Cubs' Championship Heroics Rescue Chapman, Maddon from World Series Goat Status

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs talks with manager Joe Maddon as he enters the game during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

You can exhale, Chicago Cubs fans. It finally happened.

After 108 years of waiting, you watched your team storm the field and hoist a trophy. You watched the Cubbies win the final game of the postseason 8-7 Wednesday night at Progressive Field.

You did not have to wait until next year.

It wasn't easy. The Cleveland Indians kept pushing back. They came awfully close, in fact, to turning Cubs skipper Joe Maddon and closer Aroldis Chapman into a pair of goats, to invoke the Windy City's least favorite barnyard creature.

In the end, Chicago's heroics prevailed against the Tribe and Mother Nature. Just barely.

Things began on an auspicious note for the Cubbies, who led 1-0 after Dexter Fowler's leadoff home run in the top of the first inning. 

The Indians tied it 1-1 in the third on a Carlos Santana single, but Chicago plated two in the fourth and two in the fifth to take a commanding 5-1 lead.

Shortstop Addison Russell, who tallied six RBI in Chicago's 9-3 Game 6 win, notched a sacrifice fly. Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo knocked in runs with a double and a single, respectively. And brash second baseman Javier Baez launched a solo homer.

The Cubs, by all accounts, were in control. They'd gotten to noted postseason ace Corey Kluber and neutralized the threat of Cleveland's shutdown bullpen, particularly Andrew Miller.

Then, in the fifth, with two outs, starter Kyle Hendricks walked Santana. Hendricks, MLB's reigning ERA king, had been mostly excellent, commanding his pitches and exhibiting a cool, collected demeanor on the hill.

Maddon made some questionable calls in Game 7, including pulling starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth inning.
Maddon made some questionable calls in Game 7, including pulling starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth inning.Elsa/Getty Images

Still, Maddon went to the pen and summoned Jon Lester, a proven postseason performer but by no means an experienced reliever, along with catcher David Ross, replacing Contreras.

Right on cue, a throwing error by Ross and a wild pitch by Lester plated two runs and made it 5-3.

Ross made it 6-3 in the sixth with a solo homer, temporarily easing the sting.

But Maddon's machinations weren't over yet.  

With one on and two out in the eighth, the Cubs manager turned to Chapman. It made sense in a way. The Cubs acquired the fire-balling reliever at the trade deadline for precisely this moment. 

Maddon, however, used Chapman for 20 pitches in the Cubs' relatively easy Game 6 win after asking him to get the final eight outs in Game 5. It was worth wondering how much the Cuban hurler had sloshing in the tank.

Chapman surrendered a run-scoring single to Brandon Guyer to make it 6-4. Then Rajai Davis launched a two-run homer, his first home run since August 30, to tie it at 6-6. 

That was the moment when the curse fog crept in, when long-suffering Cubs fans could be forgiven for curling up in the fetal position with visions of Steve Bartman dancing in their heads.

Their bullpen stud had failed them. Their manager, a noted chess master, had wandered into checkmate. The air smelled like defeat.

Chapman surrendered a game-tying homer to Indians outfielder Rajai Davis.
Chapman surrendered a game-tying homer to Indians outfielder Rajai Davis.Elsa/Getty Images

Instead, after a 17-minute rain delay that felt like a practical joke from above, the Cubs rallied.

Kyle Schwarber, who was supposed to be done for the season after busting his knee in early April, opened the 10th inning with a single. 

After a Kris Bryant flyout and an intentional walk to Rizzo, Ben Zobrist plated a run with a double. Miguel Montero added an RBI single to make it 8-6.

Davis made it 8-7 in the bottom of the frame with an RBI base hit. Ultimately, though, the Cubs pen locked it down. It wasn't Chapman who recorded the final outs, but rather Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery.

It was a true team effort. There were heroes up and down the roster. Maddon was saved from an offseason of brutal second-guessing. Chapman avoided becoming the latest symbol of the Cubs' formerly inevitable futility.

It felt like the duo escaped as much as triumphed, as NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra noted:

Hindsight is 20/20. Maddon pulled many of the right levers this season, and Chapman was a necessary cog in Chicago's curse-busting machine. 

In Game 7, however, it was the sheer force of the Cubbies' collective will that got them over the hump. A team accustomed to choking chewed up the moment and spit it out, victorious.

The Cubs ultimately triumphed behind a team effort.
The Cubs ultimately triumphed behind a team effort.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"It's really great for our entire Cub-dom to get beyond that moment and continue to move forward," Maddon said, per Jordan Bastian and Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. "Because now, based on the young players we have in this organization, we have an opportunity to be good for a long time, and without any constraints, without any of the negative dialogue."

He's right. The Cubs are just another squad now, talented and looking toward the future. They slayed the billy goat and kept it out of Maddon and Chapman's lap.

You can exhale, Cubs fans. It finally happened. 

It finally happened.

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