How did the Cubs' curse end? With the greatest game ever

CLEVELAND -- At least it didn't take anything special to wipe out the longest title drought in the history of professional sports. Only the greatest World Series Game 7 ever played. That's all.

Move over, Jack Morris and Luis Gonzalez. Tell Ralph Terry and Madison Bumgarner they had a great run. And you, Bill Mazeroski fans, submit your case via your favorite form of social media.

But we would argue that none of those games can top the passion, the drama and the history of Game 7 in Cleveland, on a balmy Wednesday night turned stormy Thursday morning. It took 10 exhausting innings and 4 hours and 45 exhilarating minutes. But when it finally ended, at 12:47 a.m., on Nov. 3, 2016, the giant left-field scoreboard read: Cubs 8, Indians 7. And it was suddenly possible to type a sentence that no living human has ever typed:

The Chicago Cubs are the champions of baseball.

But to scale that mountain they'd been climbing for 108 years, the Cubs found themselves trying to survive a game we'll be dissecting for about a century.

It was just the fifth extra-inning, winner-take-all World Series game ever played.

It was the first of those games, from all accounts, to feature an actual rain delay in extra innings -- a rain delay that may have saved the Cubs' season, by the way.

And it was the first among all those games in which the winning team blew a lead in the eighth inning or later -- but stampeded back to win anyway.

But that's not all. It was a game in which the most unhittable pitchers of this postseason -- first Corey Kluber, then Andrew Miller, then Aroldis Chapman -- turned stunningly hittable.

It was a game featuring the first leadoff home run in World Series Game 7 history (by the Cubs' Dexter Fowler).

It was a game that Chapman couldn't save -- but a man who had never saved a game in his big-league life (Mike Montgomery) could.

And it was a game in which the go-ahead run in extra innings was scored by a man (Albert Almora) who hadn't scored a run in the entire postseason.

It was one crazy ride on the Game 7 roller coaster all right. But here's what it was most of all:

"That," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "was the best game I've ever been a part of -- and the best game I've ever even seen."

For 2½ hours Wednesday night, it looked as though the Cubs might actually do this the easy way. But that would have made no sense. They're the Cubs.

They took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. And since no team had blown a Game 7 lead that large since 1924, you might have thought that was safe. Ha. Really?

Did you still think that after Jon Lester strolled in from the bullpen for his first relief appearance in nine years and promptly wild-pitched in two runs on the same pitch, cutting that Cubs lead to 5-3?

Did you still think that when Chapman relieved Lester in the bottom of the eighth and did two things he'd never done once in his three months as a Cub: (A) give up hits to the first three hitters he faced and (B) serve up his first home run as a Cub -- a stunning, game-tying, two-out, two-strike rocket off the left-field TV camera that transformed this game from a coronation to a coronary in one shocking wave of Rajai Davis' bat?

It was the latest game-tying Game 7 home run in World Series history. And maybe in some other year, maybe if this were some other Cubs team, it would have turned into One of Those Moments, to be mourned and cursed and passed down from one We'll Never Live to See This generation to the next.

Instead, it turned into a different kind of moment -- the moment this game turned into a classic.

Only the Cubs didn't know that at the time, of course. They were just trying to remember to breathe. And at times like this, that's harder than professional athletes make this look.

"We're normal people," said the World Series MVP, Ben Zobrist, as the clubhouse clock ticked past 2 a.m. "We get nerve-wracked and anxious, just like everybody else."

But as 38,104 people shredded what was left of their vocal cords and an emotional Chapman tried to cope with his guilt over blowing the whole frigging World Series, something amazing happened.

Suddenly, raindrops started pouring out of the Ohio sky. And the umpires were waving for the tarp. Little did anyone know at the time that, as Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer quipped later, "it was like divine intervention."

If ever a team needed to regroup as extra innings loomed, it was the Cubs. And the man who sensed that most was a man who normally speaks as softly as anyone in their clubhouse.

"I was thinking," said Jason Heyward, "that sometimes rain can be a bad thing. But the way we ended that inning, I felt like we needed that rain."

Heyward had about as ugly a year as a $184 million free agent can have. But he carried himself with so much dignity from start to finish that he earned all the respect points that he decided to cash in on this moment. So Heyward gathered his teammates together in a room off the clubhouse and spoke.

"I just wanted to remind these guys of how good they are and how special they are," Heyward said.

"It was a good moment," Lester would say later, holding a champagne bottle in his left hand. "I thought we needed it, after that home run and them coming back and all the momentum on their side. So it was a big moment for us. I thought Jay-Hey spoke up at just the right time."

It would be only 17 minutes later when the game resumed. But when it did, as the Cubs got ready to hit in the top of the 10th inning, "I knew," Heyward said, "we were ready to do what we did."

It was 12:11 a.m. when Kyle Schwarber lined his third hit of the game and his seventh hit of the World Series into right field, and then was replaced by pinch runner Almora. It was 12:15 when Bryant crushed a Brian Shaw fastball that Davis tracked down in front of the center-field wall, and Almora decided it was time to use his wheels, tag up and try to get to second.

"I just said, 'I'm gonna go,'" Almora said later. "And if I get thrown out, so be it."

But once he outraced Davis' throw to the bag, this game would never be the same. The Indians intentionally walked Rizzo to pitch to Zobrist. And as he walked toward home plate, Zobrist reminded himself to inhale and exhale as slowly and deliberately as possible.

"Even when I was falling asleep last night, thinking about this game, I felt like, 'Man, I'm not breathing normal. I've got to relax here,'" he said. "And it's the same thing when you go out on that field. ... I mean, we feel that in the moment, just like everybody else does. You just have to try to block it out and do your job as best you can."

The count ran to 1 and 2. Off in the distance, he could hear the chants of "Let's go, Cubbies" rising above the shrieks of thousands of Indians fans who hadn't sat down for the past three hours. Shaw fidgeted with his cap. Zobrist adjusted his batting gloves and wagged that bat. Shaw reached back and launched the hardest pitch he would throw all night.

And here it came, a 96 mph cutter veering toward the outside corner that Zobrist barely got around on. But he was able to do exactly what he'd been reminding himself to do during this entire at-bat -- stay inside the ball -- and flick it just beyond the reach of Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez.

This franchise-altering scene unfolded right in front of Almora. So the moment the baseball left Zobrist's bat, he said, "I knew I was going to score, no matter what." And as Zobrist chugged toward second, fist pumping, and Rizzo pulled into third mouthing the words "Oh my God," a man who hadn't scored a run in a month was sliding through the dust of the batter's box, then popping up to take care of one piece of unfinished business.

"The first thing that went through my mind," Almora would say later, shaking his head, "was go back and tag home plate. I mean, the last thing you want to do is have people going back through history and being remembered as That Guy [who missed the plate with the winning run]. So I went back and tagged home plate. And then I started celebrating."

All around him, a tale of two fan bases erupted in the seats, where thousands of title-starved Cubs fans were interspersed with a house otherwise packed with Indians fans. What an incredible scene. Cubs fans in blue shirts hugging. Indians fans in red shirts recoiling in shock. And the Cubs' dugout rippling with energy.

But this inning wasn't over. The Indians intentionally walked Addison Russell to pitch to the Cubs' third catcher of the night, Miguel Montero, with the bases full. It was another pivotal moment. It had been nearly three weeks since Montero's last (and only) hit of this postseason. But he slapped an RBI single through the left side to open the Cubs' lead to 8-6.

"As I was running down to first," Montero said, "I was, like, 'I got him.' And that was important to me. I was like, 'Don't load the bases to face me, man.'"

So there were the Cubs, two runs up and three outs away -- but with Chapman exhausted and no obvious option to close out the game. These last three outs still held the potential for major agony.

At 12:33 a.m., out of the pen came rookie right-hander Carl Edwards to get them to within one out. But these are the Cubs, friends. Did you think this could possibly go 1-2-3? Edwards walked Brandon Guyer. Davis roped an RBI single. It was 8-7. And here came Joe Maddon one last time -- at 12:44 a.m. -- to summon his unlikely World Series closer, Montgomery.

"You know what's funny?" Montgomery admitted later. "When I came in, I honestly didn't realize it was a save situation. All I kept telling myself was, 'I've just got to get one out.'"

At the plate stood the last man on Terry Francona's bench, utility man Michael Martinez, a guy whose last hit had come more than seven weeks ago. Montgomery snapped off a curveball for strike one. He turned and smoothed the dirt on the mound with his spikes, then leaned in for the sign.

He spun off one final curveball, the Cubs' 172nd pitch of the night. Martinez thunked it softly toward third base. Montgomery looked up, saw Bryant waiting to gobble it up and tried to process a thought shared by every Cubs fan in the universe: "I couldn't believe it. I thought to myself, 'It's over!' And at that point, it was just kind of madness."

Yeah, that's one word for it, anyway. Madness. Mayhem. Ecstasy. Heaven. Pick whatever description works. The Chicago Cubs had won the World Series, and won it the only way they could.

The hard way.

"I'm exhausted," catcher David Ross said. "I feel like we just played for nine hours."

But what's another nine hours when a team has waited 39,465 days to win the World Series? All it took was a century of waiting, a remarkable climb out of a three-games-to-one hole and the greatest Game 7 ever played. But finally, at 12:47 a.m., Cubbie Daylight Time, the wait was over.

"You know what?" said the World Series MVP. "I think we just s--t-canned those curses."