Remembering when Rajai Davis shocked the world

'I was feeling very confident. Beyond confident.'

November 2nd, 2023

A version of this story was originally published in November 2021.

There's no way the Cubs were giving up their lead.

On Nov. 2, 2016, the team that hadn't won a World Series in 108 years was up 6-4 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7. They had the unhittable, fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound. The North Side of Chicago was minutes from pure pandemonium. Surely, the baseball gods wouldn't allow them to let this one slip away. They couldn't. They shouldn't.

"I was feeling very confident," former Indians outfielder Rajai Davis told me over a recent phone call. "Confident. Beyond confident. It was just a confidence that's hard to explain."

And then, as Davis was wont to say during his playing career, "Boom."

Five years ago, Davis -- a man with just 12 homers during the 2016 regular season and known more for his speed than power -- hit one of the most surprising game-tying home runs in playoff history. (The Cubs, as you may recall, did end up taking the Series in extra innings).

Still, even in a loss, Davis' moment is one of the more shocking highlights of all time. It was the one and only dinger he ever hit in the postseason. He had only 62 in his entire career. On the special anniversary, the 14-year big league vet helped take us through the night from start to finish.

Although Davis was exceedingly confident before the at-bat, the energy felt zapped from Progressive Field.

"I think the entire stadium had pretty much concluded the fact that the game was over," Davis said.

With Cleveland down two with a man on and two outs, the fans were probably right to feel that way. During half a regular season with the Cubs, Chapman had given up just three earned runs and struck out 46 batters in 26 2/3 innings. He was a bit more hittable in the postseason, but Davis was 1-for-8 against him up to that point with five strikeouts. He was also 0-for-3 that night and 3-for-20 overall in the seven games.

Still, the outfielder felt good after a recent hit off Chicago's closer.

"I was probably 0-fer in the regular season against him, but I was 1-for-2 going into that at-bat in the Series," he remembered. "So, I was confident that I could be successful against him."

Davis said a short prayer and made his way to the box. The plate appearance was a fairly long and very stressful one -- with four foul balls. As you might've guessed, fouling off tough pitches helped Davis become more comfortable in the box.

"I got more confident as the at-bat went on," Davis said. "I really felt like I was on his fastball. There was one pitch where he threw me down and in, and I barely fouled it off, and I was like, 'Ohhh.' He just snuck that one, he almost got that one by me."

Even though Chapman had a nasty slider, Davis was looking fastball. He had struck out on three straight fastballs against Chapman earlier in the Series. And, this time, he was hoping to get out in front and drive a ball -- all those foul-offs helped with that.

"Basically all those pitches were just gauging my timing -- helping me with my timing," Davis told me.

Finally, on the seventh pitch of the plate appearance, on a pitch that Davis said Chapman may have slowed up on a little bit (still, 98 mph), Cleveland's last hope connected on a ball to deep left.

"I remember the ball leaving my bat really fast," Davis recalled. "It was at a trajectory where I wasn't sure if it was gonna get over the high wall. I knew I had hit it flush. I knew I had squared it up. I knew I had hit it really, really good. But in the back of my mind, I was like, 'Is that gonna get over?' Coming into that game, I only had two home runs hit at home."

Unsure if it would leave the yard, Davis was sprinting to first -- thinking extra bases. He didn't realize it was gone until he saw his first-base coach.

"Yeah, seeing our first-base coach Sandy Alomar jumping," Davis laughed.

"And then I just heard the roar of the crowd," Davis said. "And I knew."

Even LeBron James was celebrating.

"My heart was beating like ... it was so amplified," Davis said. "There was so much vibration going on in my insides. It was really a remarkable experience."

It's hard for Davis to remember specific teammate reactions afterwards amidst all the chaos, but some pitchers who were in the dugout told him they jumped so high that they hit their heads on the ceiling.

The Cubs would take the lead, 8-6, in the 10th inning, and Davis would get another big hit in the bottom half to cut the lead to one. But he was left on base as the tying run when the Cubs closed things out a batter later.

Davis said his homer is, of course, the greatest memory from his career and that only his game-winning, walk-off grand slam comes close to the jubilation he felt. Every time the night of Game 7 is brought up at a gathering of former teammates, it's a hot topic of conversation.

"They remember exactly where they were and exactly what they were doing," Davis said. "And they share those moments with me. I've even been able to share it with former players and Hall of Famers."

Davis said he doesn't think about the home run every day like he used to or watch it as often, but that doesn't mean his son, Jordan, can't see it every now and again. The 6-year-old already has dreams of becoming a Major League Baseball player, and what better way to dream of being one than watching his dad live out his baseball dreams on the game's grandest stage?

"Oh, he's seen the clip a lot of times," Davis laughed. "He knows about the clip."