Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

This is no dream: Finally, Cubs win!

CLEVELAND — Finally.

The most epic drought in sports history is over, and the Cubs are world champions.

The Cubs won the 2016 World Series with an 8-7, 10-inning Game 7 victory over the Indians on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. The triumph completed their climb back from a 3-1 Series deficit to claim their first championship since 1908.

This is not a dream. The Cubs did it.

It was real, and it was spectacular.

Tears flowed across Cubs Nation after the final out in the 10th inning, and fans responded with the world's biggest group hug, remembering all the loved ones who could only imagine what it would be like to experience this moment of pure bliss.

The 1969 Cubs, the team that defined the word "collapse," were off the hook. So were their predecessors in '84 and 2003, who also came close only to suffer painful endings that scarred two generations of Cubs fans and kept the drought alive.

The billy goat is gone, and the black cat too. And what was the name of the foul-ball dude? No matter. It was never really his fault, and now he's just a footnote in Cubs history.

The catchphrase Cubs fans uttered over the last century and change has been "just one before I die," a plea that fell on deaf ears decade after decade.

Well, you can die in peace now, thanks to manager Joe Maddon's resilient club, which was bloodied and on the mat after a Game 4 loss at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs picked themselves up when Jon Lester and Aroldis Chapman tag-teamed the Indians in Game 5, and they battled to a Game 6 victory in Cleveland to set up the mother of all Game 7s between two franchises synonymous with heartache.

The road trips to cemeteries commence Thursday, where caps, balls, pennants and news clippings will be placed on markers of loved ones, letting them know they did it. The Cubs did it.

It may look like the final scene of Field of Dreams, a caravan of cars on a mission of closure.

When the Red Sox ended their 86-year championship drought, current Cubs president Theo Epstein was moved by all the cemetery scenes, the touching tributes to those who taught us to love a baseball team through thick and thin — or in the Cubs' case, through thin and thinner.

Epstein, then the Red Sox's general manager, said fans have thanked him almost every day since 2004 for "what it meant to their family" and those who didn't live long enough to see it happen.

"That really resonated," he said last year. "More than anything else, that feeling influenced my decision to come to Chicago, because that was the one place in the world where you could experience something that meaningful again and play a small part in contributing to something that meaningful."

Epstein arrived in Chicago in the fall of 2011 with the gargantuan task of rebuilding an organization that had tried everything imaginable.

It took him five seasons, three managers and dozens of moves to get the job done, but he did it. The Cubs did it.

The funny thing about waiting 108 years for a championship was that when it finally happened, you didn't want the season to end. It was that much fun, from Kyle Schwarber's smashing of a windshield outside the outfield wall with a spring training home run to Wednesday night.

This was a team in the truest sense of the word.

These Cubs worked together and partied together, and some of them prayed together. The moments were so delicious you could watch them on an endless loop. Dexter Fowler's surprise return in Arizona. Anthony Rizzo hopping on top of the brick wall. Javier Baez's backhand swipe to pick off Conor Gillaspie at first in the National League Division Series. Kris Bryant's home run off the top of a cartoon car at AT&T Park. David Ross' final regular-season game at Wrigley. Aroldis Chapman's marathon outing to save the season in Game 5 of the Series.

It was one thing after another, and you loved every second.

It was the arrival of the controversial Chapman from the Yankees in July that sent Chicago into a tizzy. Did they sell their souls in pursuit of a championship? Three months and hundreds of triple-digit fastballs later, few were debating the move.

Epstein said the Cubs had done their homework and Chapman would not be an issue. He was the final piece to the puzzle Epstein had been working on for five years, and the move signaled the Cubs were going for broke.

"If not now, when?" Epstein said.

The Schwarber comeback was so unbelievable, so corny, even Disney wouldn't have dared touch it. After going down with a torn ACL in the third game of the season after an outfield collision with Fowler, he spent the entire season rehabbing and hoping he could make it back for the end.

"Pedro Strop said all along, 'Man, you're going to be back for the World Series,' '' Schwarber said.

Schwarber did it. The Cubs did it.

Cubs fans have suffered through a lot of bad baseball before getting to this day, coming within inches of a World Series twice before losing the grip on the rope.

In May 1984, Jim Brady, the Illinois-born press secretary to Ronald Reagan, told reporters: "This is our year. This is the year of the Cubs. I've been waiting for the antitrust department of the Justice Department to come in and get us. We conspired before the season even started. This year there will be no 'April Fold,' no 'June Swoon' and no 'October Surprise.' "

A month later, young second baseman Ryne Sandberg hit a tying home run off Bruce Sutter in the ninth at Wrigley and a tying homer off Sutter in the 10th in a comeback victory for the ages.

Everyone believed.

The Cubs were one game from the World Series before it all fell apart, suddenly and shockingly. They blew the final three games of the NL Championship Series in San Diego when a ball went under Leon Durham's glove in Game 5.

It would be 19 years before they got that close again, but in the summer of 2003, Dusty Baker made us believe again. The Cubs had two young studs in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood who everyone knew would carry them to multiple titles. They combined for 32 victories in 2003, and Wood beat the Braves in the division series for their first postseason series triumph since 2008.

But it all fell apart, suddenly and shockingly. They blew the final three games of the NLCS to the Marlins, with Prior imploding during the Marlins' eight-run eighth inning of Game 6 at Wrigley when the Cubs were five outs away. Over the next three injury-plagued years, Wood and Prior combined for 30 victories.

But things changed when Maddon arrived for Year 4 of Epstein's rebuild, promising at his introductory news conference in 2014 he would be "talking playoffs next year."

After getting swept in the NLCS in 2015, the Cubs won 103 games this year, launched a ninth-inning comeback to take the division series against the Giants, then came back from back-to-back shutouts to down the Dodgers in six games. At long last, they had won a National League pennant for the first time in 71 years.

All that was left was the Indians, a gritty team with a lockdown bullpen and a likely Hall of Fame manager in Terry Francona, who ended the drought in Boston with Epstein 12 years earlier.

With the Cubs on the ropes, trailing 3-1 and gasping for air, they got some electroshock therapy from Lester and Chapman at Wrigley, then headed to Cleveland after a brief timeout for some trick-or-treating.

They did it.

The Cubs did it.

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