Saying that something is “the best” is a broad generalization; especially in the context of baseball, a sport that has seen its fair share of historic and memorable moments over the course of its long and storied history.
The stage certainly was set for a historic do-or-die game; pitting the two teams with the longest championship droughts in North American sports against one another. The historical significance alone would have been enough to put this game at least in the conversation amongst the best. Now, add on what actually transpired during the game, and the question changes from is it one of the best, to is it the best?
I don’t have the answer to that question. In fact, no one does. But what I do have, is a compelling argument to support the idea that it is.
Whether you’re a Cubs fan, Indians fan, baseball fan, or someone who does not even find baseball interesting but somehow got suckered into putting the game on the television; there was enough substance to satisfy everyone.
Anticipation. Drama. Suspense. Excitement. Heartbreak. Joy. Relief.
Besides the obvious headline of the Cubs finally breaking their infamous 108 year championship drought record – and the bitter irony that the team they defeated now holds said record – there were several subplots hidden beneath the surface. Stories within the story, adding multiple different levels of intrigue.
Theo Epstein: The Almighty Curse Breaker
In 2004, the other infamous championship drought was broken. The Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series after 86 years, a streak commonly referred to as “The Curse of the Bambino.” Theo Epstein was the general manager.
Now that he’s brought a World Series title to Chicago, Theo Epstein holds a record that will never be touched. He broke the two most well-documented curses in the history of not only baseball, but professional sports.
Let’s be clear, Theo Epstein didn’t need to win with the Cubs to be considered amongst the games elite front office executives in history. What this does do, is cement his legacy as one of the greatest minds this sport has ever seen.
Connie Mack. Branch Rickey. Theo Epstein.
Yep, now it belongs there.
Wake Me Up When September Ends
Kyle Schwarber had four at-bats this season. Four.
If you don’t follow baseball and don’t know who I’m talking about, he was the guy that looks like a fire-hydrant with arms and legs – and I mean that in the most flattering way.
After a catastrophic knee injury suffered in just the second game of the season, doctors called for at least a 6-8 month recovery period. Had that actually been the case, we shouldn’t of seen Schwarber until Spring Training of 2017. That initial diagnosis was apparently for humans.
Kyle Schwarber walked to the plate five times in April, went under the knife in May, took a couple of hacks in October (just to shake out the cobwebs), and then proceeded to hit .412 in 5 games of the World Series.
That is unprecedented.
This is more than just a mere footnote of this series, folks. This very well could have been the difference maker for the Cubs. The addition of Schwarber gave them a unique advantage in Cleveland under American League rules. The ability to slide Schwarber into the DH slot allowed Maddon to move his two main run producers (Bryant & Rizzo) down in the lineup, adding some much needed depth.
Much was made about the decision to lift starter Kyle Hendricks as early as they did. Hendricks had shown no signs of cracking throughout, despite giving up one run in the 3rd. After allowing a base-runner with two outs in the 5th, and with a pitch count of just 63, Joe Maddon decided to pull his starter and bring in the more experienced Jon Lester.
Without saying whether you agree or disagree with this decision, it is fair to question.
When Hendricks was taken out of the game, the Cubs were up 5-1. In a do-or-die game such as this one, typically you do tend to see manager’s pulling starters much earlier than they would normally. But, this is usually done as a precautionary measure in a close game. Considering what the score was at the time, maybe allowing Hendricks to at least go one more batter would have been more beneficial, especially when you consider the following:
Jon Lester threw 90 pitches in Game 5 just three days earlier. He’s been a starter his entire career, although he has made a few sporadic bullpen appearances. There is a level of uncomfortableness when a pitcher who’s used to starting enters from the bullpen, especially in the middle of an inning with a guy on base. Joe Maddon touched on this in his pregame press conference, saying he did not want to bring in Lester unless it was to start an inning.
Also important to note, Aroldis Chapman threw 42 pitches in Game 5, and 20 pitches in Game 6. You knew going in that he was not going to be full strength. This proved to be the case. Chapman is notorious for being able to consistently throw his blazing fastball, which tops out at 103 MPH regularly. How much did his appearances in the two games prior effect him? According to FanGraphs, he did not throw a single pitch with three-digit velocity.
Had Joe Maddon stuck with his initial proclamation and brought in Lester to start the 6th inning, it would of allowed him to wait a bit longer to bring in their fatigued closer. If so, maybe Chapman doesn’t even face Rajai Davis in the 8th.
But really, who’s complaining. That set the stage for a historic game-tying home run, and an even more historic rally from the Cubs in extra innings.
A Timeout from the Baseball Gods
Wow! it’s all tied up after 8!
Wow! I can’t believe it’s still tied after 9, time for extra innings!
Wait – is it – are they – a rain delay? Are you kidding me?
I know that’s pretty much what was going through my head while I was watching. After all the back and forth action, any momentum either team had – particularly the Indians – was gone.
That rain was a gift to the Chicago Cubs from the baseball gods; perhaps a symbolic gesture of their dark and rainy days finally coming to an end.
A reminder, all you must do is rally together through this rain and darkness; and in turn you will be rewarded for your perseverance.
When play resumed in the top of the 10th, the Cubs came out looking completely re-charged. They scored two runs that inning and only gave up one in the bottom half. The rest is history.
The action that you saw on the field spoke for itself. Without knowing anything about either teams or the players, you still would be able to tell just how special that game was. Now, when you put it in context with the history of both franchises, coupled with all the major and minor subplots; you can make a pretty strong argument as to why this may have been the greatest game in baseball history.
But really, who’s to say?