Last week, I was kicking myself for not scheduling a vacation during the deciding games of the first Cubs World Series since 1945.
But I soon realized what was a failure on my part turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Let me explain.
Like most Cubs fans, I was frustrated after the Northsiders went down 3 games to 1 to start the fall classic.
What happened to those bats that woke up during the National League Championship Series, that carried the Cubs to their first World Series in 71 years? What was going on?
Down but not out
Heading into Game 5 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs faced a difficult stretch where they had to win three in a row to force a Game 7, where a scary Corey “Klubot” Kluber waited. Plus, there was that ridiculous Indians bullpen they hadn’t yet solved.
It was an uphill climb, to be sure.
Taking the mound for the first of three must-win games for the Northsiders was the postseason-tested and dominant lefty Jon Lester. And he stayed true to his reputation as he led the Cubs to a 3-2 win behind an offense that felt like it was coming to life.
They were down 1-0 after a second-inning home run by Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez, and things looked a little bleak as the Cubs offense remained rather quiet until the bottom of the fourth.
That’s when Cubs MVP candidate Kris Bryant stepped to the plate to lead off the frame. The third baseman hit a deep home run to left-center field off Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer to tie it up. Fellow MVP possibility Anthony Rizzo followed him with a double to right, then left fielder Ben Zobrist smacked a single.
Addison Russell stepped to the plate with runners at first and third and no outs. The baby-faced shortstop hit a weak grounder to third but made it safely to first base as Rizzo scored. Zobrist advanced to second.
All of a sudden, the Cubs were up 2-1 and looking to add more.
After a Jason Heyward strikeout, second baseman Javier Baez bunted his way on, loading the bases with one out and catcher David Ross coming to the plate.
Grandpa Rossy hit a fly ball to left-center, scoring Zobrist and putting the Cubs up, 3-1.
That would be the extent of the Cubs scoring, but they held on behind a combined bullpen effort by Carl Edwards Jr. and Aroldis Chapman, as the Northsiders won, 3-2 .
One down, two to go.
Game 6 featured the Cubs’ well-rested and defending Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta against Josh Tomlin, one of three Indians starters pitching on short rest.
Things were looking up as the Cubs’ offense was waking up. Game 5’s offensive output held a lot of promise. Was momentum starting to turn?
Game 6 answered that question resoundingly as the Cubs were up 7-0 before the Indians realized what was happening. Russell lead the offensive charge with 6 RBIs, including a grand slam, in a 9-3 shellacking of the Tribe.
A copy editor’s anxiety
That all lead to a Game 7. They say those are the two most exciting words in all of sports, but for Cubs fans, that phrase has the potential for so much heartache.
And, as a copy editor, this particular Game 7 also lent itself to so much anxiety.
My immediate boss and friend, who normally lays out the front page, was on vacation this past week, leaving me with the honor.
I’ve written at least a few times about how much these Cubbies mean to me, and I certainly would rather have been watching this historic game with my wife in the comfort of my home, instead of the office.
While that frustration clouded my week as the Cubs rattled off those wins in games five and six, another thought crept in my head.
I wanted this front page. I wanted to be a part of history.
So, the night before, after Wednesday’s paper was finished, I set to work on a few mock-up front pages for my managing editor, which made for a late night, but I wanted to go in with a plan. I wanted this front page to sing.
After all, should the Cubs win, this Thursday edition was going to fly off the shelves, with the front page likely put on display at homes and bars across southeast Iowa and west-central Illinois. Like all of history’s biggest moments, the page will evoke memories of “Where were you when …”
The cover needed to match the moment. And it doesn’t get any bigger than the Cubs ending a 108-year championship drought, the longest in all of sports.
So no pressure.
Wednesday, with my DVR set to record the historic game, I headed off to work excited but still rather nervous because of what lay ahead of me and my Cubs.
Game 7 is upon us
Last week, I wrote how I welcomed a tired Kluber in a potential Game 7. I argued he would be arm-weary and not nearly as dominant. That seemed like a solid prediction a week ago.
But now, reality was setting in, and the Klubot looked poised to wrap things up and give the Indians their first title in 68 years.
The Cubs, however, were sending out their No. 5 starter-turned-Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks. You know, that same guy who dominated the Dodgers in a Game 6 win at Wrigley that sent the Cubs to the World Series. That same guy who out-pitched an all-time great in Clayton Kershaw.
Honestly, outside of Lester, there wasn’t anyone I would’ve rather seen on the mound, and he was well-rested to boot.
But the Cubs hadn’t yet figured out Kluber. And that’s what bothered me.
