For Cubs and fans in '16, long wait over

Wild ride culminates in first Series title since 1908

For Cubs and fans in '16, long wait over

CHICAGO -- The World Series trophy is on tour, Cubs players are back from vacation and hometown parades and renovation work is underway at Wrigley Field. The 2016 season was a wild ride for the Cubs and their fans as the team won a Major League-best 103 games and its first championship since 1908.

Kyle Schwarber sustained a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the regular season only to come back in the World Series and help rally the team against the Indians. Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. made big splashes in their Major League debuts, with Contreras hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw on June 19. Kyle Hendricks won a spot in the rotation and then finished as the Major League's ERA leader. The Cubs' starters boasted a big league-best 2.96 ERA. Javier Baez and Addison Russell provided stellar glove work up the middle. Jason Heyward won his fourth Rawlings Gold Glove Award, while Anthony Rizzo was awarded his first and also his first Silver Slugger Award. And Aroldis Chapman's 100-plus mph fastballs kept the video scoreboard operators busy.

Since the last out was made on Nov. 2 at Progressive Field to clinch the seven-game World Series with an 8-7, 10-inning win over the Indians, the Cubs' players have celebrated and been honored, including Kris Bryant, who was named the National League Most Valuable Player. But before saying goodbye to 2016, let's take a look back at five games that highlighted the Cubs' championship season.

5. Red-letter day for Bryant

On June 27 at Great American Ball Park, Bryant had a field day. He posted his first career five-hit game, his first three-homer game, and became the first player in modern Major League history to hit three homers and two doubles in one game. And he also drove in six runs in the Cubs' 11-8 win over the Reds.

"I hope to never see it again," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said.

Bryant also set a Cubs franchise record with 16 total bases, and he was the second player in franchise history with five extra-base hits in a game.

Bryant's historic night

"The best game of my whole life, obviously," Bryant said. "There's so many good players in this game, I feel so fortunate, so thankful for this opportunity to play on a stage like this every day, and I give it my all and I make the most of every opportunity I get."

Bryant capped his season by winning the NL MVP Award, becoming the first player to win the Golden Spikes Award presented to the top collegiate player, the Minor League Player of the Year Award, the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP honors in consecutive seasons. Bryant, 24, received 29 of 30 first-place votes, with the Nationals' Daniel Murphy getting the other first-place vote.

4. Rally time at Wrigley

The Cubs' rally cry over the season was, "We never quit," and they showed that on July 31 in an entertaining Interleague game at Wrigley Field against the Mariners.

Seattle opened a 6-0 lead after three innings but Chicago rallied, scoring three runs in the ninth and tying the game when Russell raced home on a wild pitch. Manager Joe Maddon had to be creative regarding his bullpen, and reliever Travis Wood was inserted into left field in the seventh, and he made a catch at the wall for the second out.

The Cubs won in the 12th when Jon Lester, pinch-hitting for Hector Rondon, perfectly executed a sacrifice bunt, scoring Heyward from third. What was Lester thinking at the plate?

Lester's walk-off squeeze

"I wasn't thinking at all," Lester said.

Maddon's madness worked.

"Joe does it again," Lester said. "You sit there sometimes and scratch your head and it seems to always work out."

3. Jake Arrieta's second no-no

The highlight of Arrieta's 2015 season was a no-hitter on Aug. 30 at Dodger Stadium, the first of his career. He went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA to win the NL Cy Young Award that year. On April 21 this past season at Cincinnati, Arrieta did it again. He struck out six, walked four and helped himself by hitting two singles, which were two more than the Reds totaled over nine innings.

Arrieta is the third Cubs pitcher to record multiple no-hitters, joining Ken Holtzman and Larry Corcoran.

"It feels different the second time," Arrieta said. "I was a little more relaxed as the game progressed. Based on the way I threw the ball before the game started, I anticipated having to grind through some at-bats and some innings a little more than I did. ... You put it all together and have conviction with what you're throwing out there and good things can happen."

Arrieta's second career no-no

2. National League Championship Series Game 4

Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. The Cubs avoided facing the Giants' Johnny Cueto in Game 5 of the NL Division Series by winning that series, 3-1. The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS, and Game 4 was at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 19. Chicago had scuffled offensively against Los Angeles' formidable pitching, but Ben Zobrist got things started with a bunt single to lead off the fourth inning that ignited a four-run inning, including a two-run homer by Russell.

"I felt like that spot in the game was the right time," Zobrist said. "After we hadn't gotten any hits up to that point, I was like, 'Well, it's time. Someone needs to do it.'"

Zobrist had decided to bunt on his own, and that little hit sparked a 10-2 victory. The Cubs would win the next two games to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Russell's two-run home run

1. Game 7 of the World Series

The Cubs trailed the Indians, 3-1, in the best-of-seven Series, but they rallied to force a decisive Game 7 at Progressive Field on Nov. 2. Dexter Fowler got things started with a leadoff home run, and Chicago opened a 5-1 lead, which seemed to be enough for Hendricks. But Cleveland tied the game with two outs in the eighth, scoring three runs off Chapman, including a two-run homer by Rajai Davis.

Play was halted before the 10th inning for 17 minutes because of rain, which gave the Cubs a chance to regroup. Heyward called all the players into the weight room for a meeting -- the first players-only meeting of the season -- and reminded his teammates just how good they are.

Zobrist on Heyward's speech

"I think the rain delay was the best thing that ever happened to us, to be honest," general manager Jed Hoyer said.

"I told them I love them," Heyward said. "I said, 'I don't know how it's going to happen, how we're going to do it, but let's go out and try to get a W.'"

 

Zobrist's sizzling World Series

The Cubs responded, scoring two runs in the 10th, including the tiebreaker on World Series MVP Zobrist's double to left. The Indians did score one run in the 10th, but the Cubs held on for an 8-7 win and their first World Series championship since 1908.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.