Game 7

November 2016

The drought is over — one of them, anyway. Having grown up in Cleveland, last night I was simultaneously hoping that the Cubs’ misery would extend to 109 years, and questioning whether I was a terrible, callous, monster of a human being for wishing that on another collection of people.

The game started ominously, with a leadoff home run for the Cubs. I heard Tom Hamilton’s reluctant, escalating call (“deep center field, going back, track, wall, halfway up the wall… ugh, fine, I guess it’s gone”) on the Cleveland radio broadcast. I was listening on headphones, at a library, pretending to read a book between innings, because this was what I’d done for the first four games of the series, and those games had resulted in three wins.

Growing up in Cleveland taught you at least two things about watching baseball — thou shall not tip off the baseball gods by showing too much interest in a game too soon. And thou shall not change the circumstances of how you follow a game if your team has been winning. For Game 5, I’d gotten greedy and found a bar to watch the game on TV, and the baseball gods had in fact smitten me for my arrogance and sent the series to a Game 6 back in Cleveland.

The leadoff home run, on paper, was a “here we go again” moment. Add it to the list! Right along with the Fumble, the Drive, with Edgar Renteria and Jose Mesa. Right? No. This felt different. Despite the fact that we were in danger of blowing a 3–1 series lead. This wasn’t a collapse. This was a decimated starting rotation going up against a completely loaded Cubs team that had won 103 games. This was Corey Kluber pitching for the third time in nine days. This was a team that wasn’t supposed to get past the divisional series, somehow still standing for Game 7 of the World Series, at home no less, and you know what? It was only one run.

The Cleveland sports commandments, however, are pretty well ingrained into my psyche. In the fifth inning the library closed, so I turned off the radio broadcast with the Cubs up 5–1. A few minutes later I was walking to my car and checked the score on my phone: 5–3. Conclusive evidence that the luck of the radio broadcast had worn out! I scampered to the same bar where I’d watched Game 5. The bartender pointed to the only open seat — it was exactly where I’d been sitting on Sunday for the Game 5 loss.

“I’ll take a booth, thanks.”

And then Game 7 turned into Game 7. The Cubs fans hadn’t noticed the lone Clevelander in the corner as he wildly, but silently, waved Jose Ramirez, who was running on contact from first with two outs, just like they teach you, around third to score. But heads turned after he reacted to Rajai Davis denting the camera equipment on the home run porch in left to tie the game at 6.

From that point on I was obviously not allowed to move from that spot, even for a bathroom break. Doing so would all but assure a loss, and all but assure that it would be my fault. So I stayed glued to that lucky bench, through the scoreless 9th, through the rain delay.

In the 10th, I stared blankly as Zobrist’s flare found an expanse of green grass in left. But again, strangely, this didn’t feel like another chapter in Cleveland sports misery. It should have, but it didn’t. This wasn’t a tragedy. This wasn’t a cursed city pinning all of its hopes on a sports team and then descending back into eternal despair after they inevitably failed to live up to expectations. This was an outstanding group of young players going toe to toe with a Cubs team for the ages, with the whole country watching, and this was just fun. And again, it was only one run — er, make that two runs now.

But even then, it wasn’t over. The Cubs were going to have to earn all 27 outs to end their drought, plus an extra three for good measure. And they did earn them, and there was joy in Wrigleyville.

And so winter began, and so we’re now counting down the days until we can say the four most hopeful words in the English language.

As a postscript, I’d be remiss not to mention the other feeling I got watching Game 7, and indeed the entire playoffs. The “baseball team from Cleveland” sported their caps and uniforms with the team’s logo on them — Every. Single. Game. They have alternative uniforms where it’s been replaced by the classic “C” on the caps, but, for reasons I don’t understand, opted not to use them, doubling down on what is an unabashedly terrible caricature on the national stage. I cannot imagine there being a better time than this offseason to, at the very least, commit to a timeline for a full name change. When they do eventually win the last game of the year, I’d like to be able to write and talk about it without omitting the team’s name as I did here. My vote is for the Spiders.