CLEVELAND – Kris Bryant started to smile even before he fielded the ball. And with his throw to first for the final out, the agonizing wait ’til next year was over at last.
No more Billy Goat, no more Bartman, no more black-cat curses.
For a legion of fans who waited a lifetime, fly that W: Your Chicago Cubs are World Series champions.
Ending more than a century of flops, futility and frustration, the Cubs won their first title since 1908, outlasting the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings of a Game 7 thriller early Thursday.
They even had to endure an extra-inning rain delay to end the drought.
“It happened. It happened. Chicago, it happened,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after gloving the ball for the final out. “We did it. We’re world champions. I tell ya, we’re world champions. I can’t believe it.”
Rizzo put that final ball in his pocket as the Cubs piled up in the middle of the diamond, David Ross got carried off the field by his teammates and Bill Murray partied in the clubhouse.
And the whole time, blue-clad fans who traveled from Wrigley Field filled nearly the entire lower deck behind the Chicago dugout at Progressive Field, singing “Go, Cubs, Go!” in rain. They held up those white flags with the large blue “W” on a night many of their forebears had waited for in vain.
Lovable losers for generations, the Cubs nearly let this one get away, too. All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman blew a 6-3 lead with two outs in the eighth when Rajai Davis hit a tying, two-run homer.
But the Cubs, after tormenting their fans one more time, came right back after a 17-minute rain delay before the top of the 10th.
Series MVP Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double and Miguel Montero singled home a run to make it 8-6. Davis delivered an RBI single with two outs in the bottom half, but Mike Montgomery closed it out at 12:47 a.m., and the celebration was on.
“I think about so many millions of people giving so much love and support to this team for so many years,” said owner Tom Ricketts, whose family bought the team in 2009.
Manager Joe Maddon’s team halted the longest stretch without a title in baseball, becoming the first club to overcome a 3-1 Series deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals.
“This is an epic game. It’s epic. I can’t believe we were able to do it — 108 years in the making,” Zobrist said. “We did it.”
“They never quit, either,” Zobrist said. “They kept coming at us.”
Cleveland was trying to win its first crown since 1948, but manager Terry Francona’s club lost the last two games at home.
World Series favorites since spring training, Chicago led the majors with 103 wins this season.
The Cubs then ended more than a century of misery for their loyal fans — barely. Bryant, one of Chicago’s young stars, began to celebrate even before fielding a grounder by Michael Martínez to third base and throwing it across to Rizzo for the last out.
“It’s the best rain delay of all-time,” Rizzo said.
Zobrist got a Series-high 10 hits, a year after he helped the Royals win the championship. Zobrist was among the players brought to the Cubs by Theo Epstein, the baseball guru who added another crown to his collection. He also assembled the Red Sox team that broke Boston’s 86-year drought by winning in 2004.
From Curse of the Bambino to the Billy Goat Curse, he ended another jinx.
“We don’t need a plane to fly home,” Epstein said. “It’s fitting it’s got to be done with one of the best games of all time.”
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward had called a meeting during the rain delay, talking to his teammates in the weight room.
“I just had to remind everybody who we are, what we’ve overcome to get here,” he said.
While Cubs fans hugged with delight, there was only despair for the Indians, who now have gone longer than anyone without a crown. In the Indians’ previous World Series appearance, they were a double-play grounder from winning the 1997 title before losing Game 7 in 11 innings to the Marlins.
“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,” Francona said.
Earlier this year, LeBron James and the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought by overcoming a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State for the NBA title. James and teammates were in a suite, rooting hard, as the Indians absorbed the same blow as the Warriors.
After defeating San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs, Chicago became the first team to earn a title by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Dexter Fowler homered on Corey Kluber’s fourth pitch of the game, and 23-year-old Javier Baez and the 39-year-old Ross — set to now retire — also went deep for the Cubs, who led 5-1 in the fifth inning and 6-3 in the eighth.
Chapman wound up with the win, and Montgomery got one out for his first save in the majors.
Bryan Shaw, who gave up a leadoff single to Kyle Schwarber in the 10th, took the loss in just the fourth Game 7 that went to extra innings.
Albert Almora Jr., pinch-running for Schwarber, alertly took second on Bryant’s long fly to center. Rizzo was intentionally walked, and Zobrist slapped an opposite-field double past diving third baseman José Ramírez. Montero singled to make it a two-run lead.
Then in the bottom half, Carl Edwards Jr. struck out Mike Napoli, Ramírez grounded out, Brandon Guyer walked and Davis hit an RBI single. Montgomery took over, and helped set off a wild celebration on Chicago’s North Side.
Even a dedicated White Sox fan could appreciate the victory.
“It happened: @Cubs win World Series. That’s change even this South Sider can believe in. Want to come to the White House before I leave?” President Barack Obama tweeted.
Twenty-one other teams had won the World Series since the Cubs last were champions. They reached the top again on the 39,466th day after Orval Overall’s three-hit shutout won the 1908 finale at Detroit in a game that took 1 hour, 24 minutes — this latest Game 7 lasted 4:24, not including the rain delay.
Back then, Theodore Roosevelt was president, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states, and the first Ford Model T car was two weeks old.
The Cubs were last champions when Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance won consecutive titles in 1907-08, until now the only ones in team history. The Cubbies had not even reached the Series since 1945.
This one was for Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo and Billy Williams, who never reached the postseason.
For Gabby Hartnett, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux, whose October runs fell short.
For Lee Elia and the “nickle-dime people” who spent so many wind-swept afternoons in the Friendly Confines watching loss after loss.
For Bill Veeck, who planted ivy vines against Wrigley Field’s outfield walls.
For William Sianis, the Billy Goat Tavern owner said to have proclaimed when he was asked to leave Wrigley with his pet during the ’45 Series: “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
For Steve Bartman, whose life was upended when he tried to catch a foul ball as the Cubs came apart in the 2003 playoffs.
And for Harry Caray, who promised viewers after the 1991 finale that “sure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.”
Maddon, hired before the 2015 season, won his first Series title after establishing a loose clubhouse that featured at times Warren the pink flamingo, Simon the magician and the motto: “Try not to suck.”
“It was just an epic battle,” Zobrist said. “Just blow for blow, everybody playing their heart out. The Indians never gave up, either, and I can’t believe we’re finally standing, after 108 years, finally able to hoist the trophy.”