Rain Delay Speech Helps End Drought as Chicago Cubs Win Historic World Series

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistNovember 3, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate after winning 8-7 against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

CLEVELAND — Into the droughts fell the rain. Seventh game of the World Series, nine innings completed, the score 6-6 and, of course. This Fall Classic would not nearly be large enough to contain the 108 years the Chicago Cubs had gone since their last title and the 68 years for the Cleveland Indians. It couldn't be. We should have seen this coming.

Yes, into every drought, eventually, falls the rain. And as it did Wednesday night, with the Progressive Field grounds crew dragging the tarp onto the field and the Cubs reeling from blowing a large lead and a few chances and, quite possibly, all of the good cheer they'd built up all summer, outfielder Jason Heyward called them into the strength and conditioning room just off the tunnel right behind the dugout and delivered a speech that echoed all the way back to 1908.

When they emerged and the skies cleared, it took them one inning to reach out and grab the rainbow, eking out an 8-7, 10-inning win in one of the best World Series Game 7s ever played.

"I just want to say this real quick," owner Tom Ricketts said upon accepting the Commissioner's Trophy. "Hey, the Cubs are World Series champions!"

How many people living today have ever heard that one before, there is no telling. But that number is incredibly small. They're at least 108 years old.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 02:  Chicago Cubs fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series on November 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs 8-7 victory landed them their first World
Scott Olson/Getty Images

This was a night for rewriting history, as starter-turned-reliever Jon Lester said. It was a night to be glued to the edge of your couch in front of the television, and one that crossed several generations.

It was for the late Ernie Banks and Ron Santo and for the living Billy Williams, as Ricketts said, and it was for fathers and sons and grandmothers and granddaughters and everyone else who's ever fallen in love with this game, and this team, and fallen short and persistently picked themselves up and kept moving forward.

The Cubs raced to a 5-1 lead, and you could hear the party noise all the way from Clark and Addison Streets in Chicago.

They were four outs from winning when the Indians' Rajai Davis slammed a stunning two-run, game-tying home run in the eighth inning against Aroldis Chapman, and Cleveland lit up like a birthday cake.

There were shocking errors from incredibly gifted infielder Javier Baez, Chapman's blown save, Kris Bryant skillfully running the bases, MVP Ben Zobrist artfully working through plate appearances, Lester's cringeworthy wild pitch, David Ross' home run straight out of the pages of The Natural, Cleveland battling back, the Cubs nearly folding, the rain and…

"Best game I've ever been a part of," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "Best game I've ever seen, really."

"I'm exhausted," Ross said. "I feel like we played nine years."

"Man, this one about made me pass out," Zobrist said.

"This is why I came here," said Lester, who signed a six-year, $155 million deal two winters ago. "To break the goat or the black cat or God knows what."

How appropriate is it that the team burdened by the longest championship drought in the history of American professional sports—pick a sport, any sport—received new life during a rainstorm?

Inside that strength and conditioning room, a team that had grown unusually close since spring training gathered for an unusual speech from a quiet outfielder who suffered a bitterly disappointing season with the bat.

The Cubs were shellshocked following Davis' astounding, game-tying home run in the eighth, and it would have been so easy to fall into tentative, here-it-goes-again mode.

This is the franchise that has been saddled with the "Curse of the Billy Goat" since 1945, when Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis put a hex on it when he was asked during that year's World Series to please remove his pet goat from the ballpark because other patrons were complaining about its odor.

This is the club that blew a sure thing down the stretch to the New York Mets in 1969, a collapse immortalized in one instant when a stray, black cat suddenly appeared from nowhere and walked by Santo when he was in the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium.

This is the team that was five outs from a World Series in 2003 when poor Steve Bartman reached out to catch a foul ball and knocked it away from a waiting Moises Alou. The Florida Marlins stormed back, then won Game 7, and the Cubs were foiled again.

"The curse is an excuse," Lester said as the champagne flowed. "The curse is an excuse to me, just looking for a way out. We cared about playing good baseball."

Oh, there were plenty of chances for the goat to bleat again. Baez carelessly rushed a throw to first base in the first inning for an error, then missed barehanding a flip from shortstop Addison Russell in the third to allow Cleveland's first run, evening the game at 1-1.

Later, after a clearly fatigued Chapman surrendered the devastating Davis homer, Heyward was on third base with one out in the ninth inning when Baez fouled off a two-strike safety squeeze attempt. After the strikeout, Dexter Fowler grounded to short. Then, Cleveland went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the rain fell and the game was delayed for 17 minutes.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs (C) and Addison Russell #27 (R) react after Kris Bryant #17 (not pictured) hit a solo home run during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series a
Elsa/Getty Images

It was the most important rain delay in the last century for the Cubs. Seriously.

Seeing a few downcast faces, Heyward gathered them, players only, and began talking.

