By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Memories of Game 7 won’t soon fade. The thrills of that night in Cleveland will stay with Cubs fans forever.
The baseball theater that took place at Progressive Field was something to behold. The drama lasted all game, which included a rain delay and 10th inning. Ultimately, the Cubs prevailed in their first World Series championship since 1908. Chicago celebrated its Cubs like never before, then exhaled.
“I died about three times during Game 7,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein joked on Saturday at the Cubs Convention.
Oh, how that game could’ve been so different. If manager Joe Maddon didn’t realize it then, he certainly has since. While Epstein has gone through Chicago to a reception of appreciation, Maddon is offered a hero’s welcome along with questions on his decision-making on the game’s greatest stage.
Fans approach Maddon and wonder why he managed Game 7 in such a bold fashion.
“There’s no Game 8, and you can’t play like you played in June or July,” Maddon said. “You have to be a little bit more proactive.”
Maddon and his Cubs coaching staff held court for fans at the convention Saturday for their annual panel. They spoke of the many memories of the 2016 campaign, looked ahead to their task of repeating as champions and then faced questions from fans.
Forty-four minutes into the session, it happened again. A fan greeted Maddon with his gratitude for bringing the Cubs their elusive title, for creating a culture unparalleled in sports and for his masterful work in two seasons as the Cubs manager. He recalled the excitement of that November night.
A moan went through the crowd. Here we go again.
“There’s always a but in the room,” Maddon said in a play on words.
Maddon’s quick hook on right-hander Kyle Hendricks — the Cubs’ Cy Young candidate — was considered quite the surprise. What added to this was how Hendricks had appeared to have gotten out of that fifth inning with a strikeout on Carlos Santana. Instead, Santana walked and left-handed hitter Jason Kipnis came to the plate.
Though he claimed beforehand that Jon Lester wouldn’t enter a messy situation, Maddon went to his trusted southpaw who had pitched a gem in Game 5 to extend the World Series.
“Kipnis couldn’t touch Kyle (Hendricks),” a fan muttered as Maddon offered his explanation.
It was a bold decision that came with consequence. Kipnis reached on a tapper in front of the plate, which Lester’s personal catcher, David Ross, threw up the line to first base. Then, a wild pitch banked off Ross’ mask and allowed two runs to score. Suddenly, the Cubs’ once-comfortable lead was just 5-3.
Ross would homer in the sixth inning and Lester settled in, bridging to the Cubs being just four outs away.
“I don’t know if you saw the whole game, but (Lester) did really well,” Maddon said to the fan, a line which was greeted by laughter.
Then Maddon went to closer Aroldis Chapman, who had thrown 83 pitches the previous two games.
Lester did his job, bridging the Cubs closer to a championship. Leading 6-4 with two outs in the eighth inning, Chapman surrendered the game-tying two-run home run to Rajai Davis. He threw a good pitch and Davis choked up on the bat and put it just over the wall in the left-field corner.
On Saturday, a fan jokingly asked Maddon if he would’ve had Chapman sign autographs for hours each day of the convention. Maddon smiled it off.
Sure, it didn’t come without nerves, but Maddon and the Cubs prevailed in Game 7. Ben Zobrist knocked in the go-ahead run and Miguel Montero brought in a needed insurance run. Maddon pulled the hook once more, replacing Carl Edwards Jr. with Mike Montgomery, who picked up his first career save to win Game 7 of the World Series.
The Cubs returned home to Chicago and celebrated with their fans in one of the largest gatherings of humans ever recorded. Maddon marveled at the experience.
Two months removed from the mayhem, Maddon is still defending his moves in that Game 7. He hasn’t been defensive, though he hasn’t backed down.
“I love the second-guessing,” Maddon said. “I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. I hung out at Belhop’s Bar all the time. If you don’t have these kinds kinds of conversations — that’s a big part of why our game is so popular and as big as it is, because you can have conversations like this. I love them.”
Ultimately, Maddon’s bold managing culminated with the Cubs winning the World Series. It was a night of so many memories, one fresh on the minds of fans at the team’s annual convention. Maddon may have scared some fans, but he rewarded them in the end.
As Maddon’s time before the Cubs Convention crowd neared its end, a fan and his young children approached the microphone holding a baseball. They didn’t want an autograph.
“You’ve done everything for us,” the man said. “What we wanted to do for you is a ball signed from our family, Cubs fans, to give to you for what you did for us. Our theme this year: Thank you, Joe.”