CLEVELAND -- The Indians spilled from the dugout, arms extended skyward, jumping in foul ground down the third-base line. In that moment, as Rajai Davis sprinted around the bases and Progressive Field shook on Wednesday night, the belief that the Tribe could pull this impossible miracle off flooded the thoughts of everyone in the building.
After all Cleveland had overcome this year, and all the team had endured to even have the chance to face the mighty Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series, Davis' game-tying home run in the eighth inning looked like another turning point in an incredible season. In the end, the lasting image will instead be Chicago's players swarming the field as the world champions after an 8-7, 10-inning game that will be remembered as one of the greatest in history.
Inside Cleveland's quiet clubhouse, the players held their heads high.
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"I couldn't be more proud of every guy in this room," closer Cody Allen said. "That's going to probably be looked at as one of the greatest World Series of all time. It absolutely stinks right now, but we didn't go out there and beat ourselves. We just got beat by a really good team."
The Cubs ended the longest drought in professional sports, winning their first championship since 1908. The Indians now have assumed the distinction of having the longest run of futility, with their last World Series title coming in the days of Bob Feller and Larry Doby in 1948. This season now has a place alongside the 1997, '95 and '54 campaigns, in which Cleveland finished as the runner-up.
The fact that the Indians made it this far -- nearly ending the franchise's 68-year World Series title drought -- was miraculous in its own right. Cleveland was down two starters (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) and without one of its biggest stars (Michael Brantley). It endured a long list of setbacks over the course of the past eight months and kept pushing forward with contributions from unexpected sources.
Throughout October, Indians manager Terry Francona leaned heavily on ace Corey Kluber and relievers Andrew Miller, Allen and Bryan Shaw. With a depleted pitching staff, they would need to shoulder a heavy load. In the World Series, Kluber started Games 1, 4 and 7. In the postseason, Miller logged more innings (19 1/3) than any reliever in baseball history.
With so much stacked against them, the Indians simply kept winning -- any way they could.
"There is nothing for us to hang our heads about," second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "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.
"We fought all year. We fought all game."
Allen echoed that sentiment.
"I hate the term 'moral victories.' I hate it," said the closer. "But, I can go home tonight and say, 'We played as well as we could.' We played some really freaking good baseball. We just got beat. We got beat by a really good, talented club."
Multiple players called this night a "microcosm" of this magical Indians season.
The Indians' plan all October was to ride what they had as far as it could take them. What they had, first and foremost, was an ace in Kluber and two top-notch relievers in Miller and Allen.
Kluber took the mound and looked like all of his postseason innings had finally caught up with him. His pitches were elevated and the Cubs were not missing. Rather than a wave of groundouts and strikeouts, Kluber watched 17 of the 18 hitters he faced put the ball in play. The lone exception came in the fourth, when an inside two-seamer did not run like intended and hit Anthony Rizzo. He exited without a strikeout for the first time in his career.
After Kluber allowed four runs, Miller took over in the fifth and also looked human. After an overpowering showing throughout the playoffs, the 6-foot-7 lefty allowed two runs in 2 1/3 innings. Allen came on and gutted through two solid frames, but it was clear the Tribe's triumvirate had spent whatever it had left.
The Cubs carried a 6-3 lead into the eighth inning and looked poised to cruise to the champagne celebration.
This Indians team was not going to go down that easy, as Davis' two-run home run off Aroldis Chapman, also struggling after a heavy World Series workload, tied the score at 6.
"We got punched in the mouth a few times throughout the course of that game," Kluber said. "And we never gave up. We kept fighting back. That's how the season went for us. Whether it was injuries or whatnot, we never gave up and I think that shows a lot about our character."
The Cubs roared back, as a 103-win team will do. Following a brief rain delay, Chicago struck for a pair of runs in the top of the 10th, with Ben Zobrist delivering the big blow in the form of a go-ahead double. Davis came through with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning, but that is where Cleveland's comeback stopped.
"It was like a heavyweight fight, man," said Zobrist, who was named the 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."
That last part will hurt Cleveland for a while.
"It hurts, because we care," Francona said. "But, they need to walk with their head held high, because they left nothing on the field. And that's all the things we ever ask them to do. They tried until there was nothing left."
While discussing the loss, Allen looked up at the clock in the clubhouse.
"The season's been over for 40 minutes," he said, "and we're champing at the bit to show up in Arizona [for Spring Training]. I can honestly say, I am ready to get to Arizona, because I want to get this thing started again."