They got to the other two Indians starters in Bauer and Tomlin, but Kluber remained a mystery. Those Cubbie bats were coming to life, however, and, from what we learned in the regular season, once that offense gets rolling, it’s hard to stop.
Thursday, I fired up my DVR and watched the game in its entirety, uninterrupted by work, and I watched as history unfolded.
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler led off the scoring in the heavy-weight title match with a homer off Kluber, and things looked promising.
The Tribe tied it up in the bottom of the third, however, with a Carlos Santana single (a base hit, not a song), scoring Coco Crisp (the player, not the cereal).
But then, the Cubs started to figure out Kluber in the top of the fourth. Bryant led off the inning with a single, followed by Rizzo, who was hit by a pitch.
Zobrist hit into a fielder’s choice, moving Bryant to third.
There was one down, with runners on the corners as Russell hit a shallow fly ball to center field. Normally, that wouldn’t have scored Bryant from third, but the Cubs took a chance and sent him anyway, forcing a throw home. The toss was high, allowing Bryant to slide underneath, putting the Cubs up, 2-1.
The play also allowed Zobrist to advance to second with catcher Willson Contreras stepping to the plate.
With two outs in the inning, Contreras smoked a fly ball to deep right-center field, over the heads of the Indian outfielders, scoring Zobrist easily, making it 3-1 Cubs.
Fast-forward to the top of the fifth, when Baez chased Kluber with a homer to right-center field. The Klubot’s night was done, and my bold predictions turned out to be right. Who knew?
But Indians manager Terry Francona handed the ball to Andrew Miller, another of the Cubs mysteries, to stop the bleeding.
Fowler greeted him with a single, but Kyle Schwarber, batting second in Games 6 and 7, hit into a double play.
Bryant followed with a nine-pitch walk. Then, on the fourth pitch of a Rizzo at bat, Bryant took off as the Cubs first baseman singled to right.
Like that fourth-inning sacrifice fly, the idea of Bryant scoring seemed improbable. Normally, a hit-and-run gives the offense runners at the corners off a single, but his long stride didn’t stop as he rounded third and headed for home. He scored, putting the Cubs up, 5-1.
All was happy in Wrigleyville. For now.
Look, the Indians weren’t looking to be embarrassed on their home field, especially when so much was on the line.
And the Tribe looked to start that comeback in the fifth.
In a surprising and somewhat perplexing move that inning, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon took Hendricks out of the game with two outs after a walk that shouldn’t have been.
You could see the frustration from Hendricks as Maddon made his way to the mound. The otherwise calm, cool and collected right-hander swore into the glove covering his face, but Maddon had his mind made and wanted Lester, who had been warming in the bullpen.
The move also meant Grandpa Rossy, Lester’s personal catcher, would replace Contreras behind the plate.
Maddon’s early hook initially looked as dubious, at least initially, as it was mysterious as Lester’s relief outing got off to a shaky start. The pesky Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, a thorn in the side of the Cubs all series, hit a dribbler forcing Ross to make a play that Lester should make. But given Lester’s well-documented defensive yips, Ross was forced into action. The throw went past Rizzo at first base, allowing Santana, who reached on the walk by Hendricks, to advance to third and Kipnis to second.
More craziness ensued as Lester uncorked a wild pitch that glanced off Ross’ mask, allowing Santana to score. But as Ross went to field the wild pitch, he misstepped, allowing a hard-charging Kipnis to score all the way from second.
The score stood at 5-3, with the Indians starting to turn the corner.
Ross got one of those runs back in the top of the sixth, however, as the 39-year-old unexpectedly homered off Miller, putting the Cubs up, 6-3.
All was quiet for a few innings, as the Cubbies looked poised to end their drought, but that dreaded eighth inning bit the Northsiders in the rear end yet again.
Back in 2003, you’ll remember the eighth was when Steve Bartman made his memorable reach, preventing Moises Alou from a tough, but probable play on a foul ball to left, not to mention that booted grounder by shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Wednesday, the Cubs started out the bottom of the eighth just fine, with Lester getting the first two outs in relative short order, but that third out proved to be elusive. The Tribe’s Ramirez singled, which forced Maddon’s hand as he looked to fireballer Aroldis Chapman.
The dominant lefty just needed to get one out to preserve the three-run lead.
But Indian outfielder Brandon Guyer doubled to center field, scoring Ramirez.
Now, all of a sudden, the tying run was at the plate in Indians center fielder Rajai Davis. Chapman was one strike away from ending the inning with minimal damage when Davis got a hold of one and sent it over the left-field fence, tying the game.
