Here are the top 40 moments that made 2016 feel like the year of the Cubs
We're wrapping up 2016, a decidedly Cubs year
As we're set to turn the page to 2017, I wanted to take one last look back at 2016. In the minds of baseball fans, 2016 will forever be etched in our memory as the year the Cubs busted through and finally won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
As is often the case with a dominant champion -- and the Cubs were the best team pretty much throughout the entire season, save for that mid-season blip -- there were a lot of signs that made this feel like it was different. We've all done it before with many different teams in different sports. We see something happen and think "yeah, it's just the (insert team) year."
IMPORTANT NOTE: Cubs haters might want to leave now if they haven't already. Don't say you weren't warned. I can't be responsible for making you mad if you choose to keep going.
Here are the top 40 times 2016 felt like the Cubs' year, chronologically.
We'll never know if the Cubs could have still won the World Series without Fowler at the top of the lineup, but it really seems like they wouldn't have. Him showing up in camp to the shock of his past and then future teammates, having fallen into the Cubs' lap on a one-year deal, really seemed like the cherry on top of a huge offseason.
2. Fowler starts on a high note (April 4)
Remember in the movie "Major League" when Bob Uecker says you can often tell how the season is going to go based upon the leadoff hitter's result in the first game? It's probably not historically true, but it was here. Fowler led off the season with a double and then scored on an Anthony Rizzo single. The Cubs would win the opener 9-0.
3. Arrieta homers in Arizona (April 10)
The Cubs' trip to Arizona was probably a net negative, with Kyle Schwarber being out for the season following his knee injury. In fact, that moment was decidedly the opposite of this exercise. But the Cubs bounced back from their first loss by taking down Zack Greinke and then on Sunday Jake Arrieta crushed a home run to center. The Cubs would head home with a 5-1 road trip.
4. Addison Russell's big blow (April 11)
The Wrigley Field crowd was jacked for the most exciting home opener in decades. Unfortunately, the Cubs trailed the Reds pretty much all game. They were even hitless for a bit. And then, trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Russell put them on top to help send the fans home happy.
5. Back-to-back pitcher RBI (April 18-19)
In the series opener against the rival Cardinals, John Lackey knocked in more runs (one) than he allowed in seven innings while striking out 11. In the next game, Jason Hammel turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead with a single. That would end up being the final score too, so on back-to-back nights, the Cubs pitcher knocked in more runs than the Cardinals as the Cubs established themselves as the top team in the division.
Kris Bryant went 4 for 6 with two bombs and six RBI and he was an afterthought, thanks to Jake Arrieta throwing a no-hitter in Cincinnati.
7. The destruction of Scherzer (May 6)
Eventual Cy Young winner Max Scherzer probably didn't enjoy his one start in Wrigley Field this season. The line? 5 IP, 7 H, 7 ER. That included home runs by Tommy La Stella, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Zobrist again -- the latter being a three-run shot that put the Cubs up 7-2.
8. The Mother's Day comeback and walk-off (May 8)
The Cubs trailed the Nationals 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh and Joe Maddon sent reliever Trevor Cahill to the plate instead of a pinch-hitter. No matter: Cahill singled, then Fowler was hit by a pitch. After a Jason Heyward bunt, Bryant came through with a game-tying, two-RBI single. Then in the bottom of the 13th, Javier Baez walked it off with his pink bat.
10. The six-run first (May 24)
All year, the Cubs would go through funks and then all of a sudden bust out and get back on track. Perhaps most evident was when the Cubs showed up to St. Louis having lost seven of their last 11. Their nine-game lead was down to six. And then five after the Cardinals won in walk-off fashion in the opener. Then the Cubs floodgates once again opened. Bryant would single home Fowler. A few batters later, Jorge Soler drew a bases-loaded walk. David Ross busted things open with a two-RBI double and then Hammel (a pitcher, again!) doubled home two more. The Cubs would win 12-3, which started a six-game winning streak.
11. Willson announces his presence with authority (June 19)
Hot catching prospect Willson Contreras got his first major-league at-bat in a pinch-hit appearance on "Sunday Night Baseball." On the first pitch he ever saw, he homered.
