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The Cubs had to win it this way

The Chicago Cubs are the 2016 World Champions, despite many moments of doubt. It had to be this way.

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

It had to be this way. It was pure destiny.

The 103-win Cubs, who were clearly the best team in baseball on paper from March through November, had to plummet to the depths of despair multiple times before pulling off an improbable and yet entirely unsurprising World Series victory.

For 108 years, fans in the Windy City waited for this moment. Since the last Cubs' championship, generations have come and gone; families huddled together at the end of each season wondering why another fan base got to taste the sweet October champagne and pondered if maybe the following year would be different. There were many times over the past week where it looked like 2016 would have much of the same frustration. It had to be this way.

It would not have been right if the Cubs steamrolled the Indians in four or five games. The Giants tried to give them a good run, but the Cubs' offensive juggernaut buried San Francisco when they least expected it, via a four-run ninth-inning Game Four clincher that seemed to come out of nowhere. The Giants could not bring the Cubs to the brink.

In the NLCS, the Dodgers were one Herculean Clayton Kershaw start from bringing the series to a winner-take-all Game Seven, but alas, it was not meant to be. The Cubs controlled the series from their ten-run Game Four onward; the Dodgers could not bring the Cubs to the brink.

Chicago was finally in the position they sought after for so many years: a World Series favorite with all their players healthy, including even Kyle Schwarber who played only two regular season games before a devastating injury sidelined him for 95 percent of 2016. The stars were aligned; Chicago was well-rested, healthy, and playing great ball.

Then entered Cleveland. Cleveland, despite missing their best player all season and having multiple pitchers injured at the end of the year (in manners ranging from the mundane to the bizarre) came into the World Series as a juggernaut in their own right. They steamrolled the Red Sox in three straight victories that were never really in doubt, then made short-work of the Blue Jays, winning the ALCS in only five games.

With a manager who drove the demons out of Boston and who has since cemented himself as one of the better tacticians in the game, Cleveland was ready to catapult themselves ahead of the Cubs as the most recently redeemed franchise.

But despite the Indians' run, the Cubs remained the clear favorites; this had to be their year, right? Before the Series started, most North-siders would have thought yes. This was an outstanding team, and finally the lousy luck struck their opponents rather than themselves; wouldn't it have been so Cubs-like if one of their players suffered a freak drone injury? Not in 2016, or so it seemed; fate is a funny thing.

When a World Series drought lasts over a century, it takes on a life of its own. Decade after decade of frustration, futility, and failure build upon themselves until fans never trust a lead, never trust an ace, and never trust fate. For perspective on generations passing without a World Series, just ask Red Sox fans who witnessed a gut-wrenching 2003 ALCS loss at a time when victory seemed fated. As if the Aaron Boone Game Seven walkoff wasn't enough, Bostonians were again purged into agony when the hated Yankees took a 3-0 ALCS lead in 2004. Hope is a terrible thing to lose, but in hindsight, it had to be that way, and so it would be for the Cubs.

With two snake-bitten franchises meeting in the Fall Classic excitement overtook the sport. Most neutral baseball fans appeared to be content with either team winning, but when pressed, admitted they'd like to see the Cubs win.

Then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Cubbies were down 3-1 in the Series, with no more losses to give. It had to be this way.

Game Five was a close affair, with the Indians taking a 1-0 second inning lead. It would not last though and the Cubs posted three in the bottom of the fourth and never looked back.

Game Six was a rout from the start with Chicago taking a 7-0 lead in the third inning. It was clear the series was headed to a stressful seventh game, where fans and players alike know anything can happen. It was destiny; it had to be this way.

On game-day Wednesday, Cubs fans had trouble concentrating at work, anxious as anything to just get the game started, come what may. The mighty Chicago offense had shown little life against stoic ace Corey Kluber, who had stifled the Cubs' bats in Games One and Four. Over twelve innings in those two games, Kluber gave up one earned run, and struck out 15 Chicago hitters. On Wednesday, however, he slipped up before the echo of the National Anthem had even faded, and the Cubs had a Game Seven World Series lead via a Dexter Fowler leadoff home run.

The Cubs looked primed for victory until the eighth inning. It had to be this way.

With four outs to go, and a three-run lead, Joe Maddon called on flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman, essentially the only relief pitcher he wanted to see in either Game Six or Game Seven. Chapman blew it.

With an inherited runner already on first, Brandon Guyer smoked a line drive double to centerfield and then gave up an improbable game-tying, two-run home run to 36-year-old Rajai Davis. Davis would serve as the hero for only a few minutes before Yan Gomes struck out to end the inning. Tie game. Hearts sinking, the entire baseball community could hear Cubs fans from thousands of miles away groan, "here we go again..."; it had to be this way.

Despite a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth, the Cubs couldn't get the runner past first base.  Similarly, the Indians did nothing against Chapman despite several hittable pitches from a guy who clearly had little left to give. With each Chapman hanging slider, Cubs' fans hearts entered their throats, as it seemed certain Cleveland was destined for a walk off. Instead, it went to the tenth; it had to be this way.

Then came the rain.

It's not often 20 minutes feels like an eternity, but with time to ponder how close they had come, the Cubs and their fans had to literally sit and think about what happened, what could have been if Chapman was fresher. It had to be this way.

Finally, it all fell into place. The rain stopped and the Indians took the field. It happened pretty quickly from there. A Kyle Schwarber single, a sac fly from Kris Bryant to move the go-ahead run to second (thanks to some brilliant baserunning by Albert Almora), and a Ben Zobrist double later, the Cubs had an 8-6 lead entering the bottom half.

Three outs to go. It had to be this way.

Carl Edwards Jr., a 25-year-old reliever, a reliever picked in the 48th round of the 2011 draft, a reliever Joe Maddon had left in the bullpen with a five-run lead in Game Six, was tapped to close out Game Seven. It started out so well, first with a Mike Napoli strikeout, then an innocent Jose Ramirez groundout.

One out remained, but fortuna is a cruel temptress, and a 1-2-3 inning was not in the cards. It had to be this way.

Brandon Guyer walked, then waltzed to second on defensive indifference. He then came around to score on a Rajai Davis single; the lead was down to one. Could it all be happening again?

Out of his best options, Maddon called on Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez, hardly the two names either team wanted in a Game Seven extra inning scenario. Montgomery induced a weak grounder for out number three.

Enter euphoria. It actually happened. It had to be this way.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano