that."
For Maddon, storybooks may have been harder to avoid. Yes, this was about a team and a clubhouse and a franchise and a fan base and a generation or three who were collectively aching for the Cubs to win. But baseball is about more than that, and Maddon is about more than baseball, the cap on his head offering evidence enough.
"My dad's been there for the 2002 win in Anaheim, and he was here tonight," Maddon said. "It was great to have my dad there for two World Series victories."