Are you freaking kidding me?
Frustration sets in
Keep in mind, while I was in the office, I was seeing only bits and pieces of the game while I was trying to concentrate on work, but I was feeling pretty good about the Northsiders’ chances up to this point, and I had my front page ready to go, prepared for a Cubs win. I was just missing the main package detailing the game’s outcome.
But what could’ve been an historic, flying-off-the-shelves kind of edition was quickly fading away into an also-ran. Another Cubbie frustration in a long history of bitter pills to swallow.
As an editor and a fan, I was disappointed.
Then, the game went into extra innings, knotted at 6.
So much for making deadline.
Though, to be fair, we didn’t really have a deadline, per say. We were under orders to get the game in the paper, no matter what. Of course, it was to be as soon as possible.
And then, the rains came, forcing a delay.
But the delay didn’t prove to be nearly as long as I feared, just 17 minutes.
Though it was frustrating, the weather stoppage allowed me to catch up on pages and plant myself in front of the newsroom TV and watch as a fan.
Cursed no more
The Cubs came out in the top of the 10th with bats on fire as Schwarber led off the inning with a single and was quickly removed for the speedy Albert Almora.
A deep fly ball off the bat of Bryant allowed Almora to move to second.
Not wanting to deal with Rizzo, the Tribe decided to intentionally walk him, as they wanted Zobrist instead.
That was the wrong move, as Zobrist ripped a double to left off Indians reliever Bryan Shaw, scoring Almora and moving Rizzo to third.
Zobrist jumped in the air as he pulled into second, pumping his fist. Rizzo just stared at him in disbelief, his hands on his helmet.
The Indians intentionally walked Russell to load the bases with one out for Miguel Montero, who entered the game in the ninth, replacing Ross at catcher.
The same Montero who hit a grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field came up big again with a single to left, scoring Rizzo.
This was insane. The Cubs could actually win this thing. The thoughts that evaporated in the bottom of the eighth were starting to reappear.
Maddon called on Edwards to close the game and send Chicago into unrivaled bedlam.
Like that eighth inning, the Cubs got those first two outs with relative ease, but the final one proved to be too much for Edwards.
The Tribe’s Guyer reached on a walk and took second while the Cubs just concentrated on Davis, the same guy who tied the game in the eighth. The Indians center fielder, however, couldn’t be stopped as he singled to center, scoring Guyer.
Maddon saw enough and wanted lefty Mike Montgomery out of the bullpen.
Montgomery needed only two pitches as right fielder Michael Martinez grounded weakly just past the pitcher. Third baseman Bryant came across the infield and slipped as he threw across the diamond to the waiting glove of Rizzo.
It was over. History was made.
A job to do
I pumped my fist, let out a woo-hoo and even gave a fellow newsroom Cub fan a big hug, but I couldn’t celebrate long. It was back to work for me.
I had a date with destiny, and that front page awaited.
One of our photographers snapped a great image at a local bar, and I was set. All I needed was the story. And the reporter was quick with his account
I started reading as the nerves were setting in. It was an intense situation that almost felt as if I was on the field with the Cubs during that harrowing final inning.
Only their hard work was done, and mine was just beginning.
I read through the story twice, double-checking details and wording, and finally placed it on the page.
I printed out proofs for my fellow editor, nervously handing it to him.
A short time later, I had them back with corrections to be made.
I made those edits, but I gave it another look-through. Then another. Then another. The situation had triggered my OCD, which normally is an asset as an editor, but I couldn’t get myself to send the page.
What if I miss something? What if I screw this up? What if I blow this for the newspaper? All these what-ifs were running through my mind.
Eventually, I sent the pages to the press. The sports editor soon sent what he had left.
The press began rolling shortly thereafter, and I grabbed a few papers and made my way back to the newsroom. I handed the fresh, inky copies to my fellow editor and sports editor for a final look.
I didn’t want to find a mistake. After all, I was pretty careful with those front and jump pages, but I nervously inspected that front over and over.
Thankfully, all was well, and I was proud of what I held in my hand. I felt like my page matched the moment and was worthy of display across the region for years to come.
Apparently, the fine people at Poynter felt the same way, as they included my cover in a story detailing front pages across the country celebrating the Cubs historic victory.
But regardless of how any publication feels about my work, I truly was content with what I produced. And you can bet I’ll do some framing of my own and proudly put it on display, always looking back on that day, that blessing with a smile.
Earlier this week, I certainly wouldn’t have thought that as the frustration got the best of me, but now, I’m thankful for being at least a small part of history.
Funny how that works.