The newspaper headlines on Chicago newspapers said it all on yesterday morning as the city took a collective deep breath and tried to wrap its head around the fact that their Cubs had actually ended the 108-year wait for a baseball World Series victory.
And boy has it been an agonising wait for a supporters who have for so long epitomised the term ‘long-suffering’. Their 1908 World Series success completed back-to-back titles for the National League club from the city’s northside and a third in a row for the city of Chicago, whose American League White Sox from the southside triumphed in 1906.
The Cubs would not come close again, their drought already extending to 37 seasons to 1945 when the club became the subject of a supposed jinx, the Curse of the Billy Goat. It fell upon them when a bar owner was ejected from Wrigley Field because the smell of his companion, a pet goat, was upsetting nearby spectators.
Legend has it the bar owner, William Slanis, of the Billy Goat Tavern, declared “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more”.
With each passing year they failed to return to the seasonal finale. Until this season when the Cubs finally got their act together and exorcised that demon goat from their conscience.
Naturally, their progression has not been without incident. It would not be the Cubs if it had been plain sailing through dead calm waters. And having gone 3-1 down in the best of seven series with the Cleveland Indians, manager Joe Maddon’s team have been walking a dangerous line between glory and further misery since Sunday night.
The Indians, with baggage of their own having not won the World Series since 1948, came to Wrigley Field last Sunday with one hand on the trophy, only for the Cubs to claw their way back into the contest with a 3-2 victory in Game 5 on the back of some brilliant pitching from Aroldis Chapman.
Tuesday’s Game 6 in Cleveland, though, had been all about offensive batting power, a fast start from slugger Kris Bryant’s first-inning home run and anAddison Russell grand slam in the fourth driving Chicago to a 9-3, series-tying win.
It all came down to the decider, Wednesday night’s Game 7, still in Cleveland. Back in Chicago, the city was on tenterhooks for most of the day, the local climate adding to the drama as blue skies turned black, rain fell and thunder bellowed ominously overhead, the volume amplified by the skyscrapers towering above the streets.
Up at Wrigley Field, fans had gathered all week to scrawl comments in chalk on the brick walls of the venerable stadium. Desperate pleas for victory, words of encouragement, recognition of lost friends and relatives who never got to see the moment their Cubs finally reached the World Series.
Yet faces that had been joyous the previous evening after the Game 6 win were now apprehensive and when the game got underway that evening the nerves appeared to have spread to the Cubs players, despite the early filip of a Dexter Fowler home run off the second pitch.
Second baseman Javier Baez spilled a ground ball and then a catch while back-up catcher David Ross also made a fielding error to compound the anxiety back home in bars, restaurants and homes across the city. Slowly, though, the Cubs were building their lead and both Baez and Ross would atone with home runs.
The Cubs were 6-1 up after their sixth inning but then the Indians began to fight back. This time it was relief pitcher Chapman, the hero of Game 5, who wobbled, allowing a three-run eighth inning to tie the game at 6-6.
Across Chicago, the air was being sucked out of rooms at an alarming rate. Had the curse struck again? It seemed that way. A scoreless ninth inning sent the game into extra innings, and clutch got a little, well, clutchier.
Game seven, 10 innings and still the fate of the 2016 World Series was in the balance. As if the tension wasn’t bad nough, the weather intervened in Cleveland, causing a brief rain delay that wrought further anxiety.
But finally the breakthrough came. the Cubs jumping into an 8-6 lead, with the Indians to bat.
Still there was the chance to doubt as the Indians grabbed a run back with one life remaining. In came new relief pitcher Mike Montgomery to throw at Michael Martinez.
The Indians hitter made contact but it was not strong enough, the ball bouncing in what seemed like slow motion towards third baseman Kris Bryant, who sedately hurled it over to first where Rizzo caught it and ended the game.
The Cubs bench emptied as the celebrations began and Cleveland’s baseball diamond became a sea of Chicago blue.
And back home bars full of Cubs fans erupted too, joy mixed with utter relief that their long wait was over. The pain suffered by Chicagoans over 108 years handed down from generation to generation as if it were some twisted sort of birthright, evaporating on a soggy November night. It was a beautiful sight.