12. The Kris Bryant Game (June 27)
13. Bryant homers in the All-Star Game (July 12)
Let's face it, leading up to the All-Star Game, the Cubs looked like anything but championship material. Before winning on the Sunday before the break, the Cubs had dropped 15 of 20. Still, they were in first place heading in and started their entire infield in the Midsummer Classic. And Bryant would homer in his first at-bat.
14. Rizzo's Milwaukee double (July 24)
With the Cubs trying to get back on track, they didn't need to be dropping a series to the Brewers. But after splitting the first two games of the series, they were trailing 4-1 heading into the seventh. They would cut the score to 4-2 with runners on second and third for Bryant. The Brewers elected to put Bryant on, loading the bases for Rizzo. He would double home all three runners, giving the Cubs a 5-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
15. Javy and Russell time (July 27)
After that Milwaukee series, the Cubs dropped two to the White Sox and were being no-hit by Anthony Ranaudo in the third game of the series. Bryant would tie the game with a homer in the sixth, but the big blows were Baez's two-run job in the seventh to take the lead ...
... and Russell's grand slam in the eighth to put the game away. The Cubs would win 14 of their next 15, pushing their division lead from 6 1/2 to 14 games.
16. Mariner madness (July 31)
An ill-advised start by Brian Matusz led to the Cubs trailing the Mariners 6-0 through three innings. The Cubs would get three back before the ninth and a rally would tie the game, with a wild pitch plating the tying run. And then in the bottom of the 12th, Jon Lester pinch hit with a walk-off safety squeeze.
17. Another wild walk-off (Aug. 3)
The Cubs trailed the Marlins 4-2 heading into the ninth. Miguel Montero doubled and Baez singled. Matt Szczur would walk before Fowler's sac fly cut the margin to one. After a Bryant strikeout and Rizzo intentional walk, Zobrist would draw a game-tying, bases-loaded walk. And then with Contreras at the plate, the Cubs again won on a walk-off wild pitch.
18. Walk-off walk (Aug. 11)
The winning streak was still cruising along with Rizzo would draw a game-winning walk against the Cardinals in the 11th inning. Also, this happened during the game ...
When it's your year, it's your year, eh?
19. Blown game, wait, comeback win! (Aug. 29)
An early 3-0 lead should have been enough for Arrieta, but instead the Pirates would grab a 6-3 lead by the end of the seventh. No matter. A two-run bomb for Contreras in the eighth carved into the deficit and then Soler hit a game-tying shot with one out in the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates would take the lead in the top of the 13th, but a Rizzo RBI single tied it back up before Montero lined a walk-off single. This started a five-game winning streak that would put the Cubs up 16 1/2 games.
20. The walk-off "clincher" (Sept. 16)
The Cubs had clinched the division heading into the game thanks to a Cardinals loss, so they were set to celebrate no matter what. Still, it would be weird to celebrate after a loss for the second straight year. They headed into the ninth down 4-2. Chris Coghlan would follow a Contreras double with a single to cut the Brewers' lead in half and then Russell later singled home the tying run to send it to extras. In the 10th, Montero would lead off with a walk-off homer.
21.The final day comeback (Oct. 2)
The Cubs hadn't played meaningful games in weeks, but you have to figure they wanted to go into the playoffs on a high note. Yet they trailed the Reds 4-3 heading into the top of the ninth in Cincy on the last day of the season. With two outs, they'd get an Albert Almora walk, Muni Kawasaki single, Szczur double and Montero home run. All of a sudden, the Cubs won 7-4. They would finish 103-58-1.
22. Javy happens
Game 1 of the NLDS was an epic duel between Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto. It felt like one run was going to be all the winning team needed and it happened in the bottom of the eighth on a Baez homer into the basket.
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is legitimately building one of the greatest playoff resumes in history. He was fresh off a shutout in the Wild Card Game victory, but in the second inning of Game 3 in the NLDS, Arrieta took him deep for a three-run shot. (Yes, the Cubs lost the game, but Arrieta getting to Bumgarner felt like one of those moments, you know?)
24. The Comeback
The Cubs were down 5-2 to the Giants and facing the possibility of a do-or-die Game 5 at home against a Cueto-Bumgarner combo. The Giants had their even-year swagger going and the fans in AT&T Park were even chanting "MVP" at Conor Gillaspie. And then the Cubs made history with a four-run ninth to win the series and advance to the NLCS.
