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The Indians, who last celebrated a World Series title in 1948, were starting their ace, right-hander Corey Kluber, for the third time in the Series and for the second consecutive time on three days' rest. They were set to use their dominant lefty reliever Andrew Miller at some point, as well as closer Cody Allen, who hadn't allowed a run in the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were looking to get as much as they could out of their Game 7 starter, righty technician Kyle Hendricks, while keeping starter Jon Lester on hand as a possible bridge to closer Aroldis Chapman.
And Chapman was a bit of a question mark, too. Cubs manager Joe Maddon had used the flame-throwing southpaw for 2 2/3 innings and 42 pitches while saving Game 5 on Sunday, and then two days later, in a move that launched a thousand second-guesses, for 1 1/3 innings and 20 pitches in Game 6 after bringing him in with a five-run lead.
Cleveland was unseasonably warm, 69 degrees at first pitch. There was a spot of rain in the forecast for late at night. The baseball world was on edge for a champion to be crowned and for history to be made. More than 40 million people tuned in on FOX, making it the most-watched baseball broadcast in 25 years.
Here is one of the classic postseason games of all time in the words of those who lived it:
Cubs leadoff man Dexter Fowler got things started the right way for his club with a home run to center field. It was 1-0 Cubs before many people had settled into their seats.
It was also the 22nd leadoff home run in World Series history. The first in a Game 7. And as if he knew it was a homer for the ages, Fowler made it a home run trot for the ages, spinning after rounding first base and running backward toward second while facing the Cubs' dugout to acknowledge his giddy teammates.
Fowler: They've been telling me all year, "You go, we go." So I just try to get on, get something to hit and get on base, and it happened to go out the park.
The scoring remained quiet until the bottom of the third, when Indians outfielder Coco Crisp led off with a double off Hendricks and Carlos Santana lined a single to right to score him two batters later, tying the game. However, Kluber, who had won Games 1 and 4 in impressive fashion, stumbled in the fourth, giving up two runs. The Cubs added another in the fifth on a Javier Baez solo shot that chased Kluber.
Once again it was Miller Time in Cleveland, but the left-hander wasn't as sharp as he had been all October, allowing a run on an Anthony Rizzo single that gave Chicago a 5-1 lead and all the momentum. But that didn't last too long.
In the bottom of the inning, Hendricks got the first two outs, but he then walked Santana, which got him the hook from Maddon in favor of Lester. That meant starting catcher Willson Contreras had to depart in favor of Lester's personal catcher, 39-year-old David Ross, a team leader and fan favorite who had already declared that the 2016 season would be his last.
Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis greeted Lester with a tapper that Ross fielded hurriedly and threw errantly to first base, putting runners on second and third. And immediately after that, a Lester breaking ball to Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor bounced before home plate, plunked Ross in the mask and got away for a rare two-run wild pitch. It marked the third time this odd occurrence had happened in World Series play, and the first time since Game 6 of the 1911 World Series.
Kipnis: The first step, I was making sure Santana was going. Then, I saw it kind of knocked Ross onto his back leg, so he had no momentum carrying towards the direction of the ball. I got a good jump on it and was going full speed, and I was thinking of scoring right away. It got us back in the game.
Indians center fielder Rajai Davis: That was like new life for us. New energy.
Santana: I've never seen that in my life. Especially in the World Series.
The Indians had cut the Cubs' lead to 5-3, but that wouldn't last long, either, because it was time for another personal-redemption homer … from Ross. He took Miller deep to center in the sixth to give Chicago a 6-3 lead and to become the oldest player in Major League history to homer in Game 7 of the World Series. Naturally, Ross couldn't hide a stunned look as he rounded the bases.
Ross: You'd be stunned, too, if you had my swing. It was good. I was floating around those bases. I'm just focused on trying to win the game. I let two runs in [on the error], so I wanted to get them back.
Of course, the game wasn't even close to being over. With the Cubs still leading by three runs in the bottom of the eighth, a two-out single from Jose Ramirez finally chased Lester in favor of Chapman, and right away it was clear he didn't have his best stuff.
Tribe outfielder Brandon Guyer, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth and singled off Lester, doubled in Ramirez to make it 6-4. That brought the crowd to life and set up Davis for an unforgettable moment. The veteran outfielder, known more for his basestealing prowess, choked up on his bat and got ready for the left-hander, who throws harder than any pitcher in the game.
Davis: I'm thinking, "It's a battle between me and Chapman. It's not me against the Cubs. It's me and Chapman." … I was thinking in my head, "I'm going to win this battle."
On a 2-2 pitch, Davis swung at a 98.2 mph fastball and connected.
Davis: I definitely thought it had a good shot, because I knew I squared it up pretty good. I was just hoping it would go over that tall wall out there, and it did. And that was definitely one of my most thrilling moments ever.
Davis had tied the game at 6, and the stadium went wild. He pointed to the sky as he rounded first base, and he sprinted to home in 18.6 seconds, making it the fastest home run trot of the postseason, according to Statcast™.
Davis: I remember half the team out of the dugout, celebrating already before I got to home plate. … You could just look at the Cubs and see their heads kind of drop a little bit. You think, in that moment, it's like a momentum change.
And yet another reason to second-guess Maddon's use of Chapman in Game 6 and how it might have affected him in Game 7.
Maddon: Chappy had just pitched yesterday, and I felt really confident because he felt great going into tonight. So the Cubs beat up on Miller tonight and got to their other guys because the Cubs are good. The Indians beat up on Chapman tonight because the Indians are good. So that's the part of this game. Listen, I love it. I think bar-room conversations are great. I used to hang out at Bellhops back in Hazleton [Pa.], and we used to talk about stuff all night long. I think it's wonderful. But sometimes people forget that both sides are good.