"You guys should all look in the mirror and understand we can get it done," he told them with a dash of anger, a pinch of passion and much love. "I don't care who it is. There are a lot of [things that happen] over the season. You're not going to be happy about some things, and some are easier to swallow. Just be happy in this moment, in this situation, because you can come through."

He mentioned Baez's muffed safety squeeze attempt.

"That's a tough thing," Heyward said. "We've all got to be ready to do what our manager asks us to do, and it's not easy. It's not easy for him to make the calls and pull the strings, but it's not an easy thing for us to do, either. And [Bryan Shaw] is a tough pitcher to bunt off of, too.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Javier Baez #9 of the Chicago Cubs strikes out trying to bunt in the ninth 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 Ez
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"I understood Javy was frustrated, but I also understood that we, as a group, live and die with each other's at-bats, and I wanted to remind him that, hey, you guys will be fine. We've overcame it before, we can do it again. Just, everybody be ready. Yeah, I know what the situation is now. Yeah, I know it's game tied, it's Game 7, whatever. But just know you can get it done, and I wanted everybody here to feel like they accomplished something to get us to this point because it's true."

Talk about using your time wisely.

"I walk off and I see them all gathering in that little room down below there, and they had a meeting," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I'm upstairs just checking out the weather map.

"Like I told you, I hate meetings. I'm not a meetings guy. I love when players have meetings. I hate when I do. So they had their meeting and the big part of it was, we don't quit."

Across the field, the Indians' time wasn't nearly as productive.

"I went to the bathroom," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. "I mean, [the delay] was only about 10 minutes. I don't think it had much impact."

Oh, but if they only knew…

No sooner had the tarp been pulled from the field than Kyle Schwarber punched a single to lead off the 10th. After Shaw issued a one-out walk to Rizzo, Zobrist squirted an opposite-field RBI double, roaring with glee as he pulled into second base, face contorted, fists pumping, helmet flying off his head.

Two batters later, Miguel Montero rifled an RBI single to boost the Cubs' lead to 8-6.

"The rain delay, I think it was really important for our team," Zobrist said, noting Heyward pushing the reboot button.

He continued: "It was just an epic battle. We've been listening to the Rocky soundtrack the last three games. We've got our own Italian Stallion, Anthony Rizzo, who's been putting that on.

"It was like a heavyweight fight, man. Just blow for blow, everybody playing their hearts out."

The drought came to a gushing end just as many people who have watched the best team in baseball this summer thought it would. But it ended in a way nobody thought it could.

Rookie Carl Edwards Jr. and midseason acquisition Mike Montgomery pitched the 10th, with Montgomery getting the save. Montero was behind the plate, rushing toward Montgomery following the final out, appropriately enough, Michael Martinez's ground ball to third. Bryant was close behind the ball after he threw to first, meeting his best friend, Rizzo, in the grass behind the mound for a bear hug, and the rest of the Cubs threw their caps and gloves into the air.

And Chicago's North Side blues are no more. Thousands in the crowd of 38,104 sang several joyful choruses of "Go, Cubs, Go" as Edwards Jr. held a "W" flag aloft and the party started.

It wasn't always easy, and they certainly didn't always follow the expected path, but these Cubs embraced the target and digested the pressure. It's what Maddon preached from the first day of spring training, understanding that the only way for a Cubs team not to get crushed under the weight of history would be to welcome all comers.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Anthony Rizzo #44, David Ross #3 and Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs celebrate with actor John Cusack (R) after defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"Everybody's waiting for the other shoe to drop," Maddon said. "And you've got to expect something good to happen as opposed to that. And I know that even tonight, I'm certain people would be doubtful the way it all played out, but that's the game of baseball. There's professionals on both sides. Both teams are good, and there's going to be an ebb and flow to the game.

"It has nothing to do with curses or superstition. It has nothing to do with what's happening today, nothing. If you want to believe in that kind of stuff, it's going to hold you back for a long time.

"I love tradition. I think tradition is worth time, mentally, and tradition is worth being upheld. But curses and superstitions are not."

Imagine, the Cubs, lovable winners. There are babies born this year who do not know a world in which the Cubs are not World Series champions.

"The whole thing was storybook," Ross said. "I feel like I've been in a movie that's been happening since spring training. You can't write it.

"I caught a no-hitter [Jake Arrieta's, in Cincinnati in April]. The best team in baseball. This is the first team I've been on that's won 100 games [103, to be precise]. Those guys continued to fight.

"Before the game, if you told me we'd give up seven runs, I'd say we were going to lose."

But this time, the Cubs won. They became only the seventh team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a World Series, and the first team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to do it on the road. And stamped-for-Cooperstown president of baseball operations Theo Epstein built a bookend for his 2004 Red Sox team that won a title in Boston for the first time in 86 years.

"This," Epstein said, "was one of the best games of all time."

Said Ross: "I'm not a history major, but that was pretty dang good."

Goat-busters and reign-makers. Crown them, the Chicago Cubs, World Series champions. Somewhere over the rainbow, it's really happened.

    

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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