CLEVELAND — The Chicago Cubs, the best team in baseball, won the World Series. This is going to look a lot less mysterious to future generations, when they look back at the standings, the stats, the eventual careers these players will have. Decades from now, the future folk might not remember what a Bryan Shaw is, but they might know Kris Bryant, and they’ll look at the 2016 Cubs and nothing will seem out of place. What a fine team, they might remark.
The rest of us will just sit here, blinking a lot and shivering, until the future folk find us and give us water and sustenance. Because the Cubs just won the World Series, and the fabric of reality is in tatters, and there are kittens playing with the tatters. The Cubs. The Cubs won the World Series.
It’s the disconnect of what makes sense on paper and what makes sense in the worldview we’ve been patiently constructing for decades. The Cubs were always going to lose; the Cubs were a rich team run by smart people. The former is a truism, and the latter is a combination that eventually stops failing.
The Cubs were bad and rich, then the Cubs were good and rich, and then the Cubs flipped over the mattress where they’d been stashing stacks of money, and everything changed. It’s not an unlikely progression.
Except that part where it’s about the Cubs.
Let’s reexamine what we think we know about the Cubs. Do you remember the error in the first inning of Game 7, the game in which they were desperately trying to overcome their curse? You do not. Because it didn’t matter. What about the infield hit in the second inning, the one that Addison Russell couldn’t quite handle? You do not. Because it didn’t matter.
There were moments like that sprinkled throughout the game, the portents of doom, from the errors to the walks to the misplays to Carl Edwards, Jr. walking Brandon Guyer in the bottom of the 10th. There were so many times when the Jaws theme played, and the pareidolia made you think the strings were actually demons growling “CUBS CUBS.” None of those mistakes amounted to much. Certainly nothing that cost the Cubs the World Series. The World Series the Cubs just won.
And now all of us are looking into the camera like Jim from The Office. Blink. Blink. The Cubs won the World Series. I rebooted the computer, cleared the cookies, and the internet was telling me the same thing. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
Outside of Progressive Field, there was the mix of emotions that you would expect. There was abject anger and disbelief. There were mad dudes looking for other mad dudes in the hopes that they could punch each other in the face and be mad together. There were bad words and bad decisions. The Cubs fans wanted to be close to the field, so the natural separation was probably good for everyone.
For the most part, though, almost all of the Indians fans were stunned and hurt, quiet and contemplative. About eight blocks down, a group of them started talking about the secret consolation prize: what a great damned baseball game they had just watched.
There could have been a Buckner, a mascot for the pain who would have been remembered for decades. Aroldis Chapman, known goblin, was going to be the villain after giving up the eighth inning home run to Rajai Davis, but he held on just enough. For the most part, though, it was a clean game, with ebbs and flows and punctuation marks.
Both the Cubs and Indians had their hearts extracted in this game. The hearts were turned into a powder, then vaped and blown into the face of the other team. When Kris Bryant scored on a daring sac fly, it was over. When Willson Contreras doubled home a run, it was really over. The Indians fans were silent.
And when Davis hit the home run to tie it in the eighth, doing the exact thing a million people watching were hoping he would do, it was over. Cubs fans have seen that movie before, and they had angrily asked for a refund. The World Series was over. There wasn’t a stronger force in the natural world than Cubs heartbreak. All the Indians needed to do was score one more run.
But there were no goats. This is the rare situation where the losing team probably shouldn’t blame the starter or the relievers who gave up all those runs. They were taxed, overworked, and everyone knew it. It was just a part of the Indians’ makeshift blueprint. They had to make do, and the jury-rigged, top-heavy pitching staff couldn’t quite hold on.
It was simply a beautiful baseball game, and even the distraught superfans couldn’t disagree as they trudged down a loud and quiet Cleveland street, wondering what could have been.
* * *
Cubs fans don’t care what you think of their curse. Never did. They wore the ceremonial garb of lovable losers because they had to, not because they had a choice. Now it’s gone.
