Cubs 8 – Indians 7

The two most exciting words in sports are “Game Seven,” and last night’s World Series win by the Chicago Cubs lived up to that reputation and all the hype surrounding the Cubbies’ first championship in 108 years. But in terms of baseball esthetics, it wasn’t a “great” game. It was marred by sloppy defense, bad umpiring, questionable managing and tired pitching. The game also lacked drama for its entire midsection, as Chicago posted leads of 5-1 and 6-2 that seemed insurmountable. And ultimately, you’d like a Game 7 to come down to a face-off between one team’s best pitcher and the other’s best clutch hitter (I still think of 1962 when the Giants’ last two hitters against the Yankees were Willie Mays – hit – and Willie McCovey – line drive to second). Last night, the little-known and seldom-used Mike Montgomery was pitching to the 25th man on the Cleveland roster, Michael Martinez, who hit a dribbler to third. Adding to the anticlimax, Rajai Davis was trying to steal second on the pitch which, if Martinez had not swung, would have either produced a more dramatic ending or given the Indians a runner in scoring position. As it was, the only drama came from Kris Bryant’s slipping on the wet field as he threw to first, an appropriate p.s. to the sloppy play.
By sloppy play I’d point first to Javier Baez’s two errors at second for the Cubs and Davis’s allowing two Cub runs by failing to get set and make good throws on two fly balls to center. Addison Russell flubbed a ball at short and two Indians scored on a wild pitch that bounced off the catcher’s mask, one batter after they had advanced on the catcher’s throwing error.
The bad umpiring was epitomized by the out call at second when Baez obviously failed to catch the ball. This was reversed by instant replay (which saves us from the famous World Series gaffes of yesteryear but breaks the natural rhythm of the game. It’s also a bit jarring to see umpire John Hirshbeck raise his right arm so authoritatively after receiving word from New York that he blew the call), but there was nothing to do about the strike-three and ball-four calls that Sam Holbrook got wrong behind the plate. Both teams benefitted from the missed calls – which were not even borderline pitches, according to the FoxTrax box – although Bryant’s walk on a great 3-2 pitch by Andrew Miller in the 5th led directly to a run when he scored on Anthony Rizzo’s two-out single that followed.
Joe Maddon and Terry Francona had been hailed as co-geniuses through six games because of their adroit lineup changes and unorthodox use of their pitchers, but neither came out unscathed from Game 7. Maddon’s decision to remove starter Kyle Hendricks in the 5th was roundly second-guessed by every commentator – both at the time because he had been so effective and his only apparent sin was giving up his first walk of the night, and afterward because of the comparative ineffectiveness of everyone that followed. The second consensus flaw in Maddon’s strategy was his overuse of closer Aroldis Chapman, who did not need to have been used at all in Game 6 and because of overuse in Games 5, 6 and 7 was nowhere as overpowering as usual, giving up a booming double to Brandon Guyer and the game-tying home run to Davis. He brought in Jon Lester in mid-inning, despite his promise not to, and two runs resulted. The only Cubs pitcher not charged with a run was the aforesaid Montgomery, who recorded the first save of his career with two pitches to the aforesaid Martinez.
Francona fared no better. Undoubtedly because of prior usage, three of his four aces gave up multiple runs. I was sure before the game that Corey Kluber would not be asked to pitch beyond the 4th, regardless of his success, because he had pitched so much already – and the Cubs had seen him so much. Despite a relative lack of success – having given up three runs and struck out nobody, as opposed to eight strikeouts in three innings in his first Series start – Francona let Kluber start the 5th and the result was a homer by Baez, otherwise the worst Chicago hitter in the Series. The next home run was even more unexpected, coming off the bat of 39-year-old David Ross, in the game merely to catch Lester, and it came off Andrew Miller, also worn down, or exposed, by heavy use. It’s hard to second-guess Francona’s use of Bryan Shaw, who gave up the two 10th-inning runs, although the 17-minute rain delay in between his innings could have disrupted him and prompted a manager to bring in a fresh arm – if he had someone as good. Where Francona’s strategy more clearly backfired was his decision to give Anthony Rizzo an intentional walk: Rizzo ultimately scored the winning run.
So, if you compare 2016 with 1960, where the game goes back-and-forth and ends with a home run; or 1991, where Jack Morris wins a 1-0 game in ten innings (and pitches 23 innings with three runs allowed overall), this is not one of the all-time great Game Sevens. Still, it was pretty good and, when Rajai Davis took Chapman deep in the 8th to tie a seemingly lost game, it had all the excitement you could want.