25. The Grand Slam
An early 3-0 lead had vanished, with the Dodgers tying Game 1 of the NLCS in the top of the eighth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Miguel Montero was behind in the count. No matter, as he hit a grand slam to play hero of the day. Fowler would follow with a homer and Wrigley was rocking en route to a 1-0 NLCS lead.
26. Zobrist's bunt wakes up the bats
The Cubs hadn't scored in 21 innings and were down two games to one when Zobrist decided to lay down a bunt to get things started in Game 4. And then the floodgates opened with 10 runs in three innings. The Cubs wouldn't lose again in the series. Reliever Mike Montgomery got a line-drive single to help get a five-run sixth going after the Dodgers had cut the 5-0 lead to 5-2.
Again, when it's your year ...
Through the first seven games of the postseason, Russell was 1 for 24. Just miserable. It had gotten to the point that there was discussion of Joe Maddon possibly benching him. Russell homered in Game 4 in that fourth-inning rally. Then in Game 5, Russell clubbed a go-ahead, two-run shot in the top of the sixth.
28. Cubs jump on Kershaw early while Hendricks deals
Clayton Kershaw completely shut the Cubs down in Game 2 and was getting the ball on regular rest in Game 6, so many believed it would all come down to a Game 7 in Wrigley. Instead, the Cubs jumped on Kershaw for three runs in the first two innings and five through the fifth. Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks allowed only two singles in 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball. And the Cubs were headed to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Andrew Toles misplaying a Rizzo fly, leading to the second run in the first inning, would be another one of "those" moments.
29. Schwarber's return
One moment that flies in the face of this entire exercise was Kyle Schwarber tearing up his knee in the third game of the season. For many Cubs fans, that was a sign that it was just never going to happen. He was presumed out for the season, but made a shocking return to the lineup for the World Series as a DH. It wasn't just a sideshow either; Schwarber would go 7 for 17 with a .500 OBP and two RBI.
30. Bryzzo, Game 5 awakening
The Cubs were trailing the best-of-seven World Series three games to one and the offense had started to stagnate again, like in the NLCS. Trailing 1-0 heading into the fourth, the Cubs' backs were against the wall, but their two superstars came through. Bryant homered to tie it up and Rizzo followed with a double. The Cubs would get three that inning and win the game 3-2, sending things back to Cleveland.
31. Bryant homers in first
With two outs in the first inning of Game 6, Bryant absolutely crushed a home run, spotting his team an early lead.
A miscommunication between two Indians outfielders scored two runs to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead in the first inning of Game 6. Many fans credited deceased family members with having a hand in it. Hey, why not? Regardless, having that ball fall in for a 3-0 lead was definitely one of "those" moments.
In the top of the third in Game 6, the Cubs essentially put the game away with Russell's grand slam, spotting them a 7-0 lead.
34. You go, we go
It didn't take long for the Cubs to grab a lead in Game 7, as Fowler made history with his leadoff homer.
35. Grandpa's last hurrah
The final at-bat of David Ross' career was a home run to center ... off Andrew Miller. Yowza.
36. The rain delay
There was a 17-minute rain delay in Game 7 before the 10th inning started and the Cubs have all pretty much said that was the best thing for them, as they got a chance to regroup after their blown lead.
37. The Meeting
During the rain delay, Jason Heyward called a team meeting and many players credit this for helping them rally.
38. The fist pump/pinch run/tag up
Once play started back up in Game 7, Kyle Schwarber led off with a single and as he was running to first base, he was pumping his fist toward the dugout, as if to say, "here we go." Albert Almora would pinch run and come through with excellent baserunning to advance to second on a deep fly by Bryant. This meant the Indians would walk Rizzo and ...
39. Zobrist comes through
Zobrist played hero with a double down the left field line, plating Almora and setting the Cubs up for another run.
When Michael Martinez hit a weak grounder to third base and Bryant could be seen visibly smiling as he picked it up, that was it. The smile was the final one of "those" moments that you just knew. He wasn't throwing that ball away. He knew it. That's why he was already smiling. It was over.
The Cubs are the 2016 World Series champions. To millions of die-hards, repeating as such will never, ever get old.
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