There’s a party on Waveland, on Sheffield, on Clark, on Addison. There’s a party inside Progressive Field, where there were more than enough Cubs fans to find each other and merge like the disparate glops of liquid T1000. That’s not an idle analogy because the Cubs are something to fear, respect, fear, and fear now. They were a big-market team with a relatable, unending narrative, the most recognizable legacy of sadness in North American sports history. Now they’re just a big-market team, playing in a metropolitan area as big as that of the rest of the other four teams in the NL Central combined.
Again, the Cubs fans don’t care. And they shouldn’t. Give them this night. Give them this winter. Give them the entire next season. Rope off the party and give it to them forever. I’ve already noted the obvious, that the bricks in the cement outside Wrigley are filled with the memories of people who lived long, fulfilling, championship-free lives. That doesn’t mean it isn’t stunning to think about a life from 1915 to 2005, from 1925 to 1999, from 1909 to 2009, without a Cubs championship.
Before and after the games at Wrigley, the concourses were packed in the way that only a century-old ballpark can be. The idea of a ballpark was new back then, and their expectations of comfort were different. Heck, people were smaller. Cut to the present day, and it’s a river of uncomfortable, one of the ballpark’s charms that loses its novelty after five seconds.
And in the middle of that, every so often, you would have ballpark staff pushing a pre-WWII Cubs fan through, with everyone making room somehow. Don’t know if they were season-ticket holders who’ve been waiting their entire lives; don’t know if they were lifelong fans who figured their rotten kids didn’t need an inheritance anyway. It doesn’t matter.
It’s not inconceivable that at least a couple of them were around for WWI, at least in spirit. If you can’t conjure up an image of one of these fans in your head, you’re unreachable, and we’ll just have to agree to disagree about the point of sports. Just trust me, my way is more fun.
At the same time, the Cubs are going to win at least one more of these in the next few years, and you’re going to hate them. That’s fine. They read the small print.
* * *
One of the easiest go-to analogies for any baseball season is the Greek myth of Sisyphus. It’s easy, it’s evocative, and it’s applicable to so many teams. Baseball team pushes the boulder up the hill in the offseason. Baseball team gets so, so, so close to the top. Boulder crushes baseball team and rolls to the bottom of the hill. Baseball team starts over.
It works because baseball is so long, see. A series of three-hour games that end your will to watch the next one, except you always do. And the three-hour games stretch into month after month after month after month after month after month, and if you’re lucky, your team is in the postseason! Hooray! And that month is the worst of all, with nine teams meeting an untimely, unexpected demise. Then the boulder breaks a few toes on the way down.
The analogy is officially dead. I’ve abused it as much as any baseball writer, but it belongs to the Indians now. No team has let the boulder slip as often. No team has sighed louder as it rolls to the bottom.
And on the hill just across the way, there’s a boulder resting on a flat plateau, with no one really sure how they got there. It’s a big ol’ party. Even the boulder is drunk. You should get a look at this, everyone. The Cubs’ boulder is drunk. What a wild night, let me tell you ...
Cut back to the Indians’ hill. All they can do is alternate between staring at the boulder party and looking back down the hill. Over and over again for hours before the slow, silent walk down to start all over again, knowing there’s a chance that they’ll never get that close again.
It’s not fun.
But at least the Indians can look at the Cubs and think, well, shoot, if those bozos can do it ...
* * *
Stop for a moment and think about what the Indians were trying to do. They had one super starter. They had one super reliever and one super-super reliever. They had some exciting hitters, but fewer than you might expect from a team about to win the World Series.
The Indians were hoping no one would figure out that they shouldn’t be there, that their magic rotation was hurt, and that almost every reason they expected to win the pennant back in March was turned upside down.
What if Michael Brantley were playing in Game 6? Don’t know if he would have been in left or center, but if he were in center, could he have fielded just a touch better than Tyler Naquin? And what if Carlos Carrasco were healthy, if he didn’t get hit in the damned hand by a one-in-a-million shot up the middle? What if Danny Salazar were tuned up and ready to be one of the tri-aces he was supposed to be when the Indians were AL Central favorites in spring training.
