Because of how it ended, the 2016 World Series will be remembered as better than it was. There were three close games in seven. There were two lead changes, total, in the seven games, the latest of those coming in the fourth inning. (Ties are not lead changes, FYI.) After drawing within one game of clinching, Cleveland led once — by one run, for two innings. Strictly as a baseball experience, this wasn’t Braves-Twins ’91 or Reds-Red Sox ’75 or even A’s-Reds ’72.
Granted, a lot of folks watched this Series who didn’t care much about baseball. The participants had — breaking news alert — gone a combined 176 seasons without winning a World Series. The Indians had come close a couple of times since 1948. The Cubs had not, for good reason: They were a bad organization that didn’t seem to mind being bad all that much.
Then they hired Theo Epstein and watched him assemble the best collection of young talent in the sport. Now they’re champs. Funny how that works.
If it’s a weepy Cubs-are-finally-champs-and-who’d-have-believed-it bit of prose that you’re seeking, stop here. As suggested above, I had no sympathy for them. I had sympathy for the Red Sox before another Epstein assemblage broke that drought. The Sox had good teams that kept being undone by the weirdest stuff: Johnny Pesky holding the ball, Bill Buckner missing the ball, Bob Gibson’s excellence, Joe Morgan’s bloop, Aaron Boone’s homer, Bucky Freaking Dent.
The Cubs? They were the club that blew a 9 1/2-game lead to the Miracle Mets; that gave us the rotating college of coaches; that had Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and ruined both. The baseball gods help those who help themselves. The Cubs settled too easily for being cute.
Again, from a pure baseball standpoint, the revelation of this postseason was Cleveland. Had the Indians bled out a run in the bottom of the ninth last night, they’d have won a World Series with an outfield of Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp and Brandon Guyer. The aggregate WAR value, per Baseball-Reference, of that quintet was 3.9. By himself, the Braves’ Ender Inciarte had a WAR of 3.8.
Because the Indians had few real hitters — Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis are exceptions; the estimable Michael Brantley missed nearly all of the season — and had to play without the DH for three games in Chicago, Terry Francona made the dicey move of starting Carlos Santana in left field. Santana is a legitimate hitter who started as a catcher; he now plays some first base but is mostly a DH. He had worked one big-league game in the outfield before this World Series, in which he played two there.
The wonder wasn’t that the Cubs won. The wonder was that they needed seven games and an extra inning to do it. Francona managed the best postseason in the history of postseasons. Without starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, he was essentially reduced to three real pitchers, two of whom were relievers. He won 10 postseason games and nearly an 11th by deploying Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in such heavy doses that you wondered when, not if, their arms would fall off.
Which is kind of what happened. Kluber, starting on three days’ rest for the second time in the Series, wasn’t himself in Game 7. (The Cubs scored as many runs on Dexter Fowler’s leadoff homer as they’d managed in 12 previous Kluber innings.) Miller, who’d yielded one run this postseason, yielded two in Game 7. Allen got the Cubs into the ninth but no farther. When Francona was finally forced to use someone other than Kluber-Miller-Allen, the careening game was all but over.
The Cubs had issues against top-shelf pitching in these playoffs. No shock there: As you might have heard, good pitching stops good hitting. Pitted against Grade B pitchers or worse, the Cubs raked. This was Bryan Shaw’s 10th inning: Six men faced, three hits, two intentional walks. The one out he recorded in the 10th was Kris Bryant’s drive to the warning track, which produced the best play of the long and suddenly rainy night. Running for the basher Kyle Schwarber, Albert Amora Jr. tagged up and took second and, after a walk to Anthony Rizzo, scored the Series-winning run on Ben Zobrist’s single.
(Fun fact: The Braves made a pitch to Zobrist, who was a free agent last winter. John Coppolella and Bobby Cox drove up to see him at his home outside Nashville. He seemed interested but wanted a no-trade contract, which the Braves do not do. Even Chipper Jones never had one.)
If the Cubs spent 108 years not winning on merit (or the lack thereof), they absolutely deserved this title. They were second in the National League in runs, first in ERA. They played stellar defense. They had a tremendous rotation and a strong everyday eight that would have been even stronger had Jason Heyward not had the worst season of his life. They bought Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline with an eye only for this postseason — he’ll become a free agent any moment now — and the eight outs he notched in Game 5 saved not just that game but the Series. Epstein and Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod do great work.
So does Joe Maddon, though he nearly undid it all by using Chapman with a five-run lead (which grew to seven) in Game 6. The Chapman who was touched for Davis’ tying home run in Game 7 was running on empty. If the Cubs had lost, Maddon would have become billygoat and Bartman wrapped into one bespectacled package.
But all’s well that ends well, I guess. The Cubs have their title. The better team won. The Indians can console themselves by having come within an eyelash of a championship that should have been beyond their capacity. Having won two titles in Boston, Francona in defeat reasserted his claim as baseball’s best manager. Folks watched baseball in numbers not seen in years. A good time was had by most.
If you enjoyed this postseason, you’ll probably like the new few. The Cubs are so stacked they’ll win another title soon, maybe even next year. A Wrigley dynasty — will wonders never cease?