As Pirates fans bemoan 37 championship-less years, our worries are nothing compared to fans of the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Generations of broken hearts and futility clashed in the 2016 World Series. It was the series to determine just exactly who is the biggest loser of all time.
This was a World Series as improbable as a Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns Super Bowl. This showdown was an event less likely to occur than Jim Belushi being nominated for an Oscar. The chances of this encounter were the same odds as seeing a redneck making risotto while listening to classical music. Cleveland jumped to a three-games-to-one lead and had to win only one of the next three to end a 68-year reign of hopelessness. The only way it couldn’t happen would be if the Indians were to “Cleveland” themselves. They lost game 5, went back home and got clobbered by a resurgent Cubs lineup. This set the stage for one of the great Game Sevens in baseball history. We are always quick to anoint something as the greatest ever. This time, though, there is some merit to the argument.
It was as if some higher power couldn’t decide which bunch of miserables to finally show mercy on. The Cubs took a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning after David Ross, in his final major league game, hit a solo home run off Andrew Miller. You might remember Ross from his stint as a Pirates catcher in 2005. Ross was a part-time handler for a pitching staff that included Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, David Williams and Oliver Perez. Now he was catching Jon Lester on a world stage. The only way Chicago would not end its 108-year curse would be if the players were to “Cub” themselves. The Cubs entered the eighth inning up three runs. Lester easily got the first two hitters, and the Cubs were four outs away from unloading their long-time burden.
The virtually unhittable Aroldis Chapman took over for Chicago. Cleveland scored on him after a double by Brandon Guyer to cut the lead to two. Former Pirates outfielder Rajai Davis stepped to the plate. Davis played parts of the 2006 and 2007 seasons for the Bucs. Back then he was jockeying for pinch-hit appearances with Nyjer Morgan and Josh Phelps. Ten years later, he was staring down Chapman’s 100-mph fastballs with the hopes of an entire city weighing on him. Davis homered, sending the Tribe faithful to bedlam as he tied the game at six.
Somewhere, Steve Bartman, the scapegoat fan from the Cubs’ 2003 postseason meltdown, had trouble breathing. Was it possible the Cubs could lose and he’d have to remain in hiding for another couple of decades? Neither team scored in the ninth and the two teams went to extra innings.
Then the rains came. Mother Nature just wanted to psychologically torture both fan bases for a little longer. Someone’s misery had to end, but they’d have to wait out a rain delay. In the 10th, David Ross worked a leadoff walk and was replaced by a pinch runner. That run came around after a Ben Zobrist double; Miguel Montero added an insurance run to make it 8-6 Cubs.
From his bunker beneath the Biograph theater, Bartman resumed breathing as the Indians took the field. The first two hitters went down in order, and Chicago was one out away from vindication. But Cleveland’s Brandon Guyer walked and stole second. A Rajai Davis single scored Guyer, and it was a one-run game. Bartman began to unpack his suitcase.
The Cubs brought in pitcher Mike Montgomery to face the Indians’ last pinch-hitter, Michael Martinez, also formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Martinez played here in the 2014 season, but his .138 batting average didn’t keep him around for long. It was his chance to push the Indians to victory, but lifetime .197 hitters won’t usually make your dreams come true. Martinez grounded weakly to third, and the Indians lost to the biggest losers of all time.
Finally, obnoxious Cubs fans can stop whining about Bartman, goats and black cats. Congratulations, Cubs — you have now won half as many World Series titles in 108 seasons as the Miami Marlins have in 23 seasons. For Cleveland, 1948 is the new 1908. Congratulations, Cleveland — in the battle of the biggest losers you came out on top. Well, sort of.