CLEVELAND -- When you have waited your entire life for your team to win a World Series -- and just about everyone on the planet other than this person has waited his or her entire life for it -- does it matter how it happens? Is there a perfect way?
For about seven-and-a-half innings on Wednesday night, the Cubs were going to the win the World Series in a casual and relaxing way, or as casual and relaxing as a Game 7 of the World Series could possibly be. They had a 5-1 lead in the fifth. They had a 6-3 lead with two outs in the eighth, four outs away from the promised land, with their two best pitchers, Jon Lester and Aroldis Chapman, ready to take them home. One of my best friends in the world, who has loved the Chicago Cubs as long as anyone has loved anything, who has spent every day of his life on the planet as a Cubs fan waiting for the roof to fall on his head, texted me: "This [expletive] is happening tonight." According to Fangraphs, when Chapman entered the game in that eighth inning, the Cubs had more than a 95 percent chance of winning. Yep, this was happening.
Was this how it should have gone down? Maybe this was the perfect way after all. This 2016 Cubs team has been like none other in franchise history and was most remarkable for how un-Cubs-like it was -- not just in performance, but demeanor. This Cubs team has had a swagger from the beginning of Spring Training. They jumped out to a ridiculous 25-6 start and never looked back, winning their division by 17 1/2 games. They took out the San Francisco Giants, a team that had won three of the past five World Series, in the National League Division Series without breaking much of a sweat. They fell behind the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1 in the NL Championship Series, but then blitzed them with three straight wins. They made reaching the World Series look like the easiest thing in the world.
The World Series put more fear in them -- 3-1 deficits will do that -- but once the Cubs turned it on, they were pasting the Indians. After edging out Game 5, as Chapman entered the game, they had outscored Cleveland 15-6. They looked like the team that won 103 games. They looked like they were gonna cruise. And that would be fitting. The only way the Cubs could erase their 108 years in the wilderness would be by plowing through it all like it was never there in the first place. Of course this how they would do it. This was the perfect way.
And then it all came rushing back.
What would have come of this franchise, of this fan base, had the Cubs lost this game? It could have happened so easily. Rajai Davis' insane, lunatic two-run homer to tie the game off Chapman sent Progressive Field into apoplexy, but it plunged Cubs fans to the most harrowing place imaginable: It brought them back to the time before 2016. This season where the past didn't matter, where all the suffering that the Cubs had rained on their longest-tenured fans, this season had been the escape.
You could forget all that. You could start counting outs in the fifth inning. You could send your friends excited, profane texts. It was safe to come out from under the desk.
And then, like that, it wasn't. The Cubs, suddenly, were the Cubs of the past 108 years, with all that history crashing down on them, the roof caving in, pipes exploding everywhere. Davis -- or, more to the point, Chapman, and maybe just Joe Maddon -- was going to join Leon Durham, and Steve Bartman, and Alex Gonzalez, and that stupid goat in the annals of this wretched, downright cruel franchise. "The Cubs killed my parents, and now they're after me."
Was this really that next chapter? The Cubs were going to come this far, get this close, only to lose one of the most amazing baseball games in the sport's history … I mean, that's how they would do it, right? If you wanted to maximize the torture the Cubs could put their fans through, you really couldn't do much better than that. Get them within four outs. Have everyone start congratulating each other. Give them the team that seemed immune to the century-plus of misery, with all those personalities, with the manager and the superstars and the "Try Not To Suck" and all of it. Make them think they're safe. And then yank it all away, on a home run from Rajai freaking Davis, of all people.
Curses aren't real. Baseball players are individual humans and baseball teams are individual entities and baseball games are individual competitions that have no cosmic significance and are not governed by anything other than those individual humans playing for those individual teams. It is irrational, downright flat-earth, to believe otherwise.
And then, when Davis hit that ball … it was downright irrational not to believe.
These particular Cubs were not immune. No one could be. This is how you drop the piano on their head. This was the long con, all along.
This, in its own brutal, terrible way, would have been perfect.
But no. This was how it had to go down. The Cubs could not cruise their way to a title. They could not win without The Fear returning. That would have been wrong.
This is how they had to do it. They had to get Chapman, bafflingly still on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, to set down the top of the Indians' order despite having little left in the tank. They had to sit through a rain delay. They had to shake off what had just happened. After the game, World Series Most Valuable Player Ben Zobrist said that Jason Heyward, the team leader despite his struggles at the plate, called the whole team into the weight room for a meeting during the delay.
"Come in here, I've got something to say,'" Zobrist relayed. "And he said, 'You know what, whatever's happened up to this point in the game, we've got to forget about it. It's over. We're still the best team. We're going to pull this thing out. We need to pull together and chip away. We're going to win this game.'"
And then … they did. A single from Kyle Schwarber. A walk to Anthony Rizzo. And then this.
The best part about the Zobrist hit was Rizzo, who barely avoided a heart attack at third base: He was striking the exact same pose as the entire country. (Meanwhile, Zobrist was jumping out of his skin.) There would be another hit, from Miguel Montero, who had some thoughts on what we were all experiencing in that moment.
And, because it couldn't be simple, there would be one last turn. With two outs, Davis again, with an RBI single to bring the Indians within one. In came Mike Montgomery, one of the last players in baseball, back in April, that you would have ever expected to be on the mound as the Cubs tried to win their first World Series in 108 years. At the plate, Michael Martinez, quite possibly the worst hitter in baseball.
This time, there were no more twists of the knife. Martinez swung. And Kris Bryant smiled. I'll be damned if the dude wasn't just smiling, as he fielded the ball, from start to finish.
It wouldn't have been the same if The Fear hadn't made one last appearance. It had to show up one final time. It was a reminder, a flash, of what once was … and, now, will never be again, or at least not for another 108 years. Now that it's over: Of course this is how it was go down.
Look at that Bryant smile again.
That's the smile of a man realizing that what is happening is perfect.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow me @williamfleitch; or just shout out your window real loud, I'll hear you. Point is, let's talk.