Kris Bryant started to smile even before he fielded the ball. And with his throw to first for the final out, the agonising wait was over at last.
For a legion of fans who waited a lifetime, fly that W: Your Chicago Cubs are World Series champions.
Ending more than a century of flops, futility and frustration, the Cubs won their first title since 1908, outlasting the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings of a Game 7 thriller yesterday aftenoon, Australian time.
They even had to wait out an extra-inning rain delay to end the drought.
“It happened. It happened. Chicago, it happened,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after gloving the ball for the final out.
“We did it. We’re world champions. I tell ya, we’re world champions. I can’t believe it.”
Rizzo put that final ball in his pocket, David Ross got carried off the field by his teammates and Bill Murray partied in the clubhouse.
And the whole time, blue-clad fans who traveled from Wrigley Field filled nearly the entire lower deck behind the Chicago dugout at Progressive Field, singing “Go, Cubs, Go!” in rain. They held up those white flags with the large blue “W” on a night many of their forebears had waited for in vain.
The team’s diehard fans stuck with the team despite the failures. They watched, and waited, as Chicago’s other sports franchises racked up championships. Even the crosstown rival White Sox ended their own decades-long title drought, winning the World Series in 2005.
The Cubs have had a few close calls since 1945, including 1984, when Chicago were one win away from going to the World Series but lost three straight games to the San Diego Padres.
But perhaps their most-painful loss came 13 years ago during Game Six of the National League Championship Series with a chance to make the World Series.
Leading 3-0 in the eighth inning, the Cubs collapsed after a fan named Steve Bartman reached for, and deflected, a foul ball that outfielder Moises Alou appeared to have a shot at catching.
Florida went on win the game and series as Bartman became a symbol of the Cubs’ cursed fortunes.
“It’s a dream come true,” said fan Denise Watford, 36, near Wrigley Field yesterday.
Lovable losers for generations, the Cubs nearly let this one get away, too. All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman blew a 6-3 lead with two outs in the eighth when Rajai Davis hit a tying, two-run homer.
But the Cubs, after tormenting their fans one more time, came right back after a 17-minute rain delay before the top of the 10th.
Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double and Miguel Montero singled home a run to make it 8-6. Davis delivered an RBI single with two outs in the bottom half, but Mike Montgomery closed it out at 12:47 a.m., and the celebration was on.
“I think about so many millions of people giving so much love and support to this team for so many years,” said owner Tom Ricketts, who family bought the team in 2009.
Manager Joe Maddon’s team halted the longest title drought in baseball, becoming the first club to overcome a 3-1 Series deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals.
“This is an epic game. It’s epic. I can’t believe we were able to do it – 108 years in the making,” Zobrist said.
“We did it.
“They never quit, either… they kept coming at us.”
Cleveland was trying to win its first crown since 1948, but manager Terry Francona’s club lost the last two games at home.
World Series favorites since spring training, Chicago led the majors with 103 wins this season.
The Cubs then ended more than a century of misery for their loyal fans – barely. Bryant, one of Chicago’s young stars, began to celebrate even before fielding a grounder by Michael Martinez to third base and throwing it across to Rizzo for the last out.
Zobrist was chosen as the World Series MVP, a year after he helped the Royals win the championship. Zobrist was among the players brought to the Cubs by Theo Epstein, the baseball guru who added another crown to his collection. He also assembled the Red Sox team that broke Boston’s 86-year drought with the 2004 championship.
From Curse of the Bambino to the Billy Goat Curse, he ended another jinx.
While Cubs fans hugged with delight, there was only despair for the Indians, who now have gone longer than anyone without a crown. In the Indians’ previous World Series appearance, they were a double-play grounder from winning the 1997 title before losing game seven in 11 innings to the Marlins.
Twenty-one other teams had won the World Series since Cubs last were champions. They reached the top again on the 39,466th day after Orval Overall’s three-hit shutout won the 1908 finale at Detroit in a game that took 1:24.
At the time, Theodore Roosevelt was president, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states, and the first Ford Model T car was two weeks old.
Ecstatic Cubs fans are expected to amass downtown tomorrow for a parade and rally to honour the new World Series champions.
The procession will begin at the intersection of famed Michigan Avenue and Oak Street, heading south, then continue along Columbus Drive to Grant Park for a noon rally.
“The City of Chicago could not be more proud of the Cubs, and we are going to throw them – and their fans – a celebration worthy of the history the team made last night,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a release.
Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has proclaimed Friday as “World Champion Chicago Cubs Day” across the state. Rauner called the win “bigger than baseball”.
“This is a celebration for past and present fans along with all the Cubs’ legends who never gave up hope,” he said.
-AAP, AP, Reuters
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