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero: It's not a good position when we brought in the closer and he gave up three runs, but you have to understand, he's been out there a lot. He's a human. He gets tired. The more they see him, they feel a little better at the plate as a hitter. He battled. He did his best out there. Unfortunately they tied it, but he did his best.
Davis: I definitely thought we were going to get another run that inning. I thought that was our break, our chance to make history.
The game stayed tied through the ninth, with Allen and Bryan Shaw combining to post a scoreless frame, and Chapman rebounding with a scoreless inning of his own. Then something else happened: rain. Enough rain, amazingly, to take this already agonizingly tense affair and string it out even longer. The Cubs didn't rest throughout the 17-minute delay, however. Jason Heyward called the players to huddle into a small weight room for a chat amongst themselves.
Heyward: I just had to remind everybody who we are, what we've overcome to get here. … At the beginning of every day, we didn't worry about whether we won or lost. We worried about how we were going go out there and have fun and compete.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein: After we blew that three-run lead, in the rain delay, I had to talk to Major League Baseball. I went downstairs and walked past our weight room. I saw all our players. I got a little concerned about what was going on. I popped the door open a little bit and they were all saying, "This is only going to make it sweeter. Let's grind, boys. Let's go."
Heyward: I told them I love them. I told them I'm proud of the way they overcame everything together.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer: I really feel like in some ways, that rain delay was kind of divine intervention. The game was going really fast for us at that point. … To get that little break there, I definitely think it helped us a lot. We had the best part of our lineup coming up.
Fowler: It was between the boys. It was between the boys, but we all put it in. That was the greatest rain delay ever.
The Cubs seized the moment in the 10th. Facing Shaw, Kyle Schwarber started things off with a single, and he was replaced by pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr. Kris Bryant hit a flyout deep enough to get Almora to second, which prompted an intentional walk to Rizzo. That brought up Ben Zobrist.
Zobrist: I was looking for a cutter out over the plate. He throws a really tough pitch to hit, and I was trying to stay inside of it. … It was a tough at-bat, and I was just battling, grinding up there. Fortunately, that last one he left over the plate and up to where I could just slap it down the line, and that's all I was trying to do.
Almora: I was just thinking of getting to second base for my teammates, for Rizzo, who was coming up behind me. It's funny, when they intentionally walked Rizzo, I thought, "I don't think that's a good idea. We've got one of our best hitters coming up behind him."
Zobrist had an RBI double, the Cubs had a 7-6 lead. Two batters later, the Cubs' third catcher of the game, Montero, singled in a big insurance run.
Montero: He threw me one too many [cutters]. I'm not going to look for anything else. If he threw me a breaking ball, he'd probably strike me out with a breaking ball, because I wasn't looking for it. I told myself to choke up, be short, because all we need is a base hit. I got it. I got my base hit.
Shaw: Everything felt great. Everything was good. Just one of those days. … Those guys are good hitters.
But there would be more drama. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th and the Cubs an out from their first World Series title in 108 years, Davis again came up big, singling in a run off Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. That prompted Maddon to bring in left-hander Mike Montgomery to pitch to Indians utility man Michael Martinez. Martinez hit a slow roller to Bryant at third.
Bryant: Ah man, I knew he was fast, I knew I had to get rid of it. It's wet out here.
Bryant made the play and threw to Rizzo, who secured the historic final out in his glove and stuffed the ball in his back pocket on his way to the party by the pitcher's mound.
Rizzo: It happened, Chicago. We did it. We're world champions, and that's it. We're world champions. I can't believe it.
Epstein: It's got to be a top-three game of all time. Everyone's prone to hyperbole at moments like this, but I think it really was. It felt like it. I died like six times.
Fowler: I feel like we played a whole season in one game.
Zobrist: It was like a heavyweight fight, man. Just blow for blow, everybody playing their heart out. The Indians never gave up, either, and I can't believe we're finally standing, after 108 years, finally able to hoist the trophy.
Zobrist was named MVP of a Series that was so close that both teams scored 27 runs, the first time both teams had scored the same amount of runs since the 1948 World Series, the last one the Indians won. The Cubs had won, yes, but the Indians could go into the offseason very proud and excited for 2017.
Maddon: It could not have been a more entertaining, difficult series to win. … You cannot be more entertained than you were over these last seven games.
Indians manager Terry Francona: That was an incredible game … to be a part of. I talked before the game about being an honor to be in a game like that, but to be associated with those players in that clubhouse, it is an honor. And I just told them that. It's going to hurt. It hurts because we care, but they need to walk with their head held high because they left nothing on the field. … They tried until there was nothing left.
Kluber: It was a microcosm of our year, really. We got punched in the mouth a few times throughout the course of that game and we never gave up.
Allen: We're going to have [Michael] Brantley back. We're going to have Danny [Salazar] back, Carlos [Carrasco] back. The season's been over for 40 minutes and we're champing at the bit to show up in Arizona. I can honestly say, I am ready to get to Arizona, because I want to get this thing started again.
Epstein: The effect on so many people and generations, bringing families together, thinking of people who didn't make it, thinking of Ernie [Banks], thinking of Ronnie [Santo], thinking of Billy Williams, who will be celebrating with us; the '69 team, the '84 team, the 2003 team, all these teams that were great and could have gotten it done but just didn't have the bounces on their side. Now we got it done and everyone's going to sleep happy tonight.
Bill Murray, actor and Cubs fan: I just can't wait until the parade starts.