What if, what if, what if. The Indians had more what-ifs than any other team.
* * *
And the Cubs had the fewest. Forget the payroll disparity (which was massive) or the talent disparity (also substantial). Just look at the injury disparity.
Pitchers get hurt. Pitchers tire. Pitchers are Ferraris driven through sand dunes and dropped off at the mechanics when they, huh, that’s odd, don’t work anymore. And yet the Cubs had everyone healthy. Every danged pitcher.
Look at the lineup. All healthy. They won the division without Kyle Schwarber, and that was a nifty trick, but then they reached into the top hat, and there was a beefy rabbit surprise. Schwarber was healthy, against all odds.
In the first inning, Schwarber beat out an infield hit and then stole a base before the catcher got the ball. Yep, he seems fine.
That was the Cubs. They had the best IR list of any postseason team I’ve ever seen, and even then, they got their secret weapon back at just the right time.
I’d be mad at them, but that sure as heck wasn’t the case for those last 108 years. They’re making up for lost time, and we’ll let them. Until they pull this crap next year.
* * *
I don’t think you can put into words how special the Rajai Davis moment really was. It existed. It was mana. It was pure hope, pure refusal to roll over. If you’re worried about over-analyzing it, don’t.
Think of Bobby Thomson winning the pennant in ’51. The Giants didn’t win that World Series. No, they lost it, and it stunk. But for that moment that he connected off Ralph Branca, anything was possible. They did it, they did it, they did it, they’re going crazy, and ... well, it doesn’t matter what the “and” is. The moment was there, and it didn’t matter what happened a week later.
That’s Davis’ home run. It was disillusion turned into hope, pure alchemy. It was one of the purest sports moments I’ll ever experience, and my only hope is that Indians fans can appreciate it a lot more some day.
* * *
Chicago is a city that has everything. It’s as cosmopolitan as any of the world’s metropoles, with famous music, history, art, architecture, and residents. If you want to get a hot sandwich at three in the morning, it’s there for you.
If you want to get a hot sandwich at three in the afternoon in Cleveland, it’s going to be trickier than you expect. They have the famous music, history, art, architecture, and residents, too. Just less of it. The Cubs’ PR staff would put a list of famous people in attendance in their fifth-inning game notes. The Indians would not.
One of the things Chicago had was a (mostly) shared love of the Cubs, which was also tethered to that identity of the lovable losers. The championship, the World Series, was one of the things the Cubs-loving part of the city didn’t have. They didn’t have the powerhouse baseball team that matched the fervor of their powerhouse baseball fans.
Now they do.
The Indians? They’re the ones pushing the boulder up the hill now. Trudge, trudge, trudge. They have the longest championship drought in baseball, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to wear it like a badge. They were dealt a raw hand, with index cards with Jackie Treehorn doodles on them, not regular cards with hearts and spades and the normal things that are necessary to win. They deserved a healthy pitching staff.
That’s how baseball works, apparently. And when you get mad at the Cubs for skirting by the injury concerns and getting luckier than maybe they could have hoped, you remember they waited 108 years for this.
It’s hard to comprehend that kind of drought. But Cubs fans lived it. And their parents lived it, and their grandparents lived it, and good lord there were some great-grandparents who lived it.
Now the Cubs are World Champions. I promise you, I saw it. There’s video on my phone. The Cubs are World Champions, and everything we thought we knew about baseball was a lie.
They won the World Series.
The Cubs are World Series champs, and you all saw it happen.
The Cubs, man.
It’s hard to fathom. It’s also hard to offer up the right kind of congratulations. I never thought it would happen, but here we are. And it’s weird and nice, and what in the heck is happening?
The Cubs. The Cubs are World Series champs, and you all saw it happen. Everything is an illusion, and you need to come with me if you want to live. THERE’S NO TIME TO ARGUE.
Congratulations, Cubs. I never thought I’d see the day. But I’m pretty sure you didn’t either. Good luck with all this.