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Loveable losers no more, Chicago raises the victory flag to celebrate its Cubs

November 3, 2016 at 6:15 PM EST
The World Series was destined for a dramatic finish: The Chicago Cubs finally ended their 108 year-long World Series drought in a hard-fought victory against the Cleveland Indians. In Chicago, fans who hadn’t seen a Fall Classic win in living memory were ecstatic. Hari Sreenivasan gets insight on the historic event from ESPN’s Lester Munson.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Was there any other way for this World Series to end, other than with an epic finish?

Two of the league’s oldest teams, the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, were both eager to make history and ready to end decades of frustration as they battled to the end.

The series finally ended with a stunning roller-coaster ride in game seven.

MAN: The Cubs win the World Series!

HARI SREENIVASAN: After more than a century of frustration, fandom and futility, the Cubs celebrated in Cleveland. They became the first baseball team since 1979 to win the championship on the road after coming back from a three-game-to-one deficit.

The game lasted more than four-and-a-half-hours, including a rain delay, before finally ending in the 10th inning. Players raced around the field and celebrated in the locker room.

Center fielder Dexter Fowler hit a home run to start the game.

DEXTER FOWLER, Chicago Cubs: I cried. I cried like a little kid. You know, it hasn’t been done in a century and some. So, to be a part of this is definitely — it’s a pleasure.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Fans young and old gathered in the streets outside Wrigley Field, even writing names of loved ones on the outside wall of the ballpark, and they celebrated throughout the city.

JERRY POE, Chicago Cubs Fan: I have been waiting for a long time, 76 years old. And I couldn’t wait to finally get a championship. And they did for me tonight, finally.

MAN: You could have a heart attack.

JERRY POE: Tell me about that.

WOMAN: They deserve it. This is the best team we have had in years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Cubs jumped out early and kept building their lead, getting runs against the best pitching squad of the postseason. By the fifth inning, they were up 5-1.

But then the Cubs pulled their starting pitcher for another ace, Jon Lester. He threw a wild pitch that led to two runs, narrowing the gap. And in the eighth inning, this happened. The game was tied. After a rain delay, the Cubs scored the winning runs in the 10th.

Suddenly, the so-called curses of past Cub lore were gone, an idea that had crept back into some players during the game.

BEN ZOBRIST, MVP, World Series: I got to be honest. When they came back in the eighth, it was on my mind a little bit.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Cubs manager Joe Maddon said it was time to end the talk of curses.

JOE MADDON, Manager, Chicago Cubs: I love tradition. I think tradition is worth time mentally, and tradition is worth being upheld. But curses and superstitions are not. So it’s really great for entire Cubdom to get beyond that moment and continue to move forward, because now, based on the young players we have in this organization, we have an opportunity to be good for a long time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For Cleveland, whose fans have been waiting for a title for so long, it was a painful loss. But the underdog Indians never gave up.

TERRY FRANCONA, Manager, Cleveland Indians: I talked before the game about being an honor to be in a game like that. But to be associated with those players in that clubhouse, it’s an honor. And I just told them that.

It’s going to hurt. It hurts because we care. But they need to walk with their head held high, because they left nothing on the field. And that’s all the things we ever ask them to do. They tried until there was nothing left.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Cubs were greeted in the early hours of the day in Chicago. Tomorrow, there will be a big parade.

Some perspective on this moment, from a longtime sportswriter.

Lester Munson is a Chicago native who has covered sports for upwards of two decades. He is a senior writer for ESPN and joins us tonight from Chicago.

Where did you watch the game last night?

LESTER MUNSON, ESPN: I watched the game at home with my wife. We had a great time. We stayed up late, and we loved every minute of it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, there had to be a few minutes you didn’t love, about the eighth inning or so.

LESTER MUNSON: The eighth inning was a killer. If you are a lifetime Cub fan, as I am, when Davis hit that home run, you had that sinking feeling that we have had so many times as Cub fans. You thought, oh, no, it’s happening again. We’re going to have another tragedy.

But then this team rallied after the rain delay, a glorious ending after that temporary setback.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We don’t do sports much on the “NewsHour.” Every once in a while, we announce the winner of the World Series or the Super Bowl. But why was this win so important for the city of Chicago?

LESTER MUNSON: It was important for the city of Chicago because of its timing. We are in a time of trouble and turmoil here in Chicago. The political leadership is inept. The school system is in financial trouble.

We have a murder rate that is unacceptable. There is more trouble than any city should have. And then along comes this joyous event, something that everybody can enjoy, something that everybody can participate in. And it was a bit of a surprise.

The Cubs have not been successful over the decades. Although you could see this coming, nevertheless, it was a wonderful surprise at a great time in the history of this city.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, put this in perspective. We all heard about the 108-year drought of this event. But this is — the essence of a Cubs fan is to be a guy who always roots for the losing team, the lovable loser sometimes.

LESTER MUNSON: There’s no question about that.

It is such a wonderful experience to go to Wrigley Field. Just to be there on a nice evening or on a sunny afternoon is an experience all unto itself. Winning was never really necessary for Cub fans. We packed the venue, even though the team was mediocre.

But, beginning last year, it became apparent that this was a different kind of a Cub team. The other Cub teams would have collapsed last night in the eighth inning. This team, instead of collapsing, rallied and won a glorious championship for our city.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And the way that this happened, literally, game seven of a World Series, on the road, coming back from a three-game deficit, so many different layers of odds stacked against this squad.

LESTER MUNSON: Everything seemed to be going wrong, and then, finally, Sunday night, the Cubs put on a terrific demonstration of what they have been doing all year. They began the three-game winning streak.

But, as you suggest, in Cleveland, in front of Cleveland fans, with everything on the line, it could have been a tragedy. But there is something about this team. They have a joy in what they do. They are very good at what they do, and they did it brilliantly last night.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there — what’s the mood that you get on the street? Even in the past couple of weeks, people have been displaying their Chicago roots around the country where they are.

LESTER MUNSON: Here on the streets of Chicago, you see “W” flags everywhere, the Cub flag that shows a W. for a winning team. It’s on boats in the Chicago River. It’s on cars in the streets. It’s in the windows of office buildings. It’s on the gates of residential buildings. You see it everywhere.

And you can see that everybody is participating in this great event. Even Sox fans who might be reluctant to join the celebration are in the middle of it now. There is nothing they can do.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does this change some element of the identity of being a Chicago Cubs fan? Now you’re just another team that’s won the World Series. You don’t have that long streak going for you, that thing to hate.

LESTER MUNSON: I could feel a change among Cubs fans during the end of the season and certainly during the playoffs.

Instead of just going and enjoying the game, all of a sudden, we’re going to games and we are expecting to win. We are expecting our team to do heroic and dramatic things. And the reason we were expecting that is they kept doing it again and again and again.

Even the players batting at the end of the lineup came through with clutch hits, a grand slam home run by Miguel Montero, grand slam home run which by Addison Russell. The things that these guys were doing have brought a whole new attitude and a whole new approach to the Cub nation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Lester Munson, joining us from Chicago, thank you, and congratulations on the win.

LESTER MUNSON: Thank you.

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