CLEVELAND — These young Chicago Cubs, most of them born in the 1990s, never did believe in curses, jinxes, spells or the gibberish that prevented their predecessors from winning a World Series.
Instead, they believe in omens.
And when the rain started coming down just before the start of the 10th inning, almost midnight Wednesday in Game 7 of the World Series, it was the most beautiful sight they’ve ever seen.
It was if the baseball Gods rescued them.
It saved the Cubs from their worst collapse in franchise history, and perhaps the most painful winter any of them would ever endure, into the most beautiful evening of their lives.
The Cubs, for the first time in 108 years, at precisely 12:47 a.m. ET, were crowned World Series champions, ending the longest drought in sports history.
“We killed the curse,’’ Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “It’s done. It’s over. I can’t believe it.
“Long live the curse!
“It’s finally dead!’’
In one of the most thrilling World Series games you’ll ever see, with the Cubs outlasting the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in 10 innings in Game 7, they sent generations of fans into delirium, from Progressive Field in Cleveland to Wrigleyville.
“This one about made me pass out,’’’ MVP Ben Zobrist said. “It was just an epic battle. It was like a heavyweight fight, man. Just blow for blow, everybody playing their heart out.
“I can’t believe that we’re finally standing, after 108 years, finally able to hoist the trophy.’’
The World Series trophy, still loitering in manager Joe Maddon’s office desk at 2 in the morning, surrounded by steak, lobster and bottles of red wine, will be on full display Friday when millions of fans will celebrate their long-awaited championship in downtown Chicago.
“For all of those leans years, these fans hung with us,’’ says Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who actually met his wife in the Wrigley bleachers. “It was tough. When I think about what we did tonight, and everything we went through, I want to cry.
"You think about it, oh, my God, do you ever think about it. You think about the Cubs as a member of your family. Like all members of your family, you love them, but sometimes they let you down. And they might let you down for 108 years in a row.
“And we did. But I love the fact when a Cubs’ fan walks into the office tomorrow, and someone asks when was the last time the Cubs won the World Series, they can say: 'yesterday.'’’
And to think, the Cubs were so close to uttering that usual refrain, “Wait ‘til Next Year,’ until that rain started coming down, stopping the game for 17 minutes.
The delay gave them a chance to relax, compose themselves, while listening to right fielder Jason Heyward gather everyone in the weight room, giving one of the most impassioned speeches anyone ever heard.
“He told us whatever’s happened up to this point,’’ Zobrist said, “we've got to forget about it. It's over. We're still the best team. We're going to pull this thing out. We're going to win this game.
“Most teams would have folded in that moment where we lost that lead, but hats off to J for making that moment happen, and kind of turning the page for us."
Said veteran Jon Lester, who pitched in relief for the first time since 2007, delivering three strong innings: “It was a big moment for us. It was a good meeting. He spoke up at the right time.’’
Heyward spoke passionately, reminding them of their talent, telling them they’ve come too far to lose now, with players like 22-year-old Addison Russell admitting later that he started crying.
They came back onto the field, produced a two-run rally started by the resilient Kyle Schwarber, with Zobrist and Montero hitting pay dirt with RBI hits, Zobrist's double giving them the upper hand again.
And then, they hung on for dear life, with Michael Martinez ending the game by hitting a soft grounder to third baseman Kris Bryant. He scooped it up, threw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs and their fans rejoiced together, with grown men crying in the stands, and players almost too numb to move.
“I’m just exhausted from the emotions,’’ said Cubs catcher David Ross, who became the oldest player to homer in a World Series game. “I feel like we played for nine hours. To win a World Series in Chicago, a lot of teams have come through the Chicago Cubs’ organization and weren’t able to do this, I couldn’t be more proud.’’
While the Cubs doused themselves with champagne, taking turns drenching actor Bill Murray (“I like the world we’re living in, the Cub world’’), while Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder (“I’m speechless, how beautiful is this’’), serenaded the crowd, it was the precipitation from the sky that everyone was talking about all night.
The 17-minute rain delay that saved their season.
“I think the rain delay was the best thing that ever happened to us,’’ Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said, “to be honest with you. Things had kind of stopped going in our direction.
“I think that delay allowed our guys to regroup. And maybe, after 108 years, you get some divine intervention.’’
It was Heyward, their $184 million player who struggled all season, who was the ring leader. It was the first time he ever called an entire team meeting. He wasn’t sure what quite prompted him to talk, but knew something was needed.
The Cubs were four outs away from winning the World Series in conventional style, leading 6-3 in the eighth inning, when Brandon Guyer lined a run-scoring double, bringing up Rajai Davis.
Davis, sitting on a 2-and-2 fastball from closer Aroldis Chapman, sent the ball into the left field seats for a two-run homer. For the first time all evening, since Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler became the first player to lead off Game 7 with a homer, the game was tied, at 6-apiece.
The stadium was bedlam, with Cavs star LeBron James jumping up and down in his suite, high-fiving everyone around him.
Chapman, now trying to compose himself, gave up a single to Coco Crisp, struck out Yan Gomes for the final out, walked over to the dugout bench.
“Everybody wants to do their job,’’ Chapman said. “It didn’t work out the way I expected. I got hit around.’’
Teammates came over to console him, and he was hoping for another chance to close it out when Heyward reached third base with one out. Javy Baez botched a safety squeeze for the second out. Fowler then hit what appeared to be a go-ahead single, only for Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor to race far to his left, and throw him out from short left field.
Chapman, who had been used for 20 pitches in Game 6 to protect a five-run lead, mowed down the heart of the Indians’ order in the bottom of the ninth, and then came the rains.
And the speech.
“When they pulled the tarp,’’ Heyward said, “I was like, “We need to talk. We need to get together.’ I told them, “You’re awesome. Don’t get down. I had to remind them how good they are. How special they are.
“At that moment, I just had to vent a little bit. I was a little heated. It was a tough situation to overcome. I told them that we won 103 games. We overcame adversity all year. Let’s keep that fire. Here we are boys, let’s reset, and let’s go do this thing.’’
It wasn’t exactly trainer Mickey Goldmill screaming at Rocky Balboa, or even David Ortiz passionately speaking to his Boston Red Sox teammates during the 2013 World Series, but, oh, did it ever do the trick.
“It was the best rain delay of all time,’’ Rizzo said. “You never, ever, want a rain delay, but it was the best. It kind of settled us down, and got us regrouped.’’
Said Heyward: “We didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew we were ready to do what we did. We had new life.’’
The next thing anyone knew, Rizzo was catching that ball from Bryant, stuffing the most famous ball in Cubs’ history, into his back pocket, and the celebration was on.
“I threw the ball,’’ Bryant said, laughing. “Give me the ball. But he was joking about it for the last week. He said, “If I get the last out, I’m keeping the ball, because that’s going to be worth a lot of money.’’
“These guys are so young,’’ said Lester, “I don’t think they’ll understand it until they’re a little older.
“But I understand. This is why I came here. I wanted to be part of this.’’
And one day, Ross predicts, there will be a movie made from this glorious Cubs’ season.
Only this time, it won’t be a fictional baseball movie, or feature a team who had a record winning streak but never made the World Series, but a team that actually made history.
“We deserve this,’’ said Bryant, who homered twice in the series. “We felt we were the best team. We proved it.’’
Go ahead, and pinch yourselves, Chicago.
The Cubs, go ahead and say it, are World Series champions.
Finally, the curse is dead.
“I think tradition is worth time mentally, and tradition is worth being upheld,’’ Maddon said, “but curses and superstitions are not.
“The burden has been lifted. It should have never been there in the first place, but now we can move forward.’’