The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in the most Chicago Cubs way possible. When Boston ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, they did it in four games. For the Cubs, it was never going to be that easy.
The Curse of the Billy Goat may have officially been lifted when the Cubs reached the World Series, but nobody could be entirely sure what William Sianis was referring to when he exclaimed, in 1945, “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more”. According to legend, the tavern owner placed a hex on the franchise after being asked to leave Game 4 of that year’s series because the smell of his accompanying billy goat was disturbing fellow patrons. Because the Cubs failed to reach another Fall Classic for 71 years, everyone assumed that was the curse’s intention. But what if Sianis was referring to championship glory? What if the 108-year wait for a title was destined to continue?
Having lost Games 3 and 4 at home, it looked like the spectre of the odorous bovid was still hanging around. No team had tasted World Series glory having trailed three games to one since 1985. After eking out a victory in Game 5, the Cubs’ bats came alive in Game 6, going for nine runs and setting up this winner-takes-all contest.
There was a brief moment where Game 7 looked like it would be just as comfortable as the previous night’s proceedings. Javier Báez homered to open the fifth inning before Kris Bryant walked and eventually scored on Anthony Risso’s single to right, stretching the Cubs’ lead to 5-1. But in the second half of the inning, a wild pitch by Jon Lester saw two runs score on the play. This was after catcher David Ross, who’d just entered the game, made a throwing error to keep the inning alive. The veteran, playing in his last ever game, atoned for his error with a solo shot to centre field, extending the lead back to three.
Then came the eighth inning.
The last time Chicago looked like winning it all, in 2003, the eighth inning is where it all unravelled. On the verge of closing out the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins, a slicing fly ball went foul at the left-field line. Fan Steve Bartman reached over the wall to catch it and inadvertently deflected it away from fielder Moises Alou, preventing a crucial out. The Cubs collapsed, allowing an astounding eight runs and lost the series the following night. It was the moment the Billy Goat curse went from myth to living entity, while Bartman became a hated scapegoat (ironically enough) across the city.
The same fate may have befallen Aroldis Chapman or manager Joe Maddon last night had things turned out differently. Sticking with his closer despite Chapman’s heavy pitch count in the series, Maddon’s gamble backfired when Cleveland rallied for three runs, tying at 6-6.
But Chicago held their nerve. Despite extra innings and stewing through a rain delay, they scored twice in the top of the 10th before rookie reliever Carl Edwards Jr got the final out to end the longest title drought in American professional sports.