CLEVELAND -- Are the skies black with locusts? Has Lake Michigan turned red? Two days after Halloween, the curse has been cursed. The Comeback on the Cuyahoga is complete. After a century and eight years, the Chicago Cubs are world champions, and they did it by surviving a game for the ages, a contest in which they finally slew demons that refused to be exorcised.
The baseball facts matter, especially these, though they hardly do justice to the scale of the outcome or the level of drama that unfolded. In what seemed like the most heartbreaking yet of nightmarish Cubs postseason games gone wrong, Ben Zobrist’s 10th-inning double off Bryan Shaw broke a 6-6 tie, and the Cubs outlasted the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in a title-winning, drought-breaking, impossible-to-believe Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday.
The winning rally came, finally, after rain delayed the game before the start of extra innings. Rather than building suspense, the disruption gave the gathering at Progressive Field a chance to recover from its collective nervous breakdown. Because what set up the exhilarating finish was the worst kind of flashback for any Cubs fan who believes in curses, goats or Bartmans.
The Cubs led 6-3 in the eighth and were just four outs from their first title since 1908. Jose Ramirez reached on what looked like an innocent infield single. Jon Lester, the Cubs' ace lefty, was on the mound for his first relief appearance in nine years, and he'd been dealing.
But he was working on two days of rest, so Cubs manager Joe Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to the mound.
When the Cubs acquired Chapman from the Yankees in July, this was the situation they imagined: a 102 mph fastball to clinch the World Series. Instead, Chapman gave up a run-scoring double to Brandon Guyer, who spoiled several pitches by fouling them off.
That set the stage for a moment that will loom large in the histories of both franchises. Rajai Davis turned on a Chapman offering and turned Progressive Field into a madhouse by homering just inside the left-field foul pole to tie the score at 6-6. The stands vibrated, with red-clad fans swirling crazily and blue-clad fans standing with hands on heads and mouths agape.
Chapman escaped the inning with the tie intact, but suddenly, both teams were staring down the twin barrels of 176 years of bad history. It seemed to get even worse in the ninth, when Javier Baez bunted foul with two strikes, one out and Jason Heyward on third.
This one was an all-timer, a victory on the short list of best World Series games ever, as significant for what it means as for the incredible way it happened. That’s why fans are singing in the streets of Chicago, hugging from Rogers Park to Printer’s Row, dancing from the Loop to Logan Square. Heck, maybe even a few South Siders are cracking reluctant smiles, because even in the domain of the White Sox, they know how this feels. Well, maybe not this.
The game itself was worthy of a drought-killer, and it was one of the most anticipated baseball games in recent memory. The streets of Cleveland were clogged with fans of both teams, as Cubs fans invaded by the carloads, with a reported 60 percent of the secondary-market ticket sales going to Chicago fans. Inside Progressive Field, the atmosphere was akin to a college football rivalry game in which fan allegiance is split down the middle. No matter what happened, half the stadium would erupt.
Knowing Indians manager Terry Francona’s excellent bullpen was ready and rested, Maddon reiterated the need for his team to grab an early lead. The Cubs wasted no time in doing so: Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run to center off Indians ace Corey Kluber, which sent half the grandstand into a frenzy. Fowler became the first player to lead off a winner-take-all Game 7 with a home run.
The Indians knotted the score in the third. Coco Crisp led off with a double and scored on Carlos Santana's single. But Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks escaped further damage by getting Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli with two on base.
That left the score tied during a key sequence for both teams, who knew that if the Indians could get a lead, Francona would turn the game over to some combination of Andrew Miller, Shaw and Cody Allen at the first sign of trouble. He never got the chance.
The Cubs grabbed the lead right back in the fourth against Kluber, who entered the game with a 0.89 ERA this postseason. Kris Bryant singled to left and went to second when Kluber plunked Anthony Rizzo with an 0-2 pitch. Zobrist rolled into a force, which sent Bryant to third.
Addison Russell lofted a shallow fly to center, which Davis handled. Bryant tagged at third and dashed home, sliding under the tag of Indians catcher Roberto Perez, who had to stand upright to field Davis’ high throw. The Cubs then went up 3-1 when Willson Contreras doubled over the head of Davis to score Zobrist. Davis, who started in place of struggling Tyler Naquin in part because of his defense, appeared to take a step in before the ball soared over his head.
Kluber was done after Baez homered to dead center to lead off the fifth and put the Cubs up by three runs. Miller was in the game but not in the role the Indians wanted to see him in. Pitching on three days’ rest for the second consecutive outing, he allowed six hits and four runs over four innings and didn’t strike out a batter.
Lester came on for Hendricks in the fifth, along with batterymate David Ross, who was playing in his last big league game. After an error by Ross put runners on second and third, the Indians proceeded to score a pair of runs on a wild pitch from Lester. It turned out to be a temporary outburst, as Lester reverted to his top-of-the-rotation form in his first relief outing in nine years.
From there, the party seemed on for the Cubs and their half of the stadium, while the other half watched in disbelief at a heartbreaking story they’ve seen way too often. No one suspected what was to come.
This being the fairy tale that it seemed, Ross made up for his miscues by homering off the indomitable Miller to center field. Talk about going out in style. With Ross went the drought and all the curses and hobgoblins that came with it -- not that they didn’t put up a hell of a fight.
On Oct. 14, 1908, in front of 6,210 fans at Bennett Park in Detroit, in a game that took 85 minutes to play, a Tigers catcher named Boss Schmidt lofted a foul pop fly on the third-base side of the field. Cubs catcher Johnny Kling waited, waited, waited and squeezed the ball for the final out. Chicago won the game 2-0 and the "world's series" in five games. The Cubs were champions for the second consecutive season. Chicago was, as the Tribune called it, "the great metropolis of baseball."
If you add up all the season and postseason logs at baseball-reference.com, you come up with this: Since the moment Kling caught that foul out, the Cubs played 152,627⅓ innings of baseball before Wednesday, and their pitchers retired 457,882 batters. Not one of those outs added a third World Series banner to the Cubs' collection. Now, after 10 more innings and one magical final out, all those numbers reset to zero. The third banner will fly above Wrigley Field.
On a freakishly warm evening in northeast Ohio, the number 108 transitioned from a symbol of despair into one of joy. There are 108 stitches on a baseball, the perfect sphere at the heart of a child’s game. The natural division of another circle is 108, nine cycles of the year of the monkey stringing together two worlds, the antiquity of 1908 and the digital age of 2016. The number 108 is frozen now as the moment the north side of Chicago moved back to the center of the baseball universe.
Now there are only seven numbers that matter to Cubs fans, the ones they’ve dreamed of seeing for so long while looking up from the sidewalk in front of 3633 North Sheffield Ave. Soon, new numbers will appear on that venerable greystone across the street from the right-field bleachers of Wrigley Field, preceded by Latin words that, translated, mean “Let’s go Cubs” and a counter beginning with "AC," for "Anno Catuli," which translates to "year of the Cubs."
Those words and numbers: Eamus Catuli